The business and politics of film industry can be a murky, intimidating world to enter, even for the most passionate and committed artists and potential filmmakers. As in most professional realms, mentorship is absolutely crucial in regards to finding your footing and making the most of every opportunity you are lucky enough to enjoy. The Script Mentor exists to provide support to aspiring and rising screenwriters for just this reason. However, some broader knowledge is widely available online that applies to more than just writers, but to people interesting in filling just about every role in the entertainment industry. Barbara Freedman Doyle, who – in addition to establishing herself as a successful coordinator and production supervisor in television and film – has served in leadership roles of various film departments at the University level, curated a list of things you need to know to make it in the film industry. Although Geno Scala and his presence in the world of arts and entertainment have been most heavily centered around scriptwriting, these general insights serve him (and everyone) well as gentle reminders about the reality of breaking into the film industry and finding success therein.
Reputation Is Everything
In every business where people are wheeling and dealing with any level of frequency, your reputation will make or break you. This is especially true in a relatively close-knit, small, and exclusive industry like film and television. It is an intimate enough industry that many (if not most) negotiating happens verbally. Any established presence can contact just about any other party with just a phone call. Everyone, especially the kinds of people who make the most important sorts of decisions behind the camera, talk all of the time. What all this constant communications means is that there are no secrets. It is one thing for information like your typical job title and pay rate to be public knowledge. In the entertainment business, however, people can and will discuss so much more. This can include how hard you work, if you are honest, and how you treat people.
Therefore, if you nurture a reputation for yourself as reliable, capable, and an overall positive workplace presence, more and more doors will swing open. Again, this may hold true in most industries, but in entertainment this reality is magnified and multiplied many times over. On the other hand, if someone has a negative experience working with you, then your reputation as difficult, high-strung, irrational, or just plain unpleasant will intensify your troubles finding work to an extreme extent relative to what you might experience working in a different field. It is important to realize that this is your employment and nobody is interesting in cutting you slack because you had a long day or were simply in a bad mood for whatever reason. Without a proven track record, your talent simply does not count for much. You have to deliver, and be prepared to follow through and execute every single time. It just takes one slip-up or one bad experience with one person to potentially sink your entire reputation (and career). Rationalizations for why you came up short once or twice just do not count and extenuating circumstances do not matter. Recognize that every decision you make and action you take is feeding into your reputation and take ownership of how people will describe you when, eventually, your name comes up on future projects.
History Trumps Friendship Every Time
An incredibly dangerous combination is for a word to be both overused and misused, which is exactly the case when it comes to the term, “relationship.” That is especially true in film and television. One of the most common anecdotes you will hear is that some person in a position of authority gave a lesser known individual a shot because they had “a relationship.” Another frequent scenario people in the entertainment business often quote is two people who always work together because they “have a relationship.” Sometimes producers won’t interfere or otherwise decline to argue with a director’s first choice for talent (behind or in front of the camera) because, although the producer might have a different preference, the director and the person in question “have a relationship.”
When it comes to the working world, relationships have little to absolutely nothing to do with friendship. If you are serious about breaking into film or television in any capacity, you need to be able to sever and separate your understanding of relationships in your personal sphere and what they are in the professional one. Working relationships are all about history. In the entertainment industry, turnover is incredibly high. Everyone is ambitious and has a dream, yet people who are here today will undoubtedly be gone tomorrow. This extreme degree of volatility is very deeply rooted into the very soul of the industry. As such, history – having worked or even just studied together in the past – can be a protection against the certainty that every production or project will be battling uncertainty at some point in the future. Shared goals, loyalty, and the all-around comfort of a “known quantity,” so to speak, can be an enormous source of strength in what is a very challenging and demanding line of work. Successful working relationships can sometimes involved a genuine friendship, but they are built and exist for so much more. Frankly, people will almost always choose working with someone who was unpleasant in a partnership that has previously produced success over someone who they sincerely like but with whom they have no working history at all.
The Decision Makers Play The Odds
Think about the view from the top of the proverbial food chain. The individuals who call the shots in film and television very much interact with projects that come across their desks as educated gamblers would. There is certainly a large amount of anxiety involved, given the amount of financial resource which can be on the line. Major decisions are nearly never spontaneous. In truth, even the smallest of details is often a carefully considered choice. This extends from the inception (which script they choose and who they choose to re-work any aspect of it) through production (every single tiny aspect of the filming and editing process) to its conclusion (marketing can be the difference between a box office bomb and blockbuster hit). As someone looking to break into the industry, this means everything you do needs to be crafted towards the purpose of minimizing risk. When considering who to hire, you want the person making the call to look at you and see that not only are you more talented, positive, and passionate – the most important thing you can be as a candidate is the safest choice. If these movers and shakers in the entertainment business are looking to stack the deck in their favor so that the project at hand is most likely to be a success, be sure you are doing everything in your party to make yourself an obvious asset. This harkens back to history as the basis of every working relationship. Thriving as an intern can be a struggle, especially since starting at the lowest possible rung on the latter is not necessarily going to be compensated immediately with the most inspiring financial incentives. However, your motivation should be the knowledge that one great reference can have the power to get someone to roll the dice and choose you. Once you have a foot in the door, the opportunities to work your way up are much more immediate and real. You need to do more than just tell people you have potential – if they are going to bet on you via the hiring process, you need to be sure your experience shows them that potential beyond any shadow of a doubt.