Break into Hollywood: 4 Secret Weapons to Get Interviews, Jobs, and Representation

career, first hollywood job, work
Black Mirror

I completed my internship and one of the executives asked me, “What do you want to do next?”

I told him I was thinking about going to an agency.

He picked up a phone. He said to someone on the other side, “Have I ever asked you to meet anyone? Okay, well, I got someone I want you to meet.”

He hung up the phone. “You’re all set, you’re going to interview at WME.”

I interviewed with Carole Katz — not her assistant or her junior executive. Her. You’ve never heard of her, but she’s been head of HR for WME since 2001.

She told me (like they tell everyone) all the reasons I’d hate the job. Minimum wage. 12-hour days and weekends. No life. Think carefully, she said.

I said I’d let her know first thing tomorrow.

I emailed her the next day: I’m in. She said she’d put me on the consideration list.

I never heard back.

And it’s 100% my fault. Because I never followed up. Instead, I was waiting for her to “give me my chance.”

All the mistakes I’ve made in my career have come from waiting for my chance.

Fortunately, if you’ve moved to Los Angeles and you’re building your career (or even if you’re still working on getting out to LA) there are dozens of things you can do to create your own chances — even if you don’t have experience or connections.

I call these your “secret weapons” for breaking into Hollywood.

So let’s talk these secret weapons. (Btw, yes, you’ve got to have skills, too. If you’re a writer, actor, director, whatever, I’m assuming you got chops and every day you’re working to get better.)

Secret Weapon #1: Prepare Like You’re Going to War

With basic preparation, you’ll outshine 90% of your peers competing for the same attention, meetings, and jobs.

Because you know what preparation looks like for most people? 10 minutes of Googling on their phones 15 minutes beforehand. And it shows.

That’s why most people ask terrible questions, like, “Uh, so what advice do you have?”

Or when they’re asked to talk about themselves, they launch into a 10-minute rant about how she’s loved film ever since her parents took her to the $3 budget cinema next to Lechmere’s.

You’re different. Here’s are your rules of thumb:

  • Coffee with a friend? 30 minutes prep minimum
  • Drinks or meeting? 1 hour prep minimum
  • Interview? 3 hours prep minimum

(Before I interviewed for Dennis, I spent 6+ hours on my prep. That includes creating film payout projections for 10+ projects and putting myself on camera 18 times to practice.)

Interview practice

So how should you prepare?

Here’s what you’ll do:

  • Google the person you’re meeting
  • Google their company
  • Read their five latest articles or blog posts
  • Check out every single social media account they have: LI, Facebook, Twitter, IG
  • Read the five latest posts on all their social media
  • If it’s an entertainment company or person, look them up. Use IMDBPro or Studio System or VarietyInsight
  • If you don’t have an account to IMDBPro, Studio System, or VarietyInsight, beg, borrow, or steal access
  • Ask yourself: How can I help this person? What does this person need? How can I do that for them?
  • Come up with 3 unique and genuine questions
  • If it’s an interview, get a list of likely questions and answer them on camera
  • Afterwards, take notes on everything you can remember
  • Store your notes where you can always find them (I use Evernote)
  • Send them an email that night thanking them for meeting with you, 1-2 things you learned, and what you plan to do next
  • Schedule in your calendar to follow-up in two weeks to update them on your progress

Proper preparation takes work. Most people don’t do it. That’s why most people spend too much time waiting for their chance.

Secret Weapon #2: Work Backwards to Create a Stellar Resume

You don’t need a long list of credits on your resume or a ton of experience to get started. You just need to get started.

I was coaching Victor, from Chicago. Victor wanted to break into reality television, but his biggest obstacle was he had no experience — he has worked in insurance for most of his life.

I told him to start with the job or skills he wants to have, and work backwards until he finds work he can do.

So for example, he wanted to produce reality TV. That involves physical production. Victor’s never been on a set before, so he needs that experience. The first step to working on a set? Becoming a production assistant. How could he get experience as a production assistant?

By emailing any of these small productions I found happening in Chicago after 10 minutes on Craigslist.

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It’s that simple. You don’t need experience to get work you can put on your resume. You just need to start.

That’s how I started.

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Not a great e-mail.

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But it didn’t matter, I got experience.

I decided I wanted more script reading experience, so I found ways to do that:

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You don’t need to live in Los Angeles to get started on this. Contact a Youtuber or video blogger who lives in your area and just start getting experience.

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There is no members-only website to score these opportunities. You’re surrounded by them. Every day, check out:

  • Craigslist
  • Any podcast about films or entertainment
  • YouTube channels
  • Script writing contests
  • Film festivals

Every experience leverages to the next experience. That’s how you’ll build your resume.

Secret Weapon #3. Make it impossible to say no

Every pitch you give, it should be nearly impossible to say no. Every email you send is a pitch. Whether you’re trying to meet up for a drink or you’re sending in a cover letter. You’re constantly pitching.

Make it so compelling you can’t be refused.

Here are a couple pitches people sent me:

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How could I say “no” to meeting this person?

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Good email, so I reached out and we did a call right away

I’m going to show you 2 email pitches I sent. One got ignored, the other got me a job. Which do you think is which?

Here’s the first pitch:

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Not bad, but not great.

Here’s the second pitch:

Hi Dennis,

Amy said she mentioned her and my discussion to you, and that you said I should feel free to shoot you a note. After spending the last two years reading most of your work (and scripts/treatments based on your books) and observing your transition to Los Angeles, I thought of a few suggestions that could make the process an easier one…

1. A temporary west coast assistant. Right now, you’re entering the very lucrative re-write market with publishing deadlines in the horizon. You’ve just moved your whole family across coasts. You need someone on site to help coordinate your LA schedule, get your affairs in order, and get your office running.

What it would take: A short-term West Coast assistant. To get all the trains running back on schedule.

How I could help: I’d work with REDACTED (whom I’ve coordinated with in the past) to manage your schedule, acting as a stop-gap until you were settled. This was part of my regular duties here at IPG: coordinating Amy’s schedule while simultaneously coordinating for REDACTED.

Benefits to you: With someone on the ground in LA to deal with the minutiae, you could focus on the two most important things in your life: your family and your writing.

2. A research / writer’s assistant. Currently you’re juggling a wide breadth of projects, e.g., REDACTED A researcher / writer’s assistant would sift through any and all material, organize it for you, so you can focus on creating your worlds.

What it would take: A dedicated West Coast researcher / writer’s assistant.

How I could help: I imagine you’ve worked with a stable of excellent researchers and assistants. They are/were likely organized, voracious readers and thoughtful writers (prerequisites for this role). What makes me different is my network. In addition to those traits, I’ve fostered relationships so I can get many books and scripts in the unpublished, unproduced market. For example, last week REDACTED requested an unpublished book represented by a rival agency. Within hours, Amy and I were able to get a copy to him because of my relationships.

What the benefits are to you: You’re a thorough reader, taking on material both wide (across a spectrum of genres) and deep (tracing a genre down its roots, e.g., for literary crime fiction, James Ellroy, James Lee Burke, James Crumley). But you face more projects and stricter time restraints. I can not only process, filter and organize information for you to write more efficiently, but get access to resources that you may want.

Given the above, I hope you can see I’d provide immense value to your work, and you’d consider taking me on as an assistant. I understand there are reasons why you’d be hesitant, which is why I’d suggest several options to make this very low-risk for you: I could start remotely or onsite, whichever is more comfortable for you. We could do a one-month, uncompensated “trial” period. If you didn’t feel the fit was right, we’d part ways, no hard feelings.

That being said, I have a great deal of respect for you and the work you’ve done. I think it’d be brilliant to work for you in some way. Thanks for your time, I hope to talk with you again soon.

No brainer.

Key points to remember when you’re pitching:

  • Be the answer to their prayers. It’s your job to figure out how you can help them, not their job to tell you
  • Everyone needs help. As Charlie Hoehn put it, it breaks down to 4 things: more money, more time, more opportunities, or less stress
  • Just being “free” isn’t enough. Top people care very little about saving $100, or even $1,000 dollars a week. They care A LOT about saving 10 minutes when they’re scrambling to get to their daughter’s soccer game. Pitch accordingly

Secret Weapon #4. Build it yourself

Andy Weir started The Martian on his blog

Gary Vaynerchuk started recording videos in the basement of his wine store

Lights Out started as David Sandberg’s 3-minute short

Before getting picked-up by HBO, High Maintenance began as a Vimeo series

Casey Neistat was running his bike into cop cars before he created his Youtube brand and start-up.

Keep doing your own thing — even when you’re tired, even when you start wondering “what’s the point.” This is a long game we’re playing.

This is How You Get Noticed

Not cold querying managers and agents. Not asking other people to “pass on” your headshot or your screenplay.

Yes, it sucks that no one ever told us, or that this wasn’t covered in school. Now you know.

So do this instead:

  • Prepare like you’re going to war
  • Work backwards to create a stellar resume
  • Make it impossible to say no
  • Build it yourself

Keep these secret weapons in your back pocket. See you in Hollywood.

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Photo Credit: Variety

2 comments… add one

  • I love this article! I am a year into living in LA, and I can see how this article has wonderful, applicable tips. Thank you for the share!

    • Chris Ming

      You got it Bridget! So glad it was helpful. 🙂

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