MIFF Review: The Hollywood Complex (2011)

Every January to April, thousands of actors from across the world come to Hollywood for what is known as pilot season. The Hollywood Complex focuses on the families who fly from around the country to arrive in Hollywood with the aims of making their children stars. The Oakwood apartments are the most popular complex that houses many of these families for the duration of their stay in Hollywood, and many of these families are the subject of this film.

Through workshops, auditions and interviews, we get to know a small cluster of children and the families that are putting their lives on hold to make their kids the sole focus. There are some success stories, but it most common that the children do not receive call backs from their initial auditions and do not land that important role. It is a competitive world, with thousands of talented children competing, and very specific types that the casting agents are looking for.

Seven-year-old Savannah McReynolds

The Hollywood Complex, much like the timely and controversial Toddlers and Tiaras displays the drive, desire and passion of not only the children involved, but the lust and wonderment clearly evident in their driven parent’s eyes. Whether or not these children are being exploited by their parents is suggested, but ultimately the bad guys of the film are appropriately the casting agents.

Highlights from this deeply disturbing look into the world of wannabe child actors sees a “crying on cue” workshop and instructional videos played to 7-year-old Savannah on how to play a sad, dying child (using Youtube clips of extremely sick kids, as well as being told to imagine that her beloved German Shepherd had been savaged by coyotes.) The audience had a strong visceral reaction to what was screened on film. Perhaps we are a cynical society who sees the casting agents as exploitative, manipulative and money hungry. But from watching The Hollywood Complex, it is hard to see otherwise. Despite this disturbing nature, directors Dylan Nelson and Dan Sturman bring a fascinating portrayal of what it means to have the syndrome of “wanting to make it” in Hollywood.


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