There is a lot of advice out there about how the entertainment industry works. In my job as a hiring executive for entry level positions, as well as in speaking to groups of college students and recent grads and the questions I receive through my website, YourIndustryInsider.com, I hear a lot of it. Some of it is solid, but some of it is just plain terrible. Here are some of the most commonly heard “nuggets of wisdom” which may not necessarily get you where you want to go.
#1 You should figure out the whole path to your goal before starting.
It seems like a smart idea. Plotting out every step to your destination is a way of making sure you don’t take any unnecessary detours, right? But it’s like saying, “Wait until you know how you’re going to get your first feature film released wide in theaters before you pick up a camera.” If you do this, you will probably never begin. Instead, go until you hit a roadblock. You will have resources and knowledge that you don’t have now- and you might find you never hit a real roadblock.
#2 Getting people talking about you, whether good or bad, only helps your career.
You want to be known in the business. So be the guy who tells everyone how it’s done even if they don’t ask, the one who doesn’t back down in an argument, the one who does everyone’s job because he’s just so hungry to make it. That sounds like someone you’d want to hire or work with, right? Wrong. A lot of people would consider that guy a nuisance, not an asset, and it only takes one person vetoing you for you to miss out on a sought-after job. Be the one who offers help, who gets their job done, who everyone thinks is amazing. “I know the perfect person!” they will say if they hear about a position or a project you’d be right for. They will be right.
#3 Being aggressive is a killer in the industry.
You would think, after reading #2, that being aggressive WOULD be a killer. After all, the “don’t” in that myth was someone who was very aggressive. But he wasn’t just aggressive; he was obnoxious. Aggressive is calling again when you don’t get a call back, getting your project made even though there are doubters, or putting your hat in the ring for a job that might be a bit of a reach. In an industry where so many people are trying to make it, being aggressive is plus. Sometimes even a must.
#4 You should try to find something of value in every criticism you receive.
It’s tough to be out there with a screenplay, a short film, an acting reel. In order to get anywhere, you have to show your work to a lot of people. Most of the time, you hope they will like it enough to help you get further up the path to where you want to be, i.e. paid to create. But instead, more often than not, you get feedback, sometimes called “notes.” Usually, you get at least one idea that sounds valid from each person who reviews your work, but sometimes all the feedback you get from someone just seem wrong. Are you obligated to find something of value from what they are offering? In a word: No. This feedback, even when it’s called “notes,” is just an opinion. However, if you get the same feedback from multiple people, especially if they have been helpful before, you might want to consider their viewpoint.
#5 Getting a Representative (Agent, Manager) is the key to breaking through as a creative.
Getting repped is often an obsession for people just beginning in the industry. But, as Casting Director / Acting Teacher, Risa Bramon Garcia, said in our Q&A with her on Your Industry Insider, “Your agent is not there to get you a job. They can make introductions, they can submit you, negotiate your deals, and they can tell you what’s happening out there. But you need to be creative, and proactive; you need to create your own work.” So instead of focusing on finding an agent or manager to find work for you, start working now. There are more ways now than ever to get your creative work seen, to build an audience, and to find and make your own opportunities. And once you do that, having someone to represent you will come naturally.
#6 If you can’t break in at first, keep on knocking on doors until one opens.
This one goes hand-in-hand with #5 in terms of empowering yourself. If the doors you are knocking on aren’t opening, consider whether you are knocking on the right doors. Are there other doors that might open easier and get you to the same place ultimately? Or should you be building your own house instead of trying to get into someone else’s? This is not a recommendation to give up just because thing are hard, but to keep your eyes (and your options) open. And if you know you are knocking on the door to the right place, you might need to rethink your methods. Maybe you can climb in the window instead.
#7 Having no backup plan is a surefire way to force yourself to succeed.
This is advice people who make it relatively early often give to young people. And it’s insane. Having no backup plan in a surefire way to stress yourself out and possibly leave yourself in an unnecessarily bad position down the line. If you can find a career path that allows you to move up the ladder and be engaged during your “money job” hours while providing you enough time and mental energy to pursue your passions at the same time, that is the ideal. It may bug you when your parents say it, but it’s true. Don’t count on an artistic career to bring in big bucks. If it does make you a good enough living, you can ditch the other career, but you will be better off if you aren’t just “getting by” until you get to do what you really want to do.
#8 There is a “secret” to succeeding in the business and once you figure it out, you’re all set.
Sorry folks. There’s no secret way to get a movie made or sell a screenplay for mid- to high-six figures, or become a successful working actor or the CFO of a movie studio. Anyone who tells you that there is probably wants to sell you something. Reading profiles of successful industry professionals (including those on Your Industry Insider) will provide proof. Yes, these pros all follow one foot in front of the other, make opportunities for themselves, course correct after making missteps, and take advantage of the strokes of luck that befall them, but each one has a unique path to their particular area of success.
#9 There is a lot of luck involved in succeeding in entertainment.
Well, this one is sort of true, but with a big caveat. The right person reads the right script and passes it on at the right time to the right producer who wants to make it. The right person sees the right scene on your acting reel at the right time and auditions you for a role that you get cast in. BUT before that script was passed along, before that script was even written, there were likely other scripts written and rewritten and rewritten. And that script was worked on to make it a polished piece of material to entice the producer. There were books read, classes taken, pages written. Countless hours spent studying the craft and honing it. Same with the actor whose reel got them that pivotal audition. The work before the moment where luck comes into play is rarely spoken of, but it’s there. So, are you ready to get lucky?
#10 You should never give up on your goal, no matter what.
This is another one of those tricky ones. You should not give up on your goals, but you should revisit them periodically to see if they are still current. Your life changes. Your priorities change. You don’t want to find yourself working on a goal that was a great match for what your life used to be. One example is people who work in production on films or TV shows. When you are young, traveling and working all hours are no big deal. But when you get older and have a partner and maybe even kids, the lifestyle that goes with working in production can be less appealing, no matter what level you are at. Revisit your goal and if it’s not a match for where you are right now, rework it.