Media Production

How Hollywood Works (Part 2)

A few weeks ago I started a series on how Hollywood works where I collected quotes from friends in the entertainment industry sharing their insights on breaking in and becoming successful. I’ve discovered that an enormous number of projects fail – not because they’re not good ideas from talented people – but because the filmmakers, writers, or other creative people simply don’t know how the industry works. So from time to time I’ll continue dishing up some great advice from talented professionals about producing, directing, acting, writing, and all the other avenues to making your dream happen:

“If you’re coming to LA to be an actor and you’re coming without your SAG card and no agent, it’s time for a reality check. Los Angeles is a union town and yes, having an agent DOES make a difference. Simple as that. Every “real” job that pays a decent wage is more than likely to be a SAG job. It’s a myth to think you can build an acting career in Los Angeles as a non-union actor. There are no agents that I know of who aspire to represent non-union actors because there is no money in it for them. So what to do? Try to get your SAG card in your local market before you come to LA. Get yourself a local agent and get their help in finding local commercial or film production (many smaller markets still have union work.) Build some professional relationships where you are. If you do come to LA before these major hurdles have been jumped, set your focus on these two things. (BTW, If you’re doing background work, do it only to try to get your 3 SAG vouchers and then get out of it – unless you really like cheese sandwiches. It will suck up your time and lull you into thinking you’re pursuing your career when you’re actually lost in a hobby.) You’ve got to have the tools of the trade.”
– Kim Dorr-Tilley, Associate Pastor, Bel Air Church; Founder of Defining Artists Agency, and leader of Beacon Hollywood.

“If you live on planet earth, you can work in Hollywood. Excellence is your passport, boarding pass, and rental car to Burbank. Write until your fingers fall off. Find out if you’re good, and then rent that triplex in downtown Des Moines. Geography is not destiny. God’s plan, plus the gift he gave you, plus diamond mining hard work are.”
– Todd Komarnicki, Producer of “Elf”, writer of “Sully: The Untold Story Behind the Miracle on the Hudson”, and writer/producer of a new NBC dramatic series.

“If you have an idea for a movie or TV series, #1 is to find financial backers who will get behind you. As a producer, do you need an agent? Not initially. See answer #1. #2 – What are the real odds a studio will spend millions on developing your idea? One in a million. And even if they agree to, you wouldn’t want them to because if your story has any faith or political elements in it, they won’t know how to develop it properly. #3 – Do you need to actually live in Los Angeles or New York? It helps. If you’ve already produced an independent movie and need it distributed, see answer to #1. Once that’s secured, distributors will be happy to talk with you.”
– Mark Joseph, Producer, “The Vessel” and “Silence Patton

“Hollywood is very much like an exclusive country club and like any private club there are 3 requirements; 1. Membership 2. Fees 3. Relationship.
1. Membership – To become a member of the working Hollywood entertainment community you should live in the Hollywood area. Also…you will pay “dues”…over and over again!
2. Fees – Once you are here and willing to suffer for your calling (and it better be a calling, not a dream or even a passion), you must have something you bring to the table that meets other people’s needs. You must have something to offer in exchange for position/membership. It can be in the form of high-level skills, expertise, ownership of IP’s (intellectual Properties), connections to investors, etc. The sooner decision makers see that you can help them meet their goals, the sooner you will be invited to join the club. This is your power!
3. Relationship – Most private clubs require that someone who knows you personally will invite you to join. This is the key to truly belonging. Membership and fees might get you in the club, but authentic relationships will keep you there.”
Cassie Byram, Executive Creative Director, OodlesWorld

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  1. Kim, Todd, Mark and Cassie – ALL GREAT ADVICE!!! People outside of Hollywood have no idea what incredible gems of wisdom these comments are! I’m going to save them to give to all of the young people who come to me asking how to break in, how to get an agent, etc., etc.! I’m just going to email them all of the quotes Phil is collecting and be done with it!

  2. Great advice from those in the creative world of Hollywood…. I also think there’s a lot of opportunity in “Corporate” Hollywood. Working in Production Finance at a studio for 5 years put me in the room with Creative Executives, Producers, Studio Execs and even Alan Horn, Kevin Feige, and Kathleen Kennedy! Don’t think because you don’t aspire to be a director, writer, or producer that you can’t have an impact on Hollywood. There are so many opportunities even within the corporate studio system to build relationships and have a voice in the room. 🙂

    1. That’s a brilliant point Kimberly. I actually have on my list to do a post about working at studios and networks. Universities train film and media students for the creative side, but as you mention, the most powerful people in the industry are studio and network executives.

  3. Phil, you have found your next book. This series is truth, honest and more importantly and above all, it’s a reality check. I’m learning the difference between being realistic versus idealistic. So many people of faith are thinking idealistically than thinking realistically. Yes, we need to pray by faith, but one must understand the difference and when you understand what is realistic such as the information you are compiling and sharing with us, it helps to remove the idealistic (or dream state) so many have that leads to failure and then they wake up years later wondering what happened. This IS your NEXT BOOK! And I’ll be waiting to buy a signed copy! You’ve hit a nerve and it’s time to write the Hollywood Manual or Bible in this case. Grab your laptop Phil!

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