Carl Gottlieb has a knack for the breakthrough moment. He acted in Robert Altman’s first smash hit M*A*S*H, wrote the script for Steven Spielberg’s inaugural blockbuster Jaws, coauthored Steve Martin’s big-screen breakout The Jerk and teamed up with Richard Pryor to write the comedian’s best movie, Which Way Is Up? He’s also written two bestsellers with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer David Crosby, penned the best book ever written about making a movie on location—The Jaws Log—and has just released an instant classic, The Little Blue Book for Filmmakers: A Primer for Directors, Writers, Actors and Producers. As if that résumé weren’t enough, Gottlieb also happens to be an officer with the powerful Writers Guild. If you’re looking for a career in the movie biz, this is the man to listen to. But beware: He may be the one guy in Hollywood who will tell you the truth.
HUSTLER: There’s a production slump in Hollywood right now, but more people than ever are trying to break into the business. Why?
CARL GOTTLIEB: For the same reason that in hard times people tend to play the lottery more heavily. Most people assume that if they can get a job—any job—in films or television, they will be discovered and never have to worry about money again. They’re tragically wrong. For every Jennifer Lawrence there are dozens of “hot” actors over the years that no one remembers, which goes to show what a small impression they made.
What mistakes do the failed hopefuls make?
They imitate the styles and mannerisms of other media celebrities: as bitchy as the Housewives of Suburbia, as angry as the jerks on Jerry Springer, as pathetic as Hoarders. People who can play themselves without affectation can win big. Look at the bearded wonders on Duck Dynasty or the serious skippers on Deadliest Catch. They’re authentic; they’re doing real work; they’re fun to watch. Outside of reality TV, acting is a long and difficult path, with a high burnout rate and no guarantee of success. If it weren’t for irrational optimism, there would be no actors at all.
Jaws starred three great actors—Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw. Were they competitive on set?