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Sunday, June 2, 2013
First, a brief digression.
Any young grad on the cusp of entering the Real World who hasn't yet seen/heard Joss Whedon's commencement address to the assembled cap-and-gowns at Wesleyan University should check it out. The website heading describes it as "the bluntest, funniest, and deadliest graduation speech in the history of the known universe," and if that's a stretch, Whedon's address certainly marks a refreshing break from the usual droning compendium of "you are the future" cliches delivered by some gray-haired Platitudinous Rex. Of course, that signature commencement phrase does appear near his conclusion, but hey, it's a graduation send-off -- what do you expect?
At any rate, if you're one of those young people now staring down the cold barrel of post-collegiate reality, you might want to keep Joss Whedon's words in mind as you stumble and slouch towards Bethlehem.
An anonymous reader left a great comment on this recent post:
"One of my profs told us we should watch "Overnight," the 'documentary' about Troy Duffy.* A great graduation gift about what NOT to do if you do have an opportunity/break in the biz. I really think it's important for a lot of film students to remember that even though they went from the bottom (freshman year) to the top (senior) of the pecking order in school... you're starting over, and attitude is a big thing when you're starting out. People seriously judge you by it. You don't want the first thing out of a person's mouth to be "that kid is a tool!"
"A person once told me that your personality usually dictates a great dal where you'll end up (career-wise) in life. I met a lady who had worked on great shows and ended up int he DGA, and she said that 'most of her experiences (in the biz) had been accidents,' but I remember she had a GREAT attitude and seemed genuinely happy. Many people would like to be directors but they scoff at and don't like working with actors (!!). Sometimes it just takes more time for some people. It's important not to compare in this town (although it's hard not to) and to just keep going and following your own path, and to realize that you really don't know where you may end up... Hollywood is ridding itself of job descriptions and creating new ones every year."
Those two paragraphs are laden with truth learned the hard way. Attitude is important at every stage of a Hollywood career, but it's crucial for the newbie trying to break in. If you're willing to put in the time and effort, there isn't a job in this business you can't learn -- but if you approach the industry as an entitled, pompous, self-absorbed jerk who considers him/herself God's gift to Hollywood, good luck finding anybody willing to teach you.
Bear in mind your mom's wisdom when she warned: "You don't get a second chance to make a first impression." It's true, and although a lot of hard work can eventually overcome a bad start in this town, why put yourself behind the eight-ball right from the beginning?
As a freshly-minted film school grad, you know very little about the gritty reality of working in the film and television industry. This will be glaringly obvious to all concerned, so don't try to act like a pro. Doing so won't impress anyone in a position to help jump-start your career -- indeed, the only people your act might fool are those who know even less than you. You're new in town, so save the too-cool-for-school act in favor of a little humility. Keep your eyes open, and (unless and until you have a good, relevant question) your mouth shut. There's something to be said for following Mark Twain's advice that "it's better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."
This doesn't mean you have to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, of course, but pick your spots (and your words) carefully when it comes to exaggerating your real-world expertise.
Bear in mind the difference between confidence and cockiness. The former is a good thing -- nobody wants to hire a wall-flower who doesn't inspire confidence -- but cocky behavior can uncork a desire in others to see you fall on your face. Maybe you have a world of talent waiting to be unleashed on the unsuspecting film industry, but raw talent alone cannot and will not ensure success. Talent has to be nurtured and developed in a manner akin to the process of refining gold, which requires a significant investment of time, effort, and resources to extract a meaningful quantity of precious metal from a mountain of ore. At the moment, all you have to offer the Gods of Hollywood is a smile, a good attitude, and the desire to learn -- and that means you'll need some help along the way to develop your talents into something valuable to the powers-that-be. That help will come from other people, and all things being equal, those in a position to help or hire tend to choose applicants they like and will enjoy working with. If you rub them the wrong way right off the bat, the job will go to some other similarly clueless wannabe with a better smile.
And if that happens, learn to fake it the next time. Hell, this is Hollywood, where everyone -- in front of or behind the camera -- is acting to one degree or another. Learn your lines and deliver them with conviction, because as that anonymous commenter noted, people with a great attitude and happy demeanor generally have a much easier time climbing the ladder.
This is not to suggest that assholes don't succeed in this town -- many do -- but only when they bring serious money-making talent to the table. The business of Hollywood is not called "the film and television art form," but the film and television industry, and the quid-pro-quo of every industry involves the exchange of labor, skill, and talent for money. If you bring something of great value to this industry, you'll enjoy a level of cinematic immunity above and beyond that experienced by the rest of the pack. Hollywood will smile to your face and kiss your ass on demand, all the while whispering nasty things behind your back -- and if that doesn't bother you, then maybe this really is your kind of town.
The last part of that comment above is worth noting. Very few of the industry professionals I've known over the years ended up doing exactly what they'd planned when they hit town. You'll grow and learn as the work starts coming, and maybe realize that whatever goal lured you to Hollywood in the first place isn't really what you want after all. Or -- and you won't like this part, kids -- maybe you just won't make it as a professional screenwriter, director, or producer. Many try but few succeed, and in that case, do you go back home with your tail between your legs or settle for something less-than-perfect for the duration of your career? That may be the hardest decision you'll ever face, but take a good look at a call sheet for a feature, episodic, or sit-com -- there are plenty of jobs that need to be done, from on-set crew to post-production, and maybe one of them will turn out to be the glass slipper that fits your foot.
By all means shoot for the Hollywood moon, but if things don't work out, be prepared to change course in a big way, or else you'll probably end up slogging through the trenches with the rest of us right here back on earth.
As a brand newbie, whatever talent you possess is unlikely to be revealed or appreciated for a while, and being a jerk will only postpone that great and wondrous day. So make your life a lot easier and become the kind of person other people want to be around. In other words, be nice. And if that's too much to ask, at least don't be an asshole.
We have enough of those in Hollywood already.
* And if you're wondering who Troy Duffy is, click here, here, and here.