Friday, August 19, 2011

The System - part 2

I wish I can tell you that if you went to film school, you would learn all of the inside information about how the Hollywood system works. Chances are you’ll get a good education on cinematic theory but not on practical business knowledge. There are two primary systems, the studio system and the independent model. More than likely, in the beginning you will work in the independent model. As time goes on, you will work in both the independent and studio systems.

So how do you prepare now and learn about the system? First, you need some training. Whether that’s film school or some type of film academy, it’s essential that you get some professional, competent training. I suggest further that you get some practical work experience in your home town. If you want to direct, start directing now. If you want to produce, start producing now. If you want to be a cinematographer start doing it now. Odds are you will have to put in a lot of hours with little or no pay to learn the business. Eventually, if you are serious about learning the system and working in the industry, you will have to go to Los Angeles. That’s what everyone inside the industry has told me if you want to work full-time in the business. Contrary to what other’s may tell you, the industry still takes place in Los Angeles.

But, don’t ever think about going to Hollywood without the right preparation Otherwise, no one is going to take you seriously. I’m assuming that most of you who read my blog are Christians and perhaps consider yourselves media missionaries. I suggest you follow Hollywoodconnect.comThey provide good intelligence and resources about job prospects, where to live, support groups, and further training in Hollywood. They also conduct quarterly orientation sessions for newcomers to the industry. This is a great opportunity for you to connect with working professionals in the industry. They suggest that before you think about coming to Los Angeles to live and work, you first should plan a vision tour. In other words, go out to Los Angeles for a week, attend the orientation session and meet some people. I recommend that you meet with several of the ministry leaders which you will find on the Hollywood Connect website. I am convinced that within a week you will have more than enough information to decide if you have been called to Hollywood. You will also have a better understanding of how the system works.

And, finally, industry insiders say that there are three primary ways that you can break into Hollywood and the entertainment industry. First, become an entrepreneur and make your own movies. If you can raise your own money, write your story, direct your film and produce it as well, you are on your way. Many well-known filmmakers who work in Hollywood have followed this pattern. One example is the Jay and Mark Duplass, who have made a number of successful low-budget independent films including Baghead, which helped their career. They have gone from a $15,000 budget to their current movie Cyrus, which has a budget of $7 million. Of course, not everybody can write, direct and produce their own material. So the following next two options may be your best choice.

Second is through the internship program. If you are in the right school or program with the right connections, you can very well be at the front of the class. It takes about three internships to get your first real job in the industry. The Los Angeles Film Study Center has over a 70% placement of its graduates within the industry. They are obviously connected. They have a relationship with practically every major studio and production company in Los Angeles. Before you decide which program or college to enroll in, take a hard look at the internship program and the connections that your school or program offers.

The third way to break into Hollywood and the entertainment industry is through the role of the production assistant. Find out who hires the crews, which are the production managers, unit managers, and the director of production. Get to know these people and build relationships. Obviously, this means you are starting at the bottom, but that’s the way the system works. If you can be the best production assistant possible, then chances are you will be rehired for the next project. Go beyond the call of duty and become a problem solver. Then the next time you might actually move up to being the assistant to the production manager. And then you may become the second assistant director on the next project.

Not everybody who works in Hollywood or the entertainment industry fits conveniently into the above categories. You’ll find that many people have a somewhat unconventional story on how they broke into the business. One example is Ralph Winter, a well-known producer for films such as Star Trek, X-men and Wolverine. Winter did not go to college to pursue a career in film. He has a degree in history. Winter worked for a department store producing educational and training videos. With that type of background, it would seem that he would be an unlikely candidate to become a major Hollywood producer. So how did he do it?

There are three concepts that Winter followed. First is the rule of proximity, which is being in the right place at right time. You can’t learn this in a textbook. Some people just have a knack for seeing opportunities. In Winter’s case, he worked in Los Angeles near the industry. That’s a huge advantage. Second, as they say in this business, it’s not what you know but who you know. Ralph Winter had a friend who worked at Paramount Studios. When a job opened in the editing department, he recommended that Ralph pursue the opportunity. With his help, Winter got the job. The truth is people like to work with people they know and trust.

Third is the rule of leverage. It’s a long way from the editing department to being a producer who makes movies with over a $100 million budget. I’ve heard Winter talk often about leverage. When you have something that somebody needs, and they have something that can help you, you work together to achieve the results that both parties want. Doing so helps you to move forward. By using leverage, Winter eventually made his move and became a producer on the Paramount lot. It’s a very unorthodox story.

The bottom line is Winter applied all three principles to turn his story into a success story. He worked in industrial video making training videos. There are thousands of people across the country who do that job every day. Many of those people could be in Ralph Winter’s shoes today. Sure, Ralph’s talented, but there are talented people everywhere. But in Winter’s case, he was in the right place at the right time, which gave him an incredible opportunity. This is how the system works. Sometimes it makes sense and sometimes it doesn’t. The best advice is to give yourself the best opportunity you can. Have a plan and be in a position that when the opportunity arises you can step into it. Don’t make the fatal error of being complacent or just trying to slide by. You need to be proactive and seize the moment.

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