Locally made ‘How To Successfully Fail in Hollywood’ opens in Santa Rosa

C.M. Conway’s movie was shot over 22 days in her hometown of Occidental.|

If You Go

What: Premiere screening of “How to Successfully Fail in Hollywood”

When: 6 p.m. Saturday, July 16

Where: Summerfield Cinemas, 551 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa

Tickets and information: $12; tickets available only at FunnyFailureFilm.com

A Google engineer once estimated that there have been more than 129 million books published since the invention of the printing press. No scientific data was readily available on how many of them were “How to Succeed” books in various categories, but an informal guess is a whole bunch.

According to some estimates, an aspiring actor has a 2% chance of making it big in Hollywood. The successful ones don’t need a self-help book or video, but where can the 98% find some support?

The answer is in a locally made independent movie titled “How to Successfully Fail in Hollywood,” which will have its premiere July 16 at the Summerfield Cinemas in Santa Rosa.

Basically, the remedy is to do whatever you can to keep working. If one thing doesn’t work, try another.

Made on a “super micro budget” by writer, producer, director and star C.M. Conway, most of the film was shot in 22 days during December 2019 in Occidental, Conway’s hometown, as well as the greater Bay Area and Los Angeles. The last scenes were shot in January 2020.

“This is the first public screening,” Conway said of the July 16 premiere. “All through the pandemic, I spent that time personally editing the film and learning how to do that.”

In early April, the film was shown in a private screening for the cast and crew and their friends.

Running 1 hour and 54 minutes, the film follows the misadventures of Elly, an aspiring actress, played by Conway. East Bay actor Adrian Gilbert co-stars as her best friend, Ben, a gay, Latino would-be actor.

“My husband, Eduardo M. Cuevas, who is of Mexican heritage, really helped with aspects of the story and authentic cultural elements of the character Ben,” Conway said.

The movie is drawn from Conway’s personal experience. She spent 10 years in Los Angeles pursuing a show business career, but stardom did not come. Instead, she worked as a children’s entertainer at birthday parties and other events.

She also worked as a server and a telemarketer to make ends meet. Then she developed live storytelling and interactive folklore programs for children presented at libraries. She was busy, but frustrated.

“It got so crazy I moved out of Los Angeles, came back to Occidental and started writing, just to get it all out of my system. I had never gotten to realize the dream I had,” she recalled. “I wrote an unpublished novel, which became a screenplay.”

Drawing on her own experiences and those of people she knew, Conway built a story line she felt was true, funny and enlightening.

“People shared their own stories,” Conway said. “We’re hoping it connects with people. People can relate to the idea of pursing a career.”

Once written, the project became a grassroots effort, for which she recruited a diverse cast and crew of women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

One contributor is Los Angeles singer, songwriter and guitarist Hope Levy, who grew up in the Bay Area and whose songs are featured in the film. She plays “Mom” on the Netflix series “Boss Baby.”

“We collaborated on the original song for the film, ‘My Best Friend (Mi Mejor Amigo),’” Conway said.

Others who worked on the film include cinematographer Lisa Stoll and sound expert Daniel Hess.

“It’s a feminist-led film, so it really represents the unrepresented,” Conway said.

Local filming locations include Occidental Center for the Arts, Hazel Restaurant, Missy Girl and Twig Art and Garden, all in Occidental; Mudd and Gold in Bodega; Dinucci’s in Valley Ford; the Raven Performing Arts Theater in Healdsburg; Laughing Tiger Studios in Marin; and Mama Dog Studios in Oakland.

“Backdoor Costumes in Santa Rosa helped out with costumes and provided their location for the film, and Christy Huish, the owner, appears in the film, too,” Conway said. “We also filmed in L.A., including in front of the Hollywood sign.”

The July 16 premiere includes a question-and-answer session, which Conway anticipates with great enthusiasm.

“The audience members can ask me anything,” she said.

A fundraiser for the continuing distribution of the film, the event will include a raffle of artisan-made items collected for the occasion.

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.

If You Go

What: Premiere screening of “How to Successfully Fail in Hollywood”

When: 6 p.m. Saturday, July 16

Where: Summerfield Cinemas, 551 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa

Tickets and information: $12; tickets available only at FunnyFailureFilm.com

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