Occidental actress shows ’How to Successfully Fail in Hollywood’ in new indie film

C.M. Conway wrote, produced, directed, edited and starred in the movie.|

In Hollywood, where people from all over the world try to break into acting and where competition is consequently intense, failure is not just a possibility. Statistically, it’s almost a certainty.

“You know 95% of the actors in L.A. aren’t going to be rich and famous,” said C.M. Conway of Occidental, who spent 10 years in Los Angeles pursuing a show business career.

She worked as a children’s entertainer, at birthday parties and other events. “I also waitressed and worked as a telemarketer to make ends meet. I definitely paid my dues. I then developed live storytelling and interactive folklore programs for children presented for years at libraries.”

But she did not become a rich and famous movie star. At least, not yet.

What she did was write, produce, direct, edit and star in her own low-budget independent film, “How to Successfully Fail in Hollywood.”

Most of the film was shot in 22 days during December 2019 in Occidental, the greater Bay Area and Los Angeles.

Conway didn’t disclose the cost of the production, but she called it a “super micro-budget” project, adding “that’s between micro-budget and no budget. It was done on a shoestring without the shoe. But we did pay to film in front of the Hollywood sign.”

“How to Fail” has yet to be released, but you can see behind-the-scenes production video and more at howtosuccessfullyfail.net.

Conway is submitting the film to festivals around the country in hopes it will be picked up by a distributor.

The tone of the movie is comic, but its purpose is serious. It both models and promotes diversity and inclusion in filmmaking.

“I felt was important to include an incredibly diverse cast. Minorities predominate. Our lead actor is gay and Latinx. We have people of color throughout the film,” Conway said. “Our crew was led by women. This allows them all to get film experience.”

Conway stars as the aspiring actress the Elly who, like Conway, survives in Hollywood by performing in person for children. East Bay actor Adrian Gilbert co-stars as her best friend, Ben.

“The two of them go through a journey to find their true selves while risking soul-crushing failures,” Conway said. “They’re risking everything to be the ones who fulfill the dream.”

The Ben character is both like the real-life Gilbert and unlike him, the actor said.

“We’re both Latino gay men,” Gilbert said. “That’s part of the LBGTQ dialogue that I bring to the film, but Ben has a bit more bravado that I do. I am more reserved.”

Gilbert applauds Conway’s crusade to emphasize the need for more inclusive casting in films.

“There is a real lack of representation of minorities in Hollywood films,” Gilbert said. “Historically, it’s all very white male. The movies tend to lean into stereotypes. In this film, Ben is just a person. This film doesn’t lead with his sexuality. It’s just about him being human and supportive to his friend.”

Conway’s script is based her own experience trying to make it as an actor in Los Angeles, as well stories she has heard from friends.

“The whole concept is my own personal failures and the things that happened to my friends and to me,” she said. “A lot of the people involved in the film were laughing while we were making it. They said they went through the same things.”

Auditioning, being passed over for film roles and working odd jobs is the daily reality for many actors in Los Angeles.

“This film is dedicated to all artists who are struggling and unknown,” Conway said. “Looking failure dead in the eye and laughing — that’s the way to fail successfully.”

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

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