The Down and Dirty Story of How Melody Jackson Got Started in Show Biz
One day many years ago, Melody Jackson was at a client’s office that she was selling computer hardware to (this was years before Smart Girls was around). Her meeting this day was with a young accounting guy who told her about an acting class he was taking in Hollywood. It sounded like so much fun that Melody got the 411 on the class and signed up the next day. And the rest, shall we say…well, it just naturally arose as one thing led to another.
The Hole In The Wall Acting School
This first acting class that Melody took was at a hole-in-the-wall acting school on a dirty side street in Hollywood. Forget New York Film Academy, Writer’s Store, John Truby, Juilliard, Strasberg, Stella Adler, Howard Fine and all those other high profile classes with name instructors for acting and screenwriting. This was, indeed… a hole-in-the-wall class that very few people knew about compared to those.
For this acting class that Melody was so excited about, you had to walk up steep, dark stairs to get to the class. And the man who ran the school looked like a Hollywood director straight out of a B movie — but he was for real. Gold chains on a big graying hairy chest with a shirt unbuttoned down to where his oversized pot belly began. And the cursing that he did in front of the class just in the course of talking would have embarrassed a sailor…. and certainly made a lot of the actors blush.
He Knew His Stuff About the Business of Hollywood
Yes, this guy may have looked like a “B” movie director, but he knew his stuff. He had created a year-long curriculum about the business of film and television that no one else in Hollywood was teaching (it’s still not taught). He taught his students all kinds ofsecret shortcuts about the business, from how to get agents, what to say to them, sly ways to join the Screen Actors Guild, how to get the Breakdowns through the backdoor (only agents are supposed to see them), to secrets about headshots, resumes, demo tapes, and so much more.
He taught the business side and hired other talented acting teachers to teach the craft. His specialty was “the business of the business.” And he knew everything about it. His mission was to teach his student actors and get them working. He was like a proud papa every time one of them booked a gig. He would remind them that what he taught them was why they booked it. And the actor would just smile because, for the most part, he was right.
Melody Gets Kicked To The Streets of Hollywood
Melody took the business curriculum for a solid year and voraciously absorbed as much information from the old guy as she could. She took tons of notes and filled spiral notebook after spiral notebook writing down everything he said. After completing the curriculum one year later, he gruffly told her to “get out there.” He assured her that she had completed the curriculum and that it was time for her to apply what she had learned.
Little did she know that day that the information she had spent a year learning at that hole-in-the-wall school from that little-known “B” movie director looking guy would be the foundation for starting Smart Girls Productions a few years later.
Melody hit the streets of Hollywood and began to apply what she had learned. She began taking classes in everything related to acting and screenwriting. She joined SAG. She booked jobs. She was writing sketches and taping them, meeting agents, and managers — while still working full-time at a 9-to-5. Meanwhile, she wrote a computer program to track everyone she was meeting so she could market to them. She was definitely getting out there.
But alas, although she thought her job was pretty cool for a 9 to 5 — she was selling distribution software to the industry and getting a chance to learn the dirty truth about film distribution and how the money really gets counted — but alas, it was feeling more and more like a grind because she wanted something different.
9 To 5 Is Left Behind
In 1992, filled with a burning desire for something different, Melody left the 9 to 5 world for good and started Smart Girls Productions.
She put an ad in the bygone acting magazine Dramalogue. At 8:00 am the first day the ad for a $15 resume came out, Melody got a call for an appointment from Smart Girls client #1 Joe Dietl. Melody took it as a positive sign and moved forward full-sail.
Calling on the computer science degree she earned at David Letterman’s alma mater – Ball State University in Indiana – Melody expanded the computer programs she had created previously for cataloguing everyone in Hollywood. She categorized them, rated them, and notated them in various ways (this system is still at the heart of what Smart Girls offers today).
Melody also started writing articles and documenting everything she had learned and was continuing to learn about networking, interviewing, what executives were looking for, what made scenes kick butt, what made actors charismatic, what agents really wanted… and everything else that was important for actors and screenwriters pursuing a career in Hollywod.
Over the years, Melody took countless classes with top notch teachers and instructors in the craft of both acting and screenwriting. She studied with everyone from Linda Seger, Robert McKee, and John Truby, to courses at USC and UCLA. She took classes at the Howard Fine Acting Studio, Brian Reise Studio, and many, many, many more.
More Priceless Information
Melody also served as the Host of Sandra Lord’s monthly Hollywood Networking Breakfast at Paramount Studios for 9 years. At this monthly event, Melody connected with Hollywood’s big name talent agents, literary agents, producers, directors, writers, filmmakers and actors and listened to them pour their heart out, spilling their guts on how the business of Hollywood really works.
At that time, no recordings were allowed, so the executives and talent felt free to say anything and everything they wanted without fear of repercussion. This information was priceless…. Not only did they spill their guts on what were looking for and what appealed to them, it also confirmed that what the “old B-Movie director” taught at that hole-in-the-wall acting school was dead-on right.
Melody Becomes Dr. Melody
Over the course of the years, Melody joined SAG and worked with a variety of agents and managers–both for acting and for literary. Out of her passion, she and her friends and clients ongoingly produced several “shoe-string-budget” short films, including a featurette titled “High Hopes.” Melody also spent countless hours in the local public access studios (the YouTube before YouTube!), gaining experience working in front of the camera as well as getting the thrill of seeing her wriitng come to life. While these projects were small, Melody loved getting to go through the creative process of starting from nothing and bringing a story to life, both as an actor and writer.
In 2003, Melody earned her Ph.D. in Mythological Studies culminating with her dissertation on “The Mythic Impact of Film.” Melody was also rated a Top 5 Script Consultant and named “Cream of the Crop” in three different blind reviews over the course of an 11-year period.
Since getting started in Hollywood at that hole-in-the-wall acting class with that dear, old B-movie director teacher (R.I.P.), Melody has established a reputation for herself and Smart Girls as a top level consulting and marketing company for actors and screenwriters. Melody has written articles for most of the top magazines in the industry (both print and online). She has delivered webinars, teleconferences, and appeared as a guest speaker at many different events for actors and screenwriters.
Looking forward, Melody continues to stand by the Smart Girls mission to facilitate marketing for actors and screenwriters to make their dreams more tangible. She also has several other ventures in the works, including HowToHollywood.com, which will be the home for the Hollywood business training courses that are being developed.
“People who pursue a career in Hollywood are big dreamers. It’s an enormous dream with fewer and fewer spots as you move up the ladder. My drive is to empower actors and screenwriters to not be victims but to truly know deep inside that they have to drive their careers. It’s not just luck.
“You have to take massive action to make big things happen. I want to educate them on what to do and to faciliate some aspects of what they need to do. No victims and feeling sorry for yourself because Hollywood is so hard. No getting down and staying down. Get back up and make it happen. Period. Let’s do it.”
Melody Jackson, Ph.D.
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