Digital Polyphony

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 Rules of Hollywood #5:

How to Get Your Foot In the Door (Without Getting it Crushed)
 
Part 2
 
 
 
 
 
 
What to Expect
 

First things first, you will likely not be paid for interning. I've never met anyone who has had a paid internship, even as "under the table" payments. Most of these places consider their payment college credit, and you should keep that in mind because they do tend to go after college students more often than those that have graduated. If you've gone through the "Where to Start" segment, you should still be alright in finding something even if you aren't in college. Besides, all you have to do at most places is ask if college credit is a requirement. Just keep this in mind if finances are an issue or if you plan on relocating entirely to Los Angeles. 

Second thing: don't limit yourself to just one internship. If you know your focus, then go with it. Most places will want you to spend a majority of the day interning for them, so plan on it being a full-day of morning to at least late afternoon (just a note, most people work in the industry arrive early and leave late, so 9 to 5 for an internship isn't considered unreasonable). Try various fields if you aren't sure what's best for you, have a few days at one company and a few days at another. You should consider interning a full-time job, that's really the best way to approach it. Obviously, this isn't going to work for everyone, as I said finances and money can be an issue and Los Angeles can be expensive to live in even temporarily, but if you can do it you're really stepping up to the plate...and employers love to see that.

As for what to expect as an intern, I don't really need to tell you, you are going to be doing the lowliest job no matter where you go. You'll be doing a lot of filing, putting packages together and memo running. You'll be asked to do coverage of scripts and books, maybe even news articles. Coverage is the universal nomenclature for what is essentially a "synopsis" or "book report." Research is another area you'll be getting into, so you better be proficient at internet browsing and calling people that need to be called should the need arise. Benefits are making great connections, seeing the inner workings of a pretty exclusive club and really getting a handle quickly on how things are run.

At management and productions companies, you'll be doing all that but also have a more hands-on approach. It's less formal at these places and fewer rules to run by, often more casual. Agencies and Studios are similar in this vein but they tend to keep the responsibilities of an intern pretty low while putting a larger focus on assistants who will probably be the ones tells you what to do. All that is the basic rundown, but know that every place may ask less, or they may ask more of you. Either way, you aren't getting paid, usually need to provide your own form of transportation (especially if you're running errands) and starting from the ground up.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 Gettin' There
 
 
 
 The Resume and Cover Letter
 
I'm not going to waste your or my time telling you how to write a resume or cover letter. It's pretty much the same across all businesses and the Hollywood Industry is no exceptions. I will say this, though: as someone who has read hundred of cover letters over the years, I can spot a boilerplate letter a mile a way. Those that actually inserted more personal and job-specific aspects, or even reference me or my company specifically, are automatically looked at on a higher level.
 
   
The Interview
 
Should you be asked to meet regarding a potential internship, treat it like you would a job interview (all these relate to job hunting also, not just interning). Here's the basic rundown of the major points, as well as what you should expect in an Industry Interview that is slightly different than a regular cubicle job.
 
 

1) As with any job interview, dress nice (business casual), have your resume with extra copies and be polite. Make sure you have eye contact made and a firm handshake grasped, people like those things and first-impressions are the most important. These things are common sense, though, and you should know them by now.

2) Know who you're applying to. Look up the interviewer’s credits/projects/etc. on StudioSystem, IMDB Pro, etc. Everyone loves to be congratulated on their successes. If you really do like what they’ve done, and aren't just saying that to land the job, then even better.  

3) Have a questions prepared. This shows communication ability, a key factor in the industry, and also gives them an idea that you know what you're talking about. Make the interview last.

4) Follow up with at least a thank you email. Keep it basic, it's just a courtesy and you don't need to write exposition like its a cover letter. This is a must.

5) If you have references, have them call. Use them, they're integral.

6) Expect the following questions as interviewers ask to get an idea of who you are and what you're like. The more they are similar to the company's sensibilities, the more you're a shoe-in. 

-"What kind of movies do you like?/What TV shows do you watch?"

-"What was your favorite movie last year?"

-"Who are your favorite directors/actors/writers?"

-"What are some of your favorite books?"

7) Don't be tense. Relax. Breathe and for God-sakes pay attention to them even if they aren't appearing to pay attention to you.

8) Lastly- do you have facebook? Myspace? Twitter? Yeah, you better set those things to private and be cautious of what photos you put on the internet. Bosses will check that stuff when looking to hire.  

 


 How to Act as an Intern (what Employers Want to See Once You Land the Job)


It's your first day at the office as an intern. "Hey there, fuckface" greets you when you enter through the front doors followed by "go get my coffee." You run down to Starbucks and try to remember what it is you're supposed to get that will probably not be good enough anyways. You return, and then you're thrust into a quick barrage of what you're supposed to be doing and how to do it. No time for notes. Just pay attention. You need to read a script and do coverage by 11AM. Hope you brought your lunch because you're going to cover the phones from 1PM to 2PM. Fax this. Do research on viral outbreaks because a writer is doing a story on one. See who reps Depp, Butler and Jackman...in fact give me a list of ten names of opening leading men, their reps and their potential availabilities for a film to shoot early next year. Make copies of this script, package them and send them out. Drop by Warners and take this book to Greg Silverman. Better make sure you have a drive on and know where his office is. Oh...and get more coffee, that last cup was cold.

What can I say? That all sounds about right. But all that shouldn't surprise you. You're an intern and while all that sounds daunting, it's also some of the best experience you can ask for. Sure, you might be picking up packages or making coffee, but just remember where you are doing it and who for and how, in the big picture, you weren't at this position a few months before.

Every place has their own way of dealing with interns, some more casual and others strictly professional. The description above is just a sample of some of the things you could end up doing. Some places will have you doing less (many don't like interns on phones) and others might have you do more (play messenger all day delivering scripts and visiting studio lots). As an intern, though, you need to understand it's not about what you do, but how you do it.

As you know by now, the "mindset" is the most important factor in this industry. It's not about being impatient, it's about spending the time during the day wisely, efficiently and effectively. It's called "hustling" and being energetic and optimistic on the opportunity you have because what you need to understand is that not many have it - so you better be smiling even if you're asked to do coverage for a script in less than an hour. It's really the attitude that employers like to see, and will do nothing but benefit you greatly when you take the next leap at an actual paying position as an assistant, PA or some other entry-level position. 

They hate seeing you waste time. This I can't stress enough. If you aren't going to make use of your time, they will notice. The first thing you should do if you have nothing to do is to ask someone what needs to be done and then do it. That's taking initiative and showing everyone there that you want to be there. They love to see good notes, maybe even ask your opinion on a script or upcoming production. They'll be impressed if you have a good knowledge of movies and who the players in Hollywood are, so research it when you aren't there. They'll love it if you can summarize an entire story in less than a paragraph and "pitch" them an idea you might have. They love it even more if you show resourcefulness and prove how you've thought everything out. They'll love it even more if you ask for five minutes of their time to tell them about a really cool comic book or maybe an actor or unrepresented writer you know about. Even if they end up not liking it, the fact you even brought it up says everything. While the job might be thankless, that doesn't mean you aren't appreciated and your contributions unnoticed. Work you ass off for a semester or two, show you have the drive and you'll find it that much easier to actually land a job when the time comes.

 

 A Few Extra Pointers

1) Don't stress out. Stressing out doesn't get you anywhere. Understand how to prioritize, then tackle projects one at a time. If you can multitask, great, but do it wisely because doing things half-assed won't amount to much and doesn't look good on top of it. If you feel you can't do something, just say you can't. It's better than being asked "where's that list?" and you say "Haven't started it yet."

2) Treat your internship like a job, not just a place you "show up at" and get credit for - especially if you're looking to get a position for a paid position. If you have learned anything by now, I hope it's the fact that "showing up" isn't going to be enough.

3) Learn to speed-read. You should be able to read an entire feature script in less than two hours. No excuses. For that matter, read and learn basic screenplay writing programs and how the structure/presentation/length is meant to look while you're at it.

4) Learn appropriate phone and email conduct. This is the basics you're getting into and getting the basics down to a point where its second nature and you can do it with your eyes closed is a requirement.

5) Don't pretend to be doing something. Getting caught not contributing is never good no matter where. If they see you at a computer, then walk by and see you're chatting on AIM and not doing research as asked, there's a good chance you might just be flat-out asked to leave. If you want that letter of recommendation, you better fucking work for it.

6) If there's legitimately nothing to do, and you've even asked your boss or their assistants/other interns, then spend time reading. Do some research online for book bestseller lists, popular videogames, hunt down reviews, read trades, get to know who is who by checking out Studio System, see what's casting and what an actor client might be good for. If you find something, bring it up.

Also, if you do find something during this period, bring it up to the next person in charge. Don't take it to your boss directly or the VP of Development because you said "Hi" in the lounge.  Always go through the proper channels.

7) Don't try and make friends with your boss. Look, this is a business. Your boss(es) are in a completely different mode the minute they step into their office. As an intern, it's not your place to try and make small talk - even assistants after a year don't really do that. If you want to talk to your boss, then ask for some time to speak with them (and it's a good idea to make it related to the job or your future). Your relationship should be strictly professional.  Trying to talk about your weekends, weather and how the day is is wasting their time, and time can't be wasted.

 


 How a Hollywood Job is Different Than a "Regular" Job


The atmosphere around a job in the industry is probably one of the biggest changes you're going to have to go through. Once you have it down, though, it's all there is. Even in your "normal everyday" life, you'll find yourself in that mindset and sometimes forget that other places work far different than you do...

...and by "far different" I mean "slower."

Hollywood jobs on every level is all about immediacy. Here and now. For example, an email not returned within 12 hours is too slow. A meeting not set within the day is too slow. A phone call not returned by the middle of the next day is too slow. You can be ten minutes late for a meeting, but if you're over fifteen you might as well reschedule because that's fifteen minutes of business time completely wasted out of the day that you and the person you're meeting won't get back. Remember, if there's anything you don't want to do...say it with me:

Is waste peoples' time.

I think I've said that enough over the past numerous articles, and I'll do it again here.This doesn't mean you can't relax or must stress out, but you better get the stuff done that's asked of you including not wasting your or anyone else's time. Time management is arguably the most important aspect of this industry. "Time is money," as cliche as it sounds, is incredibly true when your day is lined up with meetings, lunch, conference calls and rolling regular calls and doing emails. Being late for one eats into the time of another, putting your whole day at risk of needing to reschedule something. Nobody likes rescheduling, and nobody likes a reputation of being someone that reschedules things or is always late.

Another thing I'll do as it relates to this is the "fuck you, pay me" approach.

If money is due, not only do people want their money now, they don't give a damn the reasons why it's taking too long or why it might take too long. 

I envy the old jobs I used to have, and I actually find it funny that I considered some of them "high stress" or "tiring." Trust me, you don't know those words until you're on the job here. Even now, I know there other jobs in this industry itself I won't touch because I really don't want to start all over again in the stress factor. Like casting, publicity or actor management. No thank you, I'm quite comfortable and not "learning the ropes" all over again.

That's really the key. Like I said, once it becomes second nature, you'll become comfortable wherever you are. The learning curve, though, is the toughest part to get around. Once you do, it's all in a day's work...

 


 
Terms you Need to Know
 

Spec - A Spec or Spec Script is basically a script written without any planned direction. In other words, it's not a project that's set up anywhere via a contractual writer's agreement, the writer simply wrote it and isn't receiving payment for writing it. Spec is short for "speculation" meaning it's very speculative on if anything will happen with it.

Unsolicited Material - The bane of many people's existence. It's pretty described in the name itself, unsolicited material is material sent out without using official channels (such as an agent, manager or lawyer). It's usually direct from the director, writer or actor themselves and are give to various companies whether they want it or not. Most do not want it, but some do accept unsolicited materials and you should call or email ahead of time regarding their submission policy. Even if they do accept, most are put on the backburner or given to interns to read and give impressions on.

Coverage - Coverage of a book or script is essentially a rundown and synopsis of the plot, notes on what works and what doesn't, the opinion of the reader whether or not it would make a good movie or show and often given to the lowest people on the totem pole because it takes a good few hours to do. Coverage structure is as follows:

-Basic Information at the top (Writer, genre, pages etc...)

-A Logline next

-A synopsis/summary

-End with comments and notes

-Usually one page for a screenplay is good (it may go over depending on how many comments there are). Book coverage goes more, usually three to five pages.

Tracking - "Tracking" refers to how well a show, script or other material is doing amongst those that see or read it. It's to give a good estimation of how well a film might do at the box office or whether or not some hot writer is going to be getting a lot more meetings soon. It's usually geared towards Spec Scripts and getting it out for people to read. It's basically following how good or bad something is doing. 

Tracking Board - As an intern, you probably won't be accepted on to these, but you may be asked by your bosses to look at them when need be. A tracking board is basically a private group online (using something such a Google Groups hidden from the public) where information is shared amongst people in the industry (and for tracking of course, as noted above). If there's a script that is needed, or perhaps a screener, a list of job openings or restaurant suggestions, track "specs," industry news that isn't made public yet or info seeking regarding execs and so on - all can really be found here. Most are in the assistant/VP range but some more exclusive ones include studio heads, agents and producers.

**Warning** - There are some so-called tracking boards that you pay to get on. Do not be fooled by these. Tracking Boards for real industry people are invitation only and don't cost a dime.

(blank) against (blank) - This is in reference to payments. Example is $125,000 against $300,000. This means that a writer will be paid $125,000 for a script (usually segmented depending on the stages - Treatment, Draft, Rewrite, Polish etc...) and should the script be made into a film, the writer will receive an additional $175,000, thus totaling $300,000. 

Logline -  A one or two sentence description of what a film, script, show or treatment is about and incredibly important in selling an idea. Basically, if you can't tell in just a few sentences what your story is about, then your story isn't going to get anywhere. For more information, you can read the Screenwriting Article on this site.

Treatment -  Often written by the author of a screenplay prior to actually writing it, it's basically the rundown of how a film or television show will play out. It summarizes the story of the script, lists and defines the major characters and, should it be an idea for a series, will detail the major arcs across the first few seasons (usually beginning with three). 

Pilot -  A pilot is what a show is called that is produced for television but not yet picked up by a network or other outlet. There are dozens of pilots shot every year during "Pilot Season" (spring/early summer)with probably three times as many scripts that don't even get past the development stages. When a pilot script for a show is "picked up" that means it's going into physical production to be done during the pilot season. If the network or studio love the final product, the show will then be "picked up" once more for a season or, at the very least, a few more episodes.

First Look Deal - When a studio provides a "deal" to a company (or an individual), it basically means they are more or less a production subsidiary (of sorts) of that studio and are given the ability of first-refusal to whatever that company brings their way. This is a lucrative relationship for those particular production companies because it guarantees that the studio will take a legitimate look at the material,  usually within a standard contractual time (such as a two-year deal), as well as a good deal for the studio because companies with "deals" often get more done, have better product and are more consistent with their quality than those without a deal which is why they want to be the first to take a look at whatever they may have to offer. For example, Imagine Entertainment has a deal with Universal providing them with new product they can consider for production. If they refuse, Imagine can then take that product and shop it around to other studios.

One Sheet - One-sheets are used across a lot of different media, especially literary. In terms of Hollywood, it's in reference to a film or show that is about to be released and is something released to press outlets and for advertising. It can also be used to describe the first poster released for a film. It's entirely promotional.

Trades - A "Trade" is an industry magazine.  It's just Variety and the Hollywood Reporter.

 


 
Recommended Reading
 

I don't know everything, and I certainly haven't covered everything. Just know that a lot of people in Hollywood are taking the same steps you are now - and many have shared those steps. Below are some of the must-reads for people in the industry.

The Mailroom: Hollywood History from the Bottom Up - by David Rensin

Hello, He Lied - by Lynda Obst

The Hollywood Assistant's Handbook - by Hilary Stamm: Not really "required" but it is a good read. If anything, it lays out the basics for any entry-level job.

The Kid Stays in the Picture - by Robert Evans - A classic memoir and one of the most popular books about the industry

Making Movies - by Sydney Lumet: An absolute classic, one of the first movie-making books I've read that also has a great insight into the world of Hollywood.

Adventures of the Screen Trade - by William Goldman

and lastly, one more time from a previous article.

Save the Cat - by Blake Snyder: you're going to be reading. Reading a lot, actually, giving notes, writing synopsis and coverage. Snyder's Save the Cat is not only beneficial for aspiring writers but for those that will be reading those aspiring writers. It will help you understand basic structure, pace, what's expected from a script and how to make it into a filmmable body of work. A book on the fundamentals is required and this is universally accepted as one of the easiest and simplest to really help you along.

Others might include Breakfast With Sharks, What Just Happened?, Hollywood Drive, Memo from David O Selznick and Which Lie Did I Tell?


What Doesn't Kill You...

Everything is a process. Learn the ropes, pay your dues, climb the rungs. You'll get hit and hit hard at first. Those hits may last only a few months, it may last a few years. To better yourself, you have to weather the onslaught. Most, I would have to estimate, can't handle it and turn to another profession in a matter of months. They simply couldn't handle the curve and are probably suited for something more in tune with their own lifestyle and thought process. There's nothing wrong with that, any person out of college (or flunked out of college) will go through the same paths no matter where.

So don't get disheartened if you try it out, intern for a semester or so, and realize it's not for you. If, though, you manage to come out of that storm, dry and ready for action, you've made it through one of the most difficult parts of the entire film/television industry. It's a trial by fire, if anything - thinning the herd and taking the Darwin's approach of natural selection.

I hope this is able to give you an idea of what it's like to work in Hollywood and maybe help you on your way if it's something you're interested (or, at the very least, be entertaining as someone from the inside looking out). I don't cover everything here, nor do I claim to know everything, but I do know the things I wish I knew when first starting out. So if you're reading this with stars in your eyes and hope in your spirit to find your future in a city full of celebrities, assholes and money, first: expect that to get crushed and second: welcome to Hollywood. Now earn it.

 


 

 

  

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