Breaking Into the Film and TV Business
Years ago, I came out to Hollywood barely knowing anyone, barely knowing anything. You can learn from what I did right and what I did wrong. I had one classmate here. He got me a job managing a movie theater while I looked for work in the film and TV business. That’s one lesson: have some way to earn money while you look for the job you want.
Lesson two is don’t do what I did and know hardly a soul – make some friends where you want to work, whether it’s Los Angeles or New York or New Orleans. If you don’t live there, you have the internet. Join groups, meet people on Facebook or Twitter who are already there. You want to have a base of friends and associates you can depend on for help if you need it. More importantly, make friends in the film and TV business. Even the big names tweet and have fan sites on Facebook – become one of their followers. But it’s even better if you can meet people face to face.
One way to do that is to intern. But at most of the companies I’ve worked, interns answered phones, made copies and filed. Not really a way to break into the business. The mentor-apprentice (extern) programs at places like the Film Connection’s Film Institute will place you with people in the industry doing what you want to do. So that’s a good way to make a connection.
Lesson number three is: don’t do what I did and not know anything. In a mentor program, you can learn some skills. But however you have to do it, teach yourself something useful. Here’s the big secret about making it in show business: you have to have something that the studios and companies want. That could be a screenplay, it could be a show idea (and make sure your ideas and scripts are registered with the Writers Guild and with the copyright office before you start sending them out). Or it could just be a skill. I always tell interns that the one job that’s always needed is a good editor. If you can learn how to edit on Final Cut Pro and Avid, you won’t ever be out of work. Even if that’s not your final goal, you will meet tons of interesting and important people who need your services. Editors have later made it as directors (like David Lean) or producers or even show-runners on TV series.
If you can’t stand the dark, tiny editing suites, then find another useful skill – camera, sound, lighting – any of those jobs will get you close to the action. Sure, you’ll get pigeon-holed in that one position, but it’s a start. When I first moved to Los Angeles, I talked my way into a meeting with a big TV producer who had several series on the air. He said to me “What do you want to do?” Loaded question. I said the wrong thing: “Anything.” He didn’t help me. If I’d told him I wanted to be an assistant editor or a second assistant camera-person, that would have given him something very specific and I think he’d have made some calls on my behalf. Whatever you do, if you get the chance, don’t say you’ll do anything. But don’t say you want to direct or produce. Everyone wants to direct or produce. Have a specific starting position in mind and go for that. Once you’re in, it’s up to you to find a way to climb the ladder to success.