Ultimately your relationships, reputation and collaborative abilities are your ticket to success. That's one of many things I've been learning during my summer tenure at the University of Southern California's film school.
“Your professional life and your social life will never be the same once you’ve entered the industry," a guest speaker told all of us recently. "The people who you socialize with are the same people who you work with, are the same people who you pitch to, etc.”
The network of individuals you create during your career are invaluable. Talent and skill are essential to succeed, but reputation and ability to work well with others is even more vital. Being diplomatic, responsible and trustworthy will get you much farther than raw talent.
“The people you meet on the way up are the same people you meet on the way down,” said my professor, reminding us to treat everyone with respect.
You want to establish yourself as a hardworking, pleasant individual who treats everyone well and is easy to work with. My professor also reminded us of the importance of making connections: “Get to know everyone. One of them could be your future employer. If you don’t like them, don’t let them know it.”
One of the reasons film school is so beneficial is because of the mentor-student relationship that is created between experienced professors and new students. It’s not at all about the piece of paper you get once you graduate, it’s about the knowledge acquired and the connections established. Film school provides a safe environment and dedicates time to experiment and be mentored by those who have a vast knowledge of the industry.
"So you make a crappy film ... who cares?' said one of the professors.
"The reason you're here is to learn how to create movies, and because it's a safe environment, messing up won't affect your career. You're not wasting other people's money and you don't have to own up to them like you would in the professional industry, you're simply getting a chance to learn."
I remember when I first came into the classes. I was taking 12 college credits in six weeks and I was stressing about all that I was expected to accomplish in that short time. That fear was valid, too: The past six weeks would have been impossible if it wasn’t for the kind and generous fellow students I met at the film school.
During my first project, as the deadlines approached at a rapid pace, everyone else had written scripts and were casting actors while I was still scrambling for a concept. When I began to panic, I was sat down by a group of peers who helped me work through potential concepts. They showed me a previous student short to help inspire me and ultimately helped me develop my project to a finished script.
There was a feeling of unity at the school which I hadn’t experienced before. We were all there to do the same thing -- make movies -- and everyone was willing to help each other out.
If you don’t have people you can trust to do their part and go the extra mile when other people need help, your production will struggle. From a producer’s standpoint, having a cast (as well as a crew) that is easy to work with is essential. For the project we shot at Warner Bros. Studios (“The Social Worker”), we casted with attitude and personality in mind, not just skill. As a result, we ended up with talented actors who also showed up early, were gracious when production difficulties occurred, and were simply enthusiastic and glad to be a part of the project.
We got actors who were willing to drive to USC to re-record just one line of dialogue, actors who showed up to support the film when “The Social Worker” was selected to represent our class in the end of program screening. Working with such dedicated and talented people reminded me of why I was passionate about film.
During the last school year in North Carolina, I had an experience that reminded me of the importance of partnership and collaboration. Due to my schedule, I was unable to participate in any production classes. My school was gracious enough and allowed me to create my own production class to take independently, but it wasn't the same.
I spent most of the year alone in the media lab producing projects alone. My teacher wasn’t around during my class and I only got to see him once or twice a week when he checked up on my work. Otherwise I was a one-man show, planning, shooting and editing by myself.
I got the projects done and at the end of the day, I was happy with the finished product, but working alone was so miserable. It was bad enough that I got to the point where I questioned if I wanted to continue pursuing a career in film and television.
As soon as I started classes at USC, a setting with adequate resources and passionate-driven individuals, I was reminded of why I wanted to work in the field. Visual art is a collaborative effort, and I’ve learned never to take for granted opportunities to work with pleasant, talented and creative individuals.
In the end, it’s the people that make the film school and the production experience all the more richer and enjoyable. Filmmaking is all about interpersonal collaboration. Without a cohesive team of dedicated individuals, successful productions could not exist.
Photo: USC students at the "End of Program Screening" of the top works from the summer. "The Social Worker" was one of the chosen pieces.
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