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The Six Things You Must Know to Make it in the Film Industry

The Six Things You Must Know to Make it in the Film Industry

As a coordinator and production supervisor in television and film and now as the Chair of the Film Division of Chapman University, Barbara Freedman Doyle is an expert at the mistakes people just entering the film industry make. Here, in an excerpt from her new book Make Your Movie: What You Need to Know About the Business and Politics of Filmmaking, now available from Focal Press, she gives some tips on how anyone entering the film industry can make sure they stop themselves from saying what they really think and stay in the good graces of those with the power to hire.

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REPUTATION IS ALL YOU HAVE. In a business where much of the deal-making and negotiations are verbal, your word and your reputation is EVERYTHING. The film industry is small. Everyone who is established can easily make contact with anyone else or can get the straight scoop by making a few calls. How much you are paid, your title on a project, how hard you work, how honest you are, how you treat people— there are no secrets. The business is populated by talkers. Even “enemies” communicate all the time. There is no place to hide. If you are seen as creative, reliable, capable, and easy to work with, you will find luck. If you are seen as difficult, a primadonna, high-strung, or irrational you will be known that way even by people who haven’t met you. No one cares that you’re tired or have had a rough day. With no track record, it won’t matter how talented you are. When it comes to a decision as to whether or not to work with you, the decision will be negative. They will say, “Life is too short.” If you promise things and don’t come through, that will follow you and you will have damaged your credibility. Delivering what you say you can deliver is key. Extenuating circumstances don’t count. You’re trying to break into an industry of impatient people. Rationalizations won’t work. These people have seen it all and maybe done it successfully themselves.

RELATIONSHIPS ARE ABOUT HISTORY, NOT FRIENDSHIPS. The word “relationship” is possibly the most overused word in the film business. Someone gives someone a chance because he and the other person have “a relationship.” Person X always works with Person Y because there is a “relationship.” A producer would prefer that a director hire a particular cinematographer but won’t interfere with the director’s first choice because the director and the second choice have “a relationship.” Relationships are not about friendship, they are about history. In the Industry people come and go and a shiny new flock of ambitious competitors fly and drive in every day. History—having worked together on a previous project, gone to school together, and experienced something together in the past—can feel like protection against the hostile unknown factors that arise when trying to make a film. A relationship is the sum of shared goals and the hope of mutual loyalty. Friendship might play a part, but in fact there are long-time filmmaking teams where the people involved never see each other outside of the office or the set. Successful working relationships are often based on astute co-mingling of strengths and weaknesses that might gel creatively but not socially. People trust an unpleasant history that resulted in success more than no history at all. People in the industry often believe, “better the devil you know.”

KNOW THAT YOU'RE DEALING WITH GAMBLERS. The people with the power to say yes to you are educated gamblers. They plays the odds, hedge their bets. An abundance of anxiety accompanies most decisions, and the most anxiety-provoking of all decisions are those that lead to the spending of cash. These decisions are rarely spontaneous. This philosophy extends even to something as minor as hiring someone for an assistant spot. If someone has held Industry internships, if they have some kind of pre-training with a stellar reference from someone the employer already knows or knows of, that diminishes the risk that the new hire (maybe you) will do or say the wrong thing, breach a confidence without even knowing it, or behave in some way that might prove embarrassing. It’s stacking the deck. In a business where most people work their way up from assistant—and on set from Production Assistant (PA) to almost every other position—the decision to hire someone at the lowest rung of the ladder is about potential. If you received a good reference or if someone with influence made a call for you, you must be at least OK. It’s common sense that the known is more comfortable than the unknown.

ATTITUDE Your attitude is one of your most precious assets. Chances are given to young newcomers because they’re talented, bright, and have a great attitude. If you’re in a business where the tensions run high, you want to be able to count on “your” people to handle things well, efficiently, and with a lack of bad attitude. On a film set where the days are long and the working conditions often not ideal, the crew member with the bad attitude is the one who is complaining, finding fault with someone else’s work, laying blame, and nagging about how long until wrap. It doesn’t even matter if this person is correct in his judgments or if everyone else agrees that Yes, it sucks to be out all night in 20-degree weather in the mud and rain, and No, no one is making enough money for this. No one has to hear it. You must be agreeable, helpful, and in general happy that you’re on the set of a film (commercial, television show, music video). The whiners and troublemakers are noticed, and they are not invited back. Even if their complaints are justified, everyone is in the same boat—who needs to hear about it? Write it in your private diary or journal if you keep one. Tell your best friend. Do NOT blog or post about it!

Along with the whiners are the princes and princesses, the egos: “I could do it better”; “I saved their butts”; “They couldn’t have finished the movie without me.” I promise you, they can always finish the movie without you. You are expendable. There are lines of people behind you, waiting for you to leave or be told to leave.

In an office, the people with an attitude are the drama kings or queens. It’s all about them. They do everything. They work harder than anyone else. Everyone else is incompetent. Their ideas are the best. They don’t get the credit they deserve. And of course there is the gossip. The drama king or queen is the first with the bad news, the nasty comment, the information that may or may not be true but is certainly no one’s business. These people are a drain on the energy of the work environment. They are also the manipulators, the connivers, the liars who set their co-workers up for a fall. Succeeding in a hypercompetitive industry is hard. Stay away from the attitude-challenged. You’ll be stunned at how a bad attitude rubs off on you and how it effects other people’s perception of you. Keep your eye on the road ahead of you, SMILE, and be the first one anyone thinks of when they need someone they can count on to do the job with a minimum of fuss. You will do well.

What follows here are two cautionary tales. Both are entirely true, but the names are changed.

CAUTIONARY TALE #1: You’re at the Bottom of the Food Chain Until You Aren’t Will was volunteering on an independent film. Every day he was asked to run to a specific vegan cafe ́ to fetch lunch for the lead actress. He had to leave set and fight the L.A. traffic to do this, and he was quite put out about it. He felt that getting lunch for an actress he’d never heard of was demeaning, and that since he was working for free, he should at least be doing something worthwhile. 

On the third day of the shoot he was asked again to pick up the lunch. He rolled his eyes. The producer, who was himself doing the director a favor on this one and who usually made much more high-profile films, pulled Will aside. He told him, “No one should ever know you’re unhappy or that you think you’re better than this. You know why? Because when they started ALL these people, including me, had to do something we didn’t want to do. We were ALL better than that. Every job on a set is the same. It’s doing whatever has to be done to get the movie made. If getting the lunch helps, then that’s the most important contribution you can make, and you’d better hustle and do it gladly, until it’s not your job anymore. There are people waiting for you to get booted so they can snag your spot. Once you move up you’ll be telling the next guy what I’m telling you. You have to suck it up and look as if you’re having a good time.”

CAUTIONARY TALE #2: Just Because It’s in Your Head, It Doesn’t Have to Come Out Your Mouth. This is a sad one. Danny idolized a certain big-name director. Danny was charming, personable, and very smart. He spent a year digging up anyone who had a connection to his director hero. He wanted to “shadow” this director, to watch him work and to learn. 

Someone who knew someone and was sympathetic to the cause arranged for Dan to meet the director. The director liked him, and finally after a prolonged process involving reference checks, phone calls, and emails that went unreturned, finally Dan was given the go-ahead. He was told when and where to show up on the first day of shooting a major film. He arrived on set early. So far, so good. As instructed, he found the director’s assistant, who promptly sent him to the catering truck to get the director his espresso. He was a little surprised that he was being told what to do by an assistant, but he did it. He got the coffee and handed the cup to the director. The director took it and continued his conversation with the cinematographer. The director handed his empty cup to Dan, who returned to the catering truck, got another, and handed the full cup to the director. Over the course of the morning, this was repeated several times. It was the only interaction Dan had with the director. Towards lunch, Dan’s girlfriend called him on his cell to ask how it was going. He told her, “OK, I guess. I’m the director’s coffee whore.”

This was overheard by the makeup person who told the director’s assistant who told the director, who fired his unpaid “shadow” at the end of his first day. The director had enough to deal with. He didn’t want anyone working close to him who was resentful and indiscreet. If Danny wanted to voice his opinion to his girlfriend, he could have waited until he was home and in private to do it. Danny thought he was being hip and funny, but the director’s assistant and the director felt he was being negative and rude.

What’s the point here? Neither Will or Danny did anything truly awful, they just didn’t understand the politics. The hesitation before you agree, the rolling of your eyes, what you say over your cell phone, even if you whisper, is noticed. What you post is PUBLIC. You are trying to convince people to invest in your talent, your skills, AND your ability to navigate the often treacherous waters of the business. They must trust in you personally.

You may say to yourself, “I hate politics, I can’t deal with this kind of BS.” But you have to learn. Some of it is common sense, some of it is courtesy, and some of it is BS, but it’s all part of the business. You may think, there are lots of jerks out there—I’ve read about their bad behavior, and they succeeded. True. But usually the bad behavior didn’t begin until after they were successful. And these bad guys or girls get work and are able to get their films financed because they bring in the big bucks. The minute a film is less than hot at the box office, they find that their calls are not returned as quickly, their scripts are not read as eagerly, and their green lights come more slowly, if they come at all. When people behave badly there is a crowd of people sitting back gleefully awaiting their failure. Human nature is such that payback often tastes sweet. Why go there at all?

Many beginning filmmakers make the mistake of thinking that Industry people are casual about behavior. They are not. Most people with the power to help you make your film are sharp observers, with acute instincts. They are constantly checking you out, consciously and unconsciously. Are you a good risk? Do they believe you? Do they believe in you? Perhaps because so much money and ego is tied up in the decisions they make, they feel betrayed if you prove their initial impression of you was incorrect. No one expects you to be perfect, but you are expected to be credible, and they remember when you’re not. Picture a neighborhood in a very small town, all the residents sitting out on the front porch, watching, noticing, and commenting. That’s the film business.

This Article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit


Comments

Goldi

only acting

Owais ansari (moosa)

I Want to do acting with salman khan & Jacqueline farnandez

Lawrence

Good stuff but a lot of this DOES apply to any profession but to different degrees. I have fired good workers because of their resentful comments. It shows given an opportunity they will sabatage you then sit back gleefully. I rather have a friendly honest person that makes a few mistakes than a perfect worker who has an attitude.

The film industry is a bit different bc their is no set ladder to climb. They have to make it appear prestigious bc realistically all you’re doing is making a film not curing cancer. The industry would be better if it was more organized. Even at lower level positions how do you get in? Where do you get the training? Who is going to invite you to be a production assistant? Who is going to say oh you want a job as a grip? Sure get in there & do this. Do what? How do you know what to do? How do you find jobs doing it? Who’s going to give you that 1st chance? Volunteer? How are you going to pay your bills?

There needs to be a better structure to the industry. Go to film school & have a detailed course. A class that shows you how to be a grip. Then places you in a movie & you do the work. Another class that shows you how to direct then places you in the directors seat. Repeat class after class in all positions. When you graduate you will have done all of it. Then their needs to be a studio employment list. They are making a film & these positions are open. Apply.

But instead its a crap shoot. People list bogus stuff on craigslist all the time. You apply then what?… You keep having to look for jobs constantly. Film over now look for another one to pay your bills. It should be more simple. Just like working any where else. Say you work at mcdonalds. You start low then move up to management. All in the same company.

    Tyandra Willis

    omg I could not agree more with some of you! its not just in the film industry either nobody likes a complainer or someone who just feels theyre better than the next person. My motto in life is humbleness opens doors to great opportunities!

john fulla

Add your voice to the conversation…

gulfam

Add your voice to the conversation…

bikram sing

in most field there are certain thing to observe. and for that needs desire….and create this kind of humer comes through what is written in article.

Akeira N.

This helps so much. I feel a little more confident of my decision of choosing to apply to film school and also to go into the film industry.

Abhishek Agrahari

I like to work in this industry it s my dream …..I love to work in advertisement and film or serials of Indian film industry…

ubaid

hi

MJ Brewer of The Film Scene

Even though people may feel as if they don’t deserve the treatment of being taken advantage of no one is making them stay. Simple as that. Instead of considering what they are contributing perhaps they should consider what they are gaining by being there. Not everyone gets to do what they are doing and learning what they are learning. "Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth — even if it has bad breath." It all pays off in the end. It’s just a matter of whittling down the serious. If you aren’t serious, back up and let someone else in.

a ravi kumar

can any one help me for geting a job in in camra

nwogu christian

from this articule i have learned many thing which will assist me in the future,love you all.

nwogu christian

this is the most stunning statement people should learn to associate with people around them,socialize matters.

YAZZY

Ok, praying and dreaming alone will not make you become an actor. Many people want to become rich and famous. That is not the goal of acting. The goal is to be good at what one loves to do, and become good at it. It is a craft. Meanwhile, get an education if you can. IF you really want to act, do it on your own on the side, make some movies, don't expect that a career will be served on the silver platter. I make movies, because I am an artist and I act, paint, do digital art, because I love to do it. IF the money comes in, fine, if not, that is ok too. It is good to have dreams, but it is no good to sit around and daydream about it, you gotta work hard to get where you want to be and you gotta go where there is opportunity. Begging is not a way of becoming an actor, it sounds quite desperate. Look at your qualifications first too ! Find out what it takes to get into the Film Industry, and then do it, don't come up and post it online ! I make movies for free, because I love what I do. Not because I want someone to notice me, that is so narcissistic. And if someone likes my movies, fine, if not, that is ok too. Life goes on. But at least get in education in acting and if you don't care much about money, then do it because you love it. Otherwise you will struggle to ever be an actor, and your lifestyle will be different. Either you will have work, or you will have little work, or off and on work. Like I said, I am an Artist, that is all I care about, performing any type of art, film, music, production, fine arts etc., the money is not what is in my heart when I create. Ask yourself, why do you want to do what you want to do first !

kamesh

i want to make a film with K.V.S Ravikumar sir

M.E

I have no expirence at all but I really want to just be an Extra for film and TV, but I really don't know wear to start. could someone please help me out, tell me what I should

    kathleen pearce

    i am an extra i signed up on facebook to different acting pages and filming/film makers as well as casting directors and whenever they place an advert on their pages for an extra you will be notified and can apply i have been an extra for only a year and so far have starred in two short films and im going to be doing a third at the end of july i suggest making a cv to send to them with your name age email and contact number as well as height weight hair and eye colour on it check out acting resume template on the internet to get a feel for what it should look like also check out volunteering at a theatre or amateur dramatic class as this also gives you experience i did it and its worked great for me hope this helps and a very good luck to you

levi

hello
mandy, am called levi from uganda i would like so to act in any movie but i don't where to start i have been acting in some love story movies and other movie in uganda, but still i would like to move my carer and act in movies another country to act how can you help please

mpho faku

ok I
am 14 years old and one day I wanna be an actress but my friends always say that I wont make it in the acting industry because I am one of those people that like to smile alot and laugh alot because I live with my mom that likes to joke around and now I am used to it but they dont understand what should I do!!!!!help me out please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

kalendra

hi,
I am kalendra . best goal of the my life is best actor in the film industry. and i got my dream so i will try and try and i got success for my dream it is my goal of the life. so plz giude me how to get into film industry? I make interest any part pz e-mail me.

vaibhav

i want to b a gud n successful actor n i vl definately do it

Harshil r patel

hi ,I am harshil patel . best goal of the my life is best actor in the film industry. and i got my dream so i will try& try and i got success for my dream it is my goal of the life. so plz giude me how to get into film industry?

Doug

Great article, and rings true. Something else to think about, if you're a "third coast" crew member as I am, the business can be very scary at times. I've gone months without work which means months without pay. Markets like Dallas are hot and cold. In my 14 years here, we've lost work to Austin, then to the Louisiana tax breaks, and then to the New Mexico tax breaks. Some crew members I know have followed the jobs around. I've chosen to stay in Dallas because my family is here, and I'm a bit of a homebody with four pets and a house I love. While I'm well compensated for my time, budgeting can be tricky without a constant income stream. It's a difficult but often rewarding lifestyle. More sweat, blood, and tears than the glamor of it's image, but would I trade my experiences for a law degree? Maybe. Depends on the day. ;)

suuny

i m want to be a actor .its my passion.

Anshul

Hi I'm Anshul, I want to join in film industry. this is my dream that i made a actor.
So please help me.
thank you

MOHAMAD HAMMOUD

Hi i got a dream i pray every day and night for … need help & a guide please let me know that i found a way that can help my dreams come true

shubham mishra

i want to join in film indurstry

chandra prakash kedia

helloo…

sir i want to be an actor.. its my passion to get into bollywood soo plz guide me how to get into film industry..

Michael Medeiros

Now that we're finishing post, I think I need to read this twice a day. Promo for Tiger Lily Road http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvxPy1ksQ-M

Andrew Kaplan - Accidental Actor

This advice is well taken. I fetched coffee for my bosses at a major entertainment company during my college internship. I remember actually using that time to meet others and observe. I would say the best advice for someone new is to use the ability to network and observe. On film sets I make it my job to learn about what all the different people do and build relationships. Just the simple task of saying thank you will get you far. The real advice is to be "appreciative" of the opportunity and remember you learn more from failure than success, so rather than criticize, use that time to learn. In the other part of my life I teach entrepreneurs about starting a business…the smart "owner" will want to surround himself with hardworking, supportive people, who are not afraid to get their hands dirty and can handle multiple tasks. . A film set is a startup.

Mike Akers

awesome article and 100% true!

CafeGirlsPress

I am making an effort to commit every word to memory, and to encourage the young people I mentor to do the same as well. Lovely article. Right on the money. Thank you.

Bradd Hopkins

If you're interested in filmmaking, read this article like gospel. There are too many other mistakes you can make to risk shooting yourself in the foot by violating its simple precepts. I have a few cautionary tales of my own, and learned from every one. They can make your phone not ring.

NADIM BADDOUR

a beautiful & true article … very true

iain campbell

Thank you – "Truth well told" – even though its tough to swallow.. Too late to change career now..

Smiley

Articles like this should not bring out anyones defensive side… and if it does… a great book for you to read is "YOUR ATTITUDE IS SHOWING"…
Anyone in the industry will tell you…. YOUR attitude will either get you fired or hired. Period end of story. Skills and experience will come when the attitude is aligned. ;-)

Lenry

Anything you say can be used against you. Give yourself the opportunity to turn down the next job by not losing the one you have. Do the best job you can and let the water roll of your back.

Joe Bessette

Great article thanks for posting it!!

Kevin Harty

Excellent stuff. Well structured common sense. Unfortunately that kind of sense isn't that common. I'm the oldest "new-kid-on-the-block" with no formal education in what I now do (I'm an actor and therefore on the other side of the camera) and I think the information applies right across the board. Good comments too.

star jonestown

Hate to break into the INFOMERCIAL here, but Barbara Freedman Doyle's credits are Dreck.

I'm so sick of these f*cking books written by people who couldn't walk the walk. There they are, though, still talking that f*cking talk. It's all bullsh*t.

HERE IS WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: 'Believe in yourself. Behave yourself. Practice Practice Practice and Never Give Up.' That is all.

David

Don't ever work with people you don't know for free. If someone who is not your friend needs you to do something, that something has value; and as you make clear in this piece, nobody's your friend, right?

Amanda

Well written, tight, concise, and incredibly TRUE article, but if it reads as anything other than common sense to someone who wants "in" on the industry, it's time to rethink the industry you're best suited for.

Jason Smith

Just so happens I have 3 family members I will be getting this for! Thanks to cameraman Christopher Lockett and high recommendation of this book!

cf

…MOST professions actually. My highly qualified fiancé started in science doing cancer research in a horrible lab that made him do the shitty jobs–measuring tumors on mice. He was better qualified than a bunch in the lab, but he had to suck it up until he got did enough to get med school. Problem with film is it really doesn't appreciate qualifications at all- the industry HATES film grads because they have ideals above their 'expresso whore' stations. It sucks. It's not nice. You have to suck c••k basically, especially if you don't have any prior contacts in the industry.

Jay

Applied to any procession? No it can't. With all due respect, I don't think someone in the fields of product design, cancer research or quantitative analysis sucks it up and smiles gleefully to be a chief scientist or innovator's coffee whore, because, frankly, those industries actually rely on formal pedigree and intellect — i.e., brain power if you will. Neither does someone who works for NSA or clerks for a judge on the court of appeals.

But of course, entertainment trumps all that because it's the only industry that thinks of itself way higher than it should. And why shouldn't it. It's a factory of delusion-inducing dreams.

    maisha eugene

    Your comment is great.

Roger

I learned a lot from this article that can be applied to any profession.

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