first hollywood job

What can I do in college so I’m ready to work in entertainment?

Alyssa writes:

What can I do while in college to give myself the best shot? I’m hoping to land some internships within the industry, things like that. Should I really plan to move to LA after college, as your posts seem to suggest?

Should I be writing spec scripts now (outside of my coursework and personal writing) and sending them off? I really don’t know!

I feel like doing some of those things now would be premature, and yet I’m very afraid of waiting too long.

I guess I’d really like to find a balance – being as prepared as possible, gaining experience, improving my own work, but also not being eternally miserable and stressed, while still giving myself a shot at an assistant-level writing job after college.

Does that balance exist?

I’m going to give you three recommendations.

First, I have something to admit:

I love setting New Year’s resolutions.

I love perching above a blank sheet of paper and thinking of the ways I’ll crush it this year:

  • Get up at 5 a.m. to write
  • Go to the gym 3x per week
  • Become fluent in Spanish (“Look, I even got Rosetta Stone! This time, I’ll do it!”)  

I’ll carve time into my calendar. Meticulously schedule and reschedule. Stick to it for two weeks.

Then real life happens. I get tired. Sick. Bored. And my aspirations wither away.

When you write…

I guess I’d really like to find a balance – being as prepared as possible, gaining experience, improving my own work, but also not being eternally miserable and stressed, while still giving myself a shot at an assistant-level writing job after college. Does that balance exist?

It sounds like my New Year’s resolutions that I won’t ever keep.

Your expectations will fall short of reality

There is one exception. It’s a big one.

You can achieve that “balance” if you know 100% this is the only life you want.

If it’s an obsession for you, then do it all. Do everything:

  • Add writing scripts to your personal writing
  • Reading scripts
  • Shoot shorts on your iPhone 6 on the weekends

What does obsession look like?

I’m not saying, this has to be your life if you want to be successful.

However, it’s the only way to pull off the “balance” you’re describing above. Which isn’t balanced at all. 

Be brutally honest about who you are

If this is NOT you, that’s okay. Most people are not. They find success in other ways.   

I wasn’t obsessed. I cared more about making money than making movies. Instead of watching films or reading screenplays, I worked four jobs in college.

I don’t have an impressive, self-taught film pedigree. I didn’t read my first script until I was 24-years-old.

But before I moved to Brooklyn, I was in the mix. Same as anyone who started at the bottom, clawing to the top in Hollywood.

This is not the “right” way either. It was my way.

There are hundreds of things you can do right now.

Your most important first step? Decide what NOT to do.

For example, you’ll hear advice like: “Oh, just make something and put it on Youtube. You never know.”

No, we do know. As Gaby Dunn shows us, the Youtube economics are sad. If you’re not obsessed about creating for Youtube or becoming a Youtube personality, don’t make Youtube videos.

My 3 recommendations for college students

1. Get work that pushes you outside of your comfort zone

You don’t need to get paid. But if you’re not good at talking to people, try doing it a few hours a week (for example, work for the university fundraisers, who call alumni for donations). You don’t have to do it forever. Do it so you get comfortable with discomfort.

2. Make money

Dennis Lehane wrote, “A man with a deep war chest can take on all comers.” My father put it another way: “You have to learn how to do things without money. But when you have money, it definitely makes it easier.”

3. Follow Scott Myers’s, 1, 2, 7, 14 Rule

  • Read 1 screenplay per week  
  • Watch 2 movies per week
  • Write 7 pages per week
  • Spend 14 hours per week prepping your story

Pick one of these 4 things and start.

Focus on these 3 recommendations. Finish school.

Then, you’ll sort out the other questions. Like “should I move to LA?” or “is this worth it?”

You’ll be ready.

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Photo Credit: _SiD_

How do I prioritize my first month in LA?

I get asked some awful questions.

For example: “I have no experience, so my resume sucks. Can you look at it and tell me how to fix it?”

In other words:

THEM: Please give me the easy way out, I don’t want to work

My response:

ME: No

Occasionally, I get asked great questions. Shannon W sent in three great ones, and I’ve answered them below. 

Do you have a great, burning question? Leave it in the comments and I’ll answer them in another post.

1) I’m trying to create a rough plan of action steps for me to do in the first month arrive in LA. Through experience, do you have suggestions of the amount of time I should put away to doing certain tasks (finding a job, networking, producing my own work) and questions to ask myself in terms of how to prioritize?

I currently work for Ramit Sethi, who wrote the bestseller I Will Teach You to be Rich.

I followed him for years before joining his team. One of his most influential concepts in the early years is called the Tripod of Stability.

My interpretation: At any point in life, there are few BIG things in your life you try to get ultra-stable in order to be ultra-aggressive in other areas.

This looks different for everyone. A few examples might be:

  • Your job, your home, your relationships
  • Your car, you apartment, your finances
  • Your side business, your family, your health & fitness

You’re moving to Los Angeles, starting your career, and — I’m assuming — opening yourself up to some financial risk.

Your priority is reestablishing your Tripod of Stability ASAP.

Here’s what I would recommend you prioritize. Again this is a very personal decision so your mileage will vary:

  1. Savings. Be liquid. Cash equals options. You can make the move with $5,000, if you have a high risk tolerance. (You can calculate how much you should save using the Moving to LA calculator.)
  2. Living. Your housing. Sort out your living situation. Sleeping in your car at a Wal-Mart isn’t restful.
  3. A job. Any job. It doesn’t need to be exactly what you want. Just start getting paid. I call this a “money job” — take it purely for the money. If you get a job in your industry right off the bat, great. However, don’t let finding the “perfect” job slow down your momentum.

Prioritize these three things. Outside of them, carve out time for working on your craft, meeting new people, searching for a job you love.

2) What are some things I should avoid doing in the first 6 months that I’m here (either because of cost or time i.e.: partying, hiking, touring Hollywood, etc.)

If you’ve working on your priorities, then by all means do as much of all of this as possible.

Do all the touristy things you can your first year in LA, because there’s a time limit on visiting the Hollywood Walk of Fame or a Hollywood bus tour and it starts ticking the day you learn how to pronounce “Sepulveda” correctly.

Catch an Upright Citizen’s Brigade show. Do a pseudo-hike at Runyon Canyon. Ride the mechanical bull at Saddle Ranch in Hollywood and then never go back.

Honestly, I did it the wrong way. When I first moved to LA, I got so wrapped up in “trying to make it” ASAP, I didn’t spend enough time enjoying the city. There’s a cost-benefit relationship to every decision (an hour spent surfing in Venice is 2-3 hours you could have spent writing) and I worried too much about the cost.

What should you avoid? Don’t treat this as anything less than a 5-year game. Five years is the short game. Prioritize the 3 things above, but remember the race is long.

3) How do you find ways to remind yourself that “you can do it” and the tough times are just temporary?

The hardest job I ever had was when I was 14. That’s when I started waiting tables. It was at a Chinese restaurant and I barely spoke Chinese. We added our checks by hand, bussed our own tables, and if there were no customers, we were doing side work (making sauces, cleaning tables, folding napkins, etc.)

I dreaded going in. I started hating the weekends, and when I started working more in the summer, I started hating summer vacation, too.

When things got difficult in Los Angeles, I would think about those days.

Back then, I didn’t have a choice about the work. My parents told me to do it.

But moving to LA and pursuing this career was 100% my decision — and that’s no different for you.

You’re not moving to LA because you need the money. You’re not moving because you’re cornered and there are no other options. There are easier ways to make a living.

It’s liberating to know any difficulty you face is self-imposed. The universe did not do this to you. You did this to you. You chose this for you, which means you can walk away at any time. You can literally do anything else in the world.

At a high-level, that’s how I manage difficult times: Adversity didn’t happen to me. I chose adversity.

At a more tactical level, see answers to numbers one and two. Prioritize, then enjoy it.

*****

Don’t forget to leave a great question in the comments if you’d like me to answer it in another post.

Photo Credit: Peter Tandlund

Get Your First Hollywood Job: How to Answer Tough Questions

FasctCo featured a list of the weirdest interview questions in 2013, compiled by Glassdoor.com.

Glassdoor’s new list came out for 2014. Here are a few highlights:

“If you could throw a parade of any caliber through the Zappos office what type of parade would it be?” – Zappos

“How lucky are you and why?” – AirBnB

“If you could sing one song on American Idol, what would it be?”– Red Frog Events

Unfortunately, knowing these oddball questions won’t help you when you’re interviewing for your first Hollywood job. [click to continue…]

How Do I Get My First Hollywood Job? Try This

Kevin B. writes:

I have had a few internships, but no long term employment other than waiting tables. I’m currently looking for my first job as an assistant, but everywhere I look (entertainmentcareers, UTA, etc.) is asking for at least a year of experience if not more. How do I get experience if even the most entry level positions require it?

In other words:

How do I get my first Hollywood job?

First, I know how frustrating this is. It’s unfair: You want to build experience — you’d even work for free to get your foot in the door! — but you need 1 to 2 years of experience first.

Plus, you have no network. (Actually, you do, but we’ll cover that in another post.)

So how do you get that first Hollywood job?

First, let me say:

Don’t Bother With Low-Hanging Fruit

You could apply through public job boards like EntertainmentCareers, the UTA Job list, etc. But that’s like dumping a box of your headshots in front of Chris Andrews’s desk and expecting him to sign you.

Not gonna happen.

Another example of low-hanging fruit: company career pages. If you’re pushing your resume and cover letter through the company’s standard application process, and you don’t have a contact on the other side pulling it through, you’re wasting your time.

I realize how depressing this sounds.

You did everything you were told to do.

You did well in school.

You got your degree.

These companies were supposed to fling over their doors the moment you arrived in Hollywood.

Is it impossible to find opportunities through these channels? No, not impossible. I landed my first internship through the UTA job list. I’m grateful for that.

However, that channel is oversaturated. Below, I cover 7 tactics you can use in another, less crowded channel. [click to continue…]