I received this email yesterday:
The point: ------------------>
I realized I had written about this a few years back. With a quick re-read, it all still pretty much rings true.
so you wanna be in showbiz?My friend S. describes working in showbiz as a slippery rock in the midst of the stormy sea. Most people are flailing in the water, she says, but if you can just get one palm on that rock, just one hand to pull yourself up, you’re in. Sure, the climb’s a bitch and you can easily fall back into the sea. Grip that rock as hard as you can and you’ll build enough strength to reach back into the water and pull someone up with you.
In the last few months, I’ve been the recipient of many a hey-I-heard-you-do-this-writing-thing-and-I-want-to-write/direct/produce/draw/act/do voice over/be a P.A./anything at all to suckle at the Hollywood teat. Do you have some pointers on getting that first job? Some people know me through family or friends. Some are from my alma mater. Some are just people who poke around online and randomly find my site. I try to help all of them because someone helped me. Most people are wonderful, gracious and polite. But I’ve had more than my share of bad turns as well.
So here’s some advice if you want to participate in the game of ever-revolving musical chairs that is working in showbiz.
DON’T be afraid to ask. Most people are willing to help. The brilliant thing about the Internet is that everyone has an email address.
DO write a polite, short email explaining who you are and what you want to do. If you were referred by someone, make sure to use their name.
DO ask for an informational interview. While everyone in this town is always busy, don’t underestimate the power of the ego. Most people love to talk about themselves. I'm no different. Have you ever read through this entire site? Pages and pages of me, me, me.
DON’T say you were referred by someone when you weren’t. You’ll get caught, and then you’re just a liar who’s pretending to be someone you aren’t. Which is everyone in Hollywood, it’s just by the time everyone else figures it out, you already have a job.
DO know something about the person you’re writing to/calling/sending a carrier pigeon to. You don’t need to stalk them gee, that red shirt looked great on you Tuesday. Oh, and when I was at your house going through your panty drawer I fed the dog. It's called IMDB. (2010 Note: Or Google.)
DO know something about the business that you’re interested in. I get a lot of Oh! I want to work in teevee! emails and when I respond asking what their area of interest is in, the email back reads oh, anything. If you don’t know what you want to do for a living, how the hell am I going to know?
A caveat: some industries – like animation fr’example – have many different facets. If you’re an artist who wants to work in cartoons, you might be a character designer, do backgrounds or be a storyboard artist. Or perhaps you're more interested in CGI. Learn as much about that industry if you can by picking the brains of those people who work in the business. (See: step one, informational interview.)
DON’T always assume that the guy at the top is the only person who’s worth seeing. When I was a college senior, I wangled my way into an informational interview with Alan Horn, now President of Warner Bros., then-President of Castle Rock Entertainment. We chatted for about twenty minutes and he offered me a job as a reader at his company when I graduated in three months. I was the only senior in my graduating class with a job in the Industry! The day before I moved to California I called his office only to be told that there were no jobs to be had. D’oh!
DON’T ask for one favor hoping for another. I had someone who asked me how to get a job as a P.A. in animation. I came up of a list of companies for her to submit her resume to, as well as getting her the name of the Cartoon Network H.R. person. About three emails later she started talking about her voice over demo. If she wanted help with her voice over demo, she should have started with that. But don’t schnorr it in later.
DO hustle. Everyone likes to help those who help themselves. If your contact gives you a list of companies and people to contact, contact ALL of them. There is nothing more annoying than to hear well, I contacted one of them and they said they weren’t hiring so I stopped. If one ‘no’ is enough to thwart your effort, then go work at Blockbuster. (2010 Note: Blockbuster may no longer exist.)
DO bring an example of whatever it is you’d like to do. If you’re an animator, have a portfolio. If you’re a writer, have a script. An actor should have a headshot. If you don’t have these right away or at the time that you’re meeting with your contact, make sure to have something together shortly afterward. You wait too long and you’ll be forgotten, or show them that you can’t work quickly.
DON’T show a less-than-stellar effort. Don’t show a first draft, an unmixed tape, an unfinished drawing. It’s hard to get someone to take the time to look at your work once, much less twice. You only get one shot, so make sure you aim first.
DO take notes graciously and incorporate them. I cannot tell you how many scripts I’ve gotten over the past five years that people are incensed that I’ve given them notes. I don’t care if Aunt Gladys or your professor or your best friend thinks it’s the best thing that they’ve ever read. I’ve actually stopped reading scripts because I’m sick of arguing with people over notes. (2010 Note: See "I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script.")
A caveat: yes, there are brilliant movies out there. But none of these have ever been scripts that were given to me. If you can’t believe that your script is anything less than perfect, then get a credit card and make it yourself.
DON’T ask to have your script/demo/headshot to be passed along to your contact’s agent or manager. No, it’s not because I’m jealous. Every person I recommend to an agent, every person I recommend for a job, every person is a reflection of me and my taste. When I submit my own work, I don’t waste my agent or manager’s time with a less than stellar effort (and see above – they don’t always agree!) so I won’t waste their time with yours. (2010 Note: I am currently unrepresented. I have currently ceased my search for representation until I build my script library to the point where I have more than one sample.)
A caveat: if you’ve taken the time to take notes, rewrite and rework and the script is ready, I’m happy to pass it along. You know how many times that’s happened in five years? Not once. (2010 Note: In ten years? STILL NOT ONCE.)
DON’T use someone to get to their boyfriend/wife/brother/second-cousin-once-removed. Just don’t. It’s the most transparent thing you can do, a tacky and tasteless move, and an assurance that that person will NEVER help you.
DO be gracious. Say thank you. An email is sufficient, a written note even better, and if your contact has gone above an beyond, a small (small!) token of appreciation can make all the difference.
DON’T forget the assistant. If you’re talking with someone who has one, make sure that you get the assistant’s name and include them on your thank-yous. The Hollywood Assistant is the gatekeeper to the kingdom. You overlook them and your name isn’t on the call sheet any more.
DO turn in your work. Follow up with how you’ve taken the person’s advice or address the notes that you’ve been given. My ex used to tell me about people who come in to take drawing tests for his show who never turned them back in, or would turn them in six months later. All people we’d hire, he would tell me, but if they can’t bother to turn the damn thing in I don’t want them on my crew.
This all seems like common sense, but in the past ten years, I still see these BASIC rules being broken.
The woman who wanted the P.A. job in Animation? I would have personally walked in her resume. If she asked me up front about her voice over demo instead of bringing it up later, I could have handed it to a Voice Director After I had passed along what I had found out, I never heard from her again. She never followed up. She never wrote a thank you note.
Her loss. There’s plenty other people in the sea.
I'm currently working on my second original spec pilot (amongst other things...) When it's done, I will ask people for favors. To read it. To note it. To read the rewrite. And I will follow every one of the rules above. Because even after working in this business for nearly ten years...THEY APPLY TO EVERYONE.