Rules of Hollywood #9
It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know
Hi there, recently graduated or currently enrolled film student. I'm sure you're enjoying watching your assigned films, writing your literary theory essays and maybe putting together a nice short film or beating out a script. Quick note, though: knowing all that isn't going to land you a job or get you anywhere in the film industry. Film, by its nature, is a collaborative medium. That means you work with people. The film industry is a social business. That means you need to meet people. Your career is not going to find that success you desire if you live in a shell.
I know that film school grads often feel entitled, I've met more than my share to get that. You spent years learning about the history and the craft of moviemaking and you want that job then and there. Well, you can get that, but you need to work for it even more. What Hollywood is, essentially, is a hierarchy - and getting off the first few bottom rungs is the make-or-break area of everybody.
As much as I would like to say hard work and natural talent will bring you success, and hey it just might, the truth is that a majority of those successful in the Industry, from power agents to top execs to great writers to amazing actors, became successful because they knew the right person. Or, at the very least, they knew one person who just gave them a break and were friends with. Read any number of biographies and autobiographies of actors or directors and you'll find a lot of them will be stories concerning the people they met early on, how they got their first jobs as a result and how it all led to success. Again, this is a social business and stories like that are a dime a dozen: only some pay salary and others with a twenty million dollar check.
That is unless those authors of said biographies have a major ego. Which means they'll probably go on and on about how they were "discovered." I hate that word - the first thing anyone should learn is that they're not special.
There are two points in this article to be made:
1) Knowing people in the industry before you start out in it is immeasurably beneficial.
2) Once you do become a part of the wonderful world of movie and television, continue to push forward to meet more and more people. This is called "Networking."
Oh, and, remember that article just a while back about "Selling the person, not the product?" Yeah, keep that one in mind because it relates here. If you're going to make impressions, get noticed and meet increasingly more important people by networking, you need to have that charisma and drive to do so and not be an asshole while doing it.
The Social Network
Sure, you might know a hell of a lot about film and Hollywood history, perhaps you've even read countless books on the inner workings of the entertainment industry (or a lot blogs...like this one) in some sort of preparation in understanding how it all works.
Well, I hope you aren't relying too much on blogs. That would just be silly.
You might know a lot, understand a lot, but none of that knowing is worth a damn if you can't utilize it, relay towards people and nothing out there will teach you how to get a job in the film industry in doing so or how to further your career. It's called "learning the ropes" and even though I can tell you a lot here, you'll learn far more once you actually start doing it and start knowing people around town. I can give tips, another some nice advice, but really, knowing a lot isn't nearly as important as who you know. Even achieving a lot isn't as important as who you know - and knowing the right people is something that you will carry throughout a career in entertainment.
This industry is a social one. You have to meet. You have to greet. You have to make connections and network and it will never end. You will take as many meetings when you're 70 as you did when you were 30. Some are more important than others, but all are there for the purposes of establishing yourself and getting in the right rooms and shaking the right hands. So let's start at the beginning...
Exploit your Contacts Early
It's only natural to feel a bit uncomfortable asking friends and family, professors or even friends of friends of family members for a bit of help when trying to procure a job in any field. In Hollywood, though, it's pretty much the norm, so someone asking someone else for a favor or some sort of advice and help really comes with the territory.
Working your way up works the same way. Most of the time, people get a job, a role, a project or a property simply because they know the right people and make the right calls and meet at the right times. Despite the selfish stigmata that the industry has, its actually a bit of a unified group (as long as you aren't in competition) and everyone knows they're in the same boat. Well, those that aren't assholes as I mentioned in an older article and are too caught up in their world to care about another. Still, though, even they might "go to bat" for a person. People are willing to make a call on your behalf, write a letter of recommendation and vouch for each other - especially if you've "paid your dues." You aren't invisible. People notice those things and hard work and commitment is probably more applauded in Hollywood than a lot of other businesses.
Oh, yes, it is a business. So in retrospect of this article, this could really be applied to any person hunting for a job. Here, though, it's much more beneficial in both the short term of getting a foot in the door and in the long term of plotting out your career in whatever field it is you want to get in.
Knowing People Is Good For...
Producers, managers, agents and pretty much everyone has what's called a "stack" or a "pile") This is, as the name so eloquently describes, a stack of material that needs to be read. Usually, your typical stack has the top and bottom. The top are the things that need to urgently be read, the bottom are the things that aren't as urgent or important. Unless you're a "name" writer or high power, you probably wont' get your stuff at the top, but just getting in the stack alone is hard enough. But if you know a guy who knows a guy, and that guy says "hey Mr. Producer, my friend has a spec," then that's a nice thing to exploit, don't you think? Now Mr. Producer himself probably isn't going to read it, someone under him will, but that's still a good step. A writer simply wants his stuff read.
Casting directors have a tough job. They read scripts, work with filmmakers and try to find the right person for the right role. It's a constant cycle for them and, to be honest, I don't envy the job whatsoever. I especially don't envy struggling actors, the hardest field to really get into in showbiz in my mind. Not because the field is flooded necessarily (it is, but so is every field) but because it probably takes the most work to get anywhere and certainly the most dedication to halt one's life just to go to an audition.
Knowing someone doing a small film that can get you a little exposure (even a few lines and no pay), an intern at a casting office that might give you a heads up on auditions, another who works at a management company or a fellow actor that has an agent seeking new clientale - you have to go for that.
Have a short film? Hell, trying to do a short film? Knowing people who will be a part of your movie is pretty much reliant grassroots networking - a few friends might be actors (or maybe you can exploit a university's drama department billboards), you maybe meet someone who can give you some free music at a party or know a relative that has some film equipment they don't use anymore. From there, you can make a short, then put it out there in a similar fashion i the ways writers do. Meet people, use people (hopefully in a non-dickish manner) and get the right people to see it. Next thing you know you'll have a nice entry at a film festival or at least a popular online video you can send links out on.
General Job Placement
Agencies, management companies and production company/studio jobs are prime example of using your connections. Know someone that works at these places? You're already ahead of a lot of people that don't have the luxury of someone vouching for them with human resources (or whoever handles the hirings/firings). I went into a lot of detail on this aspect earlier in "How to Get Your Foot In the Door" (especially the early part of Part One) and all of that applies here as well.
Well That's Nice, But...
Alright, so those are some examples of early networking and maybe finding work. You're young in your career, naturally you're going to ask around and inquire with people in your circles about those kind of things. But getting to "know" people doesn't end there once you have a job. No, sir. In fact, one of the biggest aspects of working in the film industry are a constant stream of meetings, drinks, networking events or mixers (usually hosted and sponsored), dinners, lunches and maybe a coffee or two. As I said, this is very much a social scene. The job doesn't merely end at seven (or eight) but happens after normal business hours as well and during lunchtime if you can manage it. If you're trying to make a career in the entertainment industry and find yourself alone in a room or going home every night...you're doing it wrong.
A boss of mine once said to me, and please excuse the fact that I won't direct quote because he tended to ramble and I won't risk inaccuracies: if you can't put in the time to simply meet up with people, then you won't be known to anybody and your career will pretty much screech to a halt.
Knowing him, he probably threw in a lot of "fucks" and "shits" in there too.
Why, you might ask? Well, because cuss words...
Oh, you meant "why" as in "why would he say you might as well write off your career?" That's because networking is something that is constantly growing and evolving and has a direct impact in this field. By reaching out and making those connections, you start to become relevant. Let's say you're an actor and some director saw you at a party and was sent your reel. A few months later, he's casting for a movie. He sits back and thinks "Who was that guy/girl I met a while back? I really liked that kid."
Doesn't happen, you say? Trust me, that happens all the time. Another example is, let's say you meet up with an assistant or creative exec for drinks. You hit it off and she/he and your potentially inebriated self become email buddies/facebook friends/work together on an idea. Whatever it may be. Jump ahead a few years - that person is suddenly the head of production at Warner Brothers or a top-tier agent at WME...now you're having those drinks with a pretty damn important person and even if you haven't chatted with them in a while, if you call them up after reading about their huge promotion in the trades, tell their assistant who you are - a hundred bucks say they remember you and will return your call by day's end. That's something not everyone has the luxury of having. Getting those return calls is how you start to make headway with whatever you're doing and want to do. Hell, even if you're out looking for a new position, knowing that person will likely land you somewhere. Networking isn't about instant gratification, it's there to sustain you and help you in the long run.
I've had a number of jobs over the years, but the entertainment industry is one where networking is far, far more integral. You can't sit in a cubicle all day and then punch out at five and look for a happy hour with a co-worker or three. Your job doesn't end at that time, and because you have to be a relevant person and out there meeting and greeting, your social life ends up becoming your business life in the process, and what little time you actually have left for yourself to spend with friends and family is as scheduled and plotted out on calendars as all those meetings and lunches. And believe me, you will have little time which is probably why patience is something quite rare in the field.
The Greater Good
You want to go home every night, watch TV and have a nice meal? This isn't a career for you. I know a lot of people that, thanks to just meeting up with someone for drinks or knowing someone to introduce them to the right person, landed some nice jobs here. They took the time to meet them, and that's something you really have to dedicate yourself to. You don't necessarily meet them for "fun" or to "have a good time" (though nothing is preventing that). Usually it's business related and maybe a friendship will evolve. But either way, at least you know that person now. You have to give up your personal life sometimes to just say "Look, I need to move forward, I'm going to schedule drinks with these people this month and see what happens."
Is it something guaranteed? No. But it sure keeps you and your career relevant, even if it means having to screech your personal life to a halt in favor of pushing the pedal on your career. So if you're looking to work in the entertainment industry or currently are - get out there, meet the people, shake the right hands and you'll start seeing some doors opening and new doors you probably didn't even realize existed.