career

Should I get some work experience before moving to LA?

Lauren asks,

I got an AMAZING job in December in my current city. It’s in the entertainment business and we do a lot of corporate parties and weddings. I am sure there is a good market for this out in LA, so I was concerned about moving before I had 2-3 years of experience. Do you think this wise?

I obviously want to move ASAP (I’m 23, this is my first non-cocktail waitressing job out of college) but I’m eager to move young because my connections out there encourage me to take classes at UCB (also possible with a day job like I have now). I currently love the job I have and it’s good for helping me save.

While I’m just ITCHING to get out there, my savings are minimal as I had to get a LOT of work on my car. Won’t have to buy a new one at all to drive out there. But, along with wanting at least two years experience in the entertainment/ special event field, I’m not sure how much I’ll need to save .

Maybe 25 isn’t such a bad age to move.

Do you have a recommendation on how much to save, or a goal for roughly two years? I make a decent living but need to cut back and save more. I’m also slightly worried two years experience won’t be enough to help me get a job.

You’re in an awesome position. Great work.

On one hand, you have the allure of security: [click to continue…]

What entry-level Hollywood jobs pay $35K starting?

Jose asks:

How can I break in as a producer’s assistant? Do you know what the trajectory is to become a full-fledged film producer? I’ve been trying to figure out what other careers are out there with my skill set and want to do something in TV or film (TV might be more steady). I’m also looking for an entry level career that pays more than 35k starting salary. What do you think?

When I first joined the rank & file of Hollywood employees, I couldn’t tell the difference between an agent and a producer. Nevermind what the trajectory of either looked like.

One time, I asked, “what’s a mensch?”

“Wow. You’re green,” was someone’s response.

But if you genuinely don’t know, you have to start somewhere.

(My series, How Hollywood Works: TV, is a great place to start.)

But your questions trigger the Spidey-sense of anyone who’s worked in Hollywood for longer than a week. We’re seeing so many red flags it’s like red panty night came early.

I asked how other Hollywood assistants would respond to your question. Here’s what some had to say:

35K2

35K3

35K1

I’m going to answer your question, but first, I want to show you:

  • What’s wrong with this question?
  • The problem with this question?
  • What questions should you ask

How to get help and guidance from experts for free

Your questions reveal you’re too focused on goals:

  • How do I break-in as a producer’s assistant? (Goal: job)
  • How do I become a producer? (Goal: title)
  • Where can I earn $35K to start? (Goal: salary)

Goals are important. But at this stage, your focus — and, therefore, your questions — should be 100% centered on “How do I break in?”

In other words, you should focus on the process, not the goal.

It’s like, you’re standing atop a mountain, ready to ski for the first time. And you ask “what whiskey do they serve down at the lodge” when you should ask, “how do I turn in these things?”

Here’s what 3 questions could look like:

  • I’m interested in becoming X. I’ve read The Mailroom and the Producer’s Handbook, and it seems the best places to start might be A, B, and C. I’m leaning towards B. What do you think?
  • What skills can I work on now, that’d make me a no-brainer hire when I got to Hollywood?
  • I know I gotta work hard to make the big bucks in Hollywood. However, I’m curious because well, a girl’s has to eat: How much should I expect to earn at an entry-level job? Is $35K/year unreasonable?

Dude, if someone asked me these questions, I’d think: “Wow — you’re ready.”

These questions show:

  • They’ve done their research
  • They have the right expectations
  • They have the drive

And I’d do everything I could to help them.

What entry level careers pay more than $35K starting salary?

Time to get off my soapbox. Let’s tackle the biggest question:

“What entry level careers pay more than $35K starting?”

Three things to tackle to understand the answer to this question:

1. Think about your compensation as weekly salary, NOT yearly salary

Here’s a chart I created to help other assistants negotiate their salaries:

Hollywood Assistant Salary

You see that to earn $35K (gross, in other words, pre-tax) you need to make $675 per week.

2. Jobs that pay $675 starting are rare

Thus, these jobs are very competitive.

We’re talking about jobs like:

  • Well-paid production assistant jobs
  • Jobs at the big studios (e.g. Disney, Paramount, NBC-Universal, Sony, Warner Bros)

Most places will start you at either:

  • $10 – $12.75 per hour OR
  • $600 – $650 per week

3. It’s your job to fast track increases to your salary and earnings

Nobody’s gonna hand you a 3% annual raise. Here’s how you earn it:

Is this still what you want?

It’s OK to be uncertain about whether or not this path is for you. It’s okay to ask about the money or to find out if there’s a specific trajectory that most people go through. Like I said, you have to start asking questions.

Now you know that you can’t expect job security or a minimum salary of $35K a year when you’re breaking into Hollywood. So, my question is: Is this still what you want?

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Photo Credit: Andrew Quentin

How To Apply for a Hollywood Internship (When You Don’t Live in LA)

Here’s a question about applying to summer internships:

“Do you know how I would apply to any summer internships? And where I can get more information on what a summer term internship entails?

My entertainment interests include filmmaking in general and more specifically, screenwriting. Of course, I haven’t yet been involved in the industry so my interests might change! Right now, I am studying English and Creative Writing, and I’m a sophomore.”

This is a packed question, so I’ll break it down into three separate posts:  

  • How do you apply for summer internships?
  • How do you land an internship?
  • What’s the day to day of an internship entail?

Part 1: How do you apply for summer internships?

The summer internship. A rite of passage for many students, but you decided you didn’t want any old internship. You want one in HOLLYWOOD, in the film and television industry.

We’ll cover how to apply and land an internship over these next few days (and these tactics and strategies work even if you’re not a student.)

First: Unless you’re coming in through your university, you NEED to be in LA to get an internship in the film and television industry.

Yes, you can intern at a local affiliate TV station. Yes, there are productions happening all over the United States of ‘Merica (Baton Rouge, Detroit, New York City, etc.)

BUT…

If you want to work at the center of the film and television industry, live in Los Angeles. No telecommuting. No remote work. No excuses.

3 Ways To Become an Irresistible, Must-Hire Candidate Before You Move

Hollywood is a machine that churns 11 out of 12 months a year, so there are always internship opportunities (save for the end of December and start of January. The agencies close for an extended break, and in turn, the studios and production companies close).

If you’re specifically looking for a summer internship, those start circulating in late April.

In the meantime, there are a few things you can do if you’re eager to get started:

#1: Research What Companies Want

Start with getting the widely circulated UTA job list.

With this list, you’ll build up access to dozens of companies and job descriptions. Start researching these companies — you already know they hire and what they’re looking for:

  • Has the CEO been interviewed?
  • What films or television shows did they produce in the past?
  • What’s on their slate currently?

Armed with your research, start querying these companies and pointedly ask about summer internships. Incorporate your research so they know you did your homework, and DON’T mention you don’t live in Los Angeles yet unless they directly ask.

You don’t want to disqualify yourself before your foot is in the door.

#2: Make Your Resume Powerful

That means you:

  • Have a narrative. Craft your story around the position and company you’re applying for. Use your research and include relevant experience only (which means leaving out the summer you spent at Starbucks). Your resume is not your job history, it’s the narrative of how and why you can help the person reading it.
  • Show, don’t tell. Which is more powerful: “Excellent communicator with extraordinary interpersonal skills, willing to take on any challenge” or “Coordinated publication of 63-page magazine between Editorial, Advertising, and Business Affairs teams in a one-month timeline to a circulation of 150,000 readers”? Which one is telling and which one is showing?
  • Keep the language simple. There’s a temptation to be overly verbose in your resume (“Acquired stimulants at accelerated timelines to ensure delivery of product within deadline.”) Don’t. Hiring managers know how to read between the lines (“Delivered coffee.”) If it’s compelling in normal language, leave it in. If it’s not, take it out.
  • Don’t waste time fussing over format. Yes, the resume must look presentable and there can’t be any typos. Beyond that, don’t spend time fussing over the format. It doesn’t matter.
  • Don’t worry about the “weight” of the paper. Same as above. No one cares if you used card stock or 75% recycled from OfficeMax — what matters is the value you bring to the company.
  • Don’t skimp on the cover letter. Think of your cover letter as the “tip of your spear”: A cover letter gets your resume read… which gets you an interview… which gets you a second interview… which gets you the job. But if you clumsily hack through a cover letter (or worse, copy and paste from a template) you can’t advance to the next stage.

#3: Start saving that cash money

About 90 percent of the internships out here in LaLa land are unpaid.

The other 10 percent pay minimum wage, which may put a dent on the rent of your one-bedroom apartment (a small dent. Let’s just say you won’t be ordering bottle service at Hakasan anytime soon).

Start saving that cash money now. There’s nothing more demoralizing than watching your bank account plummet closer and closer to zero while working for free.

You can find posts on how to earn more and save more here.

Plus, if you subscribe to the blog, you can download the Moving to Los Angeles calculator, which calculates exactly how much you should save before moving to LA.

Don’t Count On It — Any Of It

I’ll be totally candid with you:

Don’t bank on landing any of these internship opportunities in your first go-around.

Definitely not any from the UTA job list.

A friend explained to me how difficult it was to pick candidates for two internship spots at his company:

“For a job post on UTA, we got about 50 replies from students around the nation for one or two spots.  Unpaid.  I had to pick out 5 resumes to send to the CE, who chose 3 to interview.  That means, cold applying, statistically, you might have to apply to 25-50 of these to get an internship!

Yes, you really do spend about 10 seconds per resume.  There are some atrocious resumes.  But there are enough good ones, too, that I decided who to pass up with admittedly biased metrics: who studied abroad in the same place I did?  Who goes to a school I like?  Who studied the major I did?” 

No idea if his math is right (I know: Worst Asian ever). But you get the idea: Your chances of landing an internship when you come in through the front door on a cold application is low.

So how can you improve those chances?

You’ll learn more about how to land the internship and what it might entail in parts 2 and 3. Coming soon — subscribe so you don’t miss it.

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Photo Credit: Robert Couse-Baker

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_

27 Rules for Networking in Hollywood

One of my favorite Hollywood behind-the-scenes blogger, Doug Richardson, shared a story about a dad who wanted to break into entertainment:

“I got so friggin’ tired of trying to climb the hill,” claimed the preschool dad. “But it’s such a who-you-know business. Without the connections, guys like me can never get ahead.

Here’s the truth, Doug writes:

Nearly everyone in showbiz began with zero Hollywood connections.

(If this resonates with you, I’d recommend picking up Doug’s book, The Smoking Gun: True Tales from Hollywood’s Screenwriting Trenches.)

I want to pick up where this post left off:

How do you start building connections?

In a nutshell: Drink with as many people as you can.

Below are my 27 rules to “doing drinks” in Hollywood.

This is how I went from waiting tables (Ozumo in Santa Monica — no longer there — and Natalee Thai on Venice Blvd) to working with Dennis Lehane (Boardwalk Empire, The Wire, Shutter Island).

This is a methodical approach. Some might call it “cold.” They wouldn’t be wrong.

I’ve found it works for people like me, who read books like How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi because the idea that I could “just be myself” triggered blinding anxiety that made me want to throw up.

(I keep notes on every book I read and make them publicly available. My notes for Never Eat Alone are here.)

With that said, your mileage will vary. All rules are meant to be bent. Some broken. Here we go:

27 Rules to Doing Drinks in Hollywood

  1. Take nothing personally. Last minute cancellation? Enjoy your free night and try again
  2. Always drinks, never dinner
  3. Short invitations. “We should do drinks. How far out are you? I could do next Thursday”
  4. Schedule 3-4 networking drinks per week. At least 2 will cancel. See #1
  5. Google the shit out of people
  6. Keep a list of go-to places. Picking a location should take 2 minutes, not 9 emails. Here’s what my list looks like
  7. Keep it convenient. No meet-n-greet drinks in Burbank if you’re coming from Santa Monica
  8. Avoid loud places
  9. Avoid 3-4 person group drinks  
  10. Get their phone number
  11. Remove the words, “today was crazy” from your vocabulary
  12. Order your usual drink. Stick to what you know
  13. Share something cool you did this weekend
  14. Do something cool on the weekends
  15. Admit you stalked them. “I saw online you did X. That’s awesome, how did that happen?”
  16. Stop with the phone. Silence it and put it face down on the table
  17. Listen
  18. Take notes on them. I dictate notes as I walk back to my car
  19. Add notes to their contact information
  20. Put their contact info into “buckets”. “A” means you’ll reach out 1/week, “B” 1/month, “C” 1x every 3 months (h/t Keith Ferrazzi)
  21. Follow-up like a pro (next day). “Great to meet you. Here’s that script I mentioned. Looking forward to reading/watching X”
  22. Follow-up like a pro (2 weeks). “I got through 50 pages of X. The writing was good but it wasn’t for me. Thank you for sharing, I really appreciate it”
  23. If you can give, give. Scripts, screeners, information  
  24. If you need, ask. See #23
  25. Keep a short list of people you want to see again. This should be about 10% of the people you meet  
  26. Use multiple mediums. Get off email. Text, gchat, or Facebook message people you want to build a relationship with
  27. Do drinks back-to-back. Advanced only. Maximize your time with back-to-back drinks when possible

What did I miss? What rules do you follow?

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Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk