"Life is not a having and a getting, but a being and a becoming." —Myrna Loy
Do you have any idea how difficult it is to come up with a good book title? Let's just say in the case of this book, it was much more difficult than I ever imagined it would be. The title I'd always wanted to use, but someone beat me to, is What They Don't Teach You In Film School. My second choice was Fade In On Reality, but I was told it sounded too much like a book on pop psychology or an exposé on reality TV. And besides, it didn't contain any of the right buzz words needed to attract target online searchers and buyers, so it's now a chapter title instead. Stuck at a creative impasse, I asked friends for help. I told them the book is for those thinking of getting into the industry, film students, those about to start their careers and those already in the industry who aren't quite sure how to move their careers forward. I said the gist of it is this: if this is really what you want to do, then you've got to thoroughly understand how the business works (the competition; the politics; your career options; how to get your foot in doors; how to survive the tough times; the importance of attitude, networking; etc.) and have the tools you need to give yourself at least a good fighting chance of making it. And you've got to walk in with your eyes wide open, knowing exactly what to expect. I wanted something catchy that would convey the message that within these pages one could learn how this industry really works and what it takes to succeed. Well, many months, e-mails, calls and committee meetings later, the title was finally agreed upon. What a process this was! Here are some of the other interesting suggestions I received.
The Industry: Glitz, Glamour or BS? The Facts About Fantasy Land
An Insiders Guide to Becoming a Hollywood Big Shot
Breaking Into the Business of Show Business
Filmmaking: It's Not a 9 to 5 Job
The Show Business Navigator
Hollywood Means Business
Insider Secrets: How to Create and Build a Career in the Film Industry
Working It in Hollywood: How to Snag and Keep Your Dream Job
How Hollywood Really Works: The Inside Scoop on Breaking In
Film School and Beyond: What You Really Need to Know
Produce Your Own Career in Film
Keep Your Clothes on and Still Have a Career
No One Ever Said It Would Be Easy
It's Who You Know. Plain and Simple
The You-Can't-Learn-That-In-A-Film-Book Film Book
Of all the suggested titles, one of the most fun was From Lambada to Titanic and Back Underwater—My Adventures in Hollywood. Although my latest creation doesn't contain stories of adventurous exploits (sorry!), it definitely contains the perspective of my 25+ years in the industry. And while not what you'd consider "juicy" by any stretch of the imagination, I have interwoven some relevant stories throughout, recounting various experiences I've had to back up the advice, viewpoints and realities I'm presenting.
I've definitely had my share of Lambada-type projects, working for raging screamers, sleazeballs and gropers, long stretches of unemployment and rapidly diminishing checkbook balances, not knowing if I'd ever get another show, not knowing how I was ever going to survive a few of the productions I worked on, not knowing if I'd be able to go on yet one more interview, not knowing how to stand up for myself and not having the confidence to think I could ever move beyond a certain level in my career. I wasted a lot of years not having a clear goal, not thoroughly understanding how the business works and not fully realizing what I was capable of achieving.
Although no book or class can totally prepare you for a career in the entertainment industry, this book is my way of passing on some insights, direction and a sense of confidence no one gave me when I started in the business and of offering you the benefit of my many years of practical experience, all learned the hard way and yours for the taking. It's not merely a book about how the industry works and how to get your foot in the right door. It goes beyond that and includes an attitude and philosophy that should make your journey a bit smoother and help you through some rough spots along the way.
As with my first book, The Complete Film Production Handbook (Focal Press), I didn't just jump out of bed one morning and announce to the world that I'd decided to write another book. It just evolved. And like the first, it all started to come together when someone said to me, "They don't teach us this stuff in film school."
The evolution actually started in 1998, when my friend Phil Wylly recommended me to The International Film & TV Workshops in Rockport, Maine. They had asked him to teach their 1-week AD/UPM/Line Producer class, which he had done a few months earlier. But he was working on a show at the time and gave them my name instead. I had been thinking of teaching for a while but wasn't sure I could overcome the sheer terror I had of public speaking. I told Phil I couldn't. He said of course I could—after all, hadn't I had written an entire book on production? After quite a bit of coaxing, I decided my desire to teach was stronger than my fear of standing up and talking to a small group of students. So off to Maine to I went, and after a slightly nervous first hour with my students, I was fine. I was so fine, the school asked me to come back a few months later.
That same summer, I happened to be at ShowBiz Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Walking by USC's Summer Production Workshop booth, I suddenly had the courage to introduce myself to the Director, Duke Underwood. I had, after all, just survived the Maine experience incredibly intact and with a desire to do more teaching. We talked for a few moments, and I showed Duke my book and took his card. At that moment, I was just one of the many industry professionals in this town who think they'd like to teach. But I had a connection at USC: Woody Omens, from the university's Cinematography Department, with whom I had previously worked. A good word from Woody and I had my meeting with Duke a couple weeks later. Not only that, but after we talked for a while, Duke offered to give me a class the following summer. I had been thinking about this a great deal, so after gratefully accepting his offer, I told him I didn't want to teach the same type of class I did at the Maine Workshops. I said I'd like to propose an idea for a new course. Always looking for something different, he was all ears.
As an industry professional for many years, my various production offices have been heavily populated by recent film school graduates and interns, as well as young men and women who had never attended film school but had passed "go" to follow their dreams and were able to land entry-level industry jobs. Many had connections, others didn't; but they all started off as production assistants who had just gotten their foot into Door #1. It always surprised me how many of them were unprepared for what they were about to encounter. Learning a craft (or two or three) and making student films is one thing, but a real production office and a real set on a real movie is quite another. Many industry neophytes expect to "make it" within the first 6 months, and few are prepared for how truly tough and how fiercely competitive it is, the freelance lifestyle, the necessity of networking and the fact that they must constantly sell (and prove) themselves over and over and over again. Not everyone understands the concept of "paying dues," who does what in the reel world or what type of attitude will increase their chances of success. As a result, I've witnessed my share of disappointed and disillusioned young people. Reality starts setting in quickly, often when they show up for their first day of work expecting to make movies, and instead, we ask them to make the coffee.
Not only are many industry newcomers uninformed and uneducated as to how this industry really works, but most start out with dreams of becoming producers, directors, actors and/or writers. Occasionally, a few will have other goals, such as becoming a cine-matographer, production designer, editor or studio mogul. But most are unaware of the hundreds of other job possibilities within the industry—positions that are often easier to attain than those highest on the ladder—and which could be stepping stones to an ultimate goal or satisfying careers in their own right. There isn't a lot of room at the top, and the competition to get there is brutal. What few of these bright-eyed rookies understand is that considering how many are on the ladder, few make it to the top. Even fewer stay there.
I wanted to teach a class that would properly prepare students for a career in the entertainment industry and give them the upper hand over their competition. I wanted to teach them exactly what to expect: the good, the bad and the ugly. Duke listened intently to everything I had to say and then told me to go home and write a course description. He'd put it in the new catalog, and if people signed up, I was on. I'd have my class the following summer.
My first class consisted of 20 students, and it was a great six weeks for them and for me. By the time it was over, it was clear I was on to something. I have now completed my sixth summer at USC. From the beginning, the resounding response from my students has been, "This is great! No one's ever taught us this stuff before!"
The experience of teaching this class never ceases to amaze and excite me, because what I have to offer is significant, helpful and so very much appreciated. Chris Kachel, a former student, sent me the following to read to last year's class: "Eve's advice is all the more valuable, because it's based on information not many people have. Her class arms you with rare information and a road map that actually does lead you to where you want to go." My students truly do leave the course with an upper hand and a sense of confidence, because they're walking away with industry "secrets" most of their competitors don't have.
Before my first summer at USC was over, I knew what I was teaching was incredibly valuable, and that the material would make a terrific book. Although the book could never quite provide the personal impact the class has to offer, I knew it was needed. And at the time (in 1998), there were few such books on the market.
I never lost the desire to write the book, but there was always something else to fill up my already busy life. I finally got tired of talking about it, thinking about it, breaking numerous promises to turn in a completed proposal and avoiding a firm commitment. But as you can see, I finally got started. Only now, having taken so long, there are numerous other books competing for the same market. Fortunately, there's always room for one more, if it's good. And like any other topic, you'll find the material overlaps from book to book. It's up to you, though, to find parts of each book that resonate with you, or to find one in particular that will be everything you're looking for. I hope this book will be that for you, and that its essence will stay with you throughout your career, whether you decide to get into this crazy business or choose another.
This business is tough. It's not always fair and I've seen my share of creative, talented individuals who do all the right things and still don't make it. And while I can't promise that you'll reach all your goals, I can offer you the information, the tools, the attitude and the philosophy you'll need to give yourself a good fighting chance at success, in spite of the odds. The rest will depend on your level of passion, your ability to venture outside of your comfort zone, your willingness to play the game, the time and effort you're willing to devote to building your career, and last but not least, a certain amount of pure and simple luck. There are no guarantees in this business, but if you want it badly enough, it's worth the journey.
I've spent a considerable amount of time e-mailing, talking to and corresponding with friends, colleagues and people I respect in this industry to get their opinions on many of the key issues covered within these pages. So in many instances, you're getting the benefit of their advice as well as mine; and collectively, we represent eons of experience. This is a business in which you can never stop learning, and you certainly can never learn enough from the many men and women who have walked before you.
My list of thank yous starts with much appreciation to Gordon Thomas for his suggestion of the Hollywood Drive title (I love it!), to my clever brother Elliot Light for his suggestion of a Hollywood Drive street sign for the book cover, to my multitalented friend Bill Harrold for the fabulous cover design and to pal Wayne Williams for all his help in making it happen. What a team!
Secondly, I'd like to thank my former students for their recognition, passion and, most of all, their successes—proving time and again how significant my class has come to be.
My sincerest thanks to Duke Underwood for giving me the chance to develop my own course, for inspiring me with his love of teaching and dedication to his students, for his guidance, encouragement and friendship—and for thinking that I make great guacamole.
To my friends, co-workers, support system and "network" of contacts; for all I've learned from them, for all the questions answered, the proofreading so willingly done and the suggestions and advice so graciously offered, for letting me tap into their areas of expertise, sharing their opinions and helping me explore the realities of the industry: I'd like to extend my heartfelt gratitude for their inspiration and generous contributions to this book. In alphabetical order, they are: Nick Abdo, Barry Adelman, Stephanie Austin, Jean-Pierre Avice, Robert Bahar, Aubbie Beal, Dustin Bernard, Thea Bernstein, Kristen Brennan, Michael Brooks, Jim Byrnes, Carol Byron, Vicky Cervantes, Harriet Cheng, Michael Coscia, Mary Dalton, Danielle Daly, Bill Dance, Lindsay Devlin, Terry Edinger, Sharon Espinosa, Christine Evey, Bill Ewing, Louis G. Friedman, Peggy Geary, Steve Getzoff, Luisa Gomez de Silva, Janet Graham-Borba, Luke Greenfield, Allen Grossman, Heather Hale, Jenny Hedley, Susan Hirshberg, Anne Hopkins, Brian Seth Hurst, Mark Indig, Mike Jacobs, Jr., Susan James, Jackie Jaye-Brandt, Joseph R. Jennings, Susan Johnston, Jack Kindberg, Wayne Lamkay, Alison Laslett, Shawn Levy, Ron Lynch, Suzanne Lyons, Guy Magar, Travis Mann, Stephen Marinaccio, Andrew Mary, Karon May, Vivian McAteer, Cory McCrum-Abdo, Mark McNair, Doug Menville, Carolyn Miller, Eric Mofford, Missy Moyer, Lloyd Nelson, Phil Nemy, Carole Nix, Jerrold Ofgang, Woody Omens, Mike Papadaki, Jackie Pardue, Victoria Paul, John Pisani, John Poer, Donald Pollok, Cindy Quan, Gig Rackauskas, Morgana Rae, Keith Raskin, Michael Rizzo, Helen Rodger, Jay Roewe, Kate
Robbins, Vail Romeyn, Jonathan Sanger, Barbara Schwartz, Ned Shapiro, Ira Shuman, Jonathan Singer, Phil Smoot, Susan Spohr, Darren Sugar, Susan Sullivan, Jerram Swartz, Patience Thoreson, Steve Tramz, Jonathan Tzachor, Tom Udell, Warren Vanders, Danielle VanLier, Heidi Wall, Richard Wells, Michael J. Werner, Joni Wester, Mark Wolfe, Chris Zambros, Don Zepfel and Matt Zettell.
Extra special thanks to John Dahl, Graham Ludlow, Jeffrey Gund, Mark Hansson, Todd Howard, Dan Gordon, Marc Hernandez, Vivian VanLier, Matt Kutcher, Phil Wylly, Chris Moore and Steve Molen.
To Elinor Actipis, Christine Tridente and the gang at Focal Press, thanks for all your help and patience.
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