“Success in the industry is rooted in one’s passion and ability to develop relationships.”
I’ve only been at the University of Southern California Film School for two weeks and I can honestly say this is the best experience of my life.
One of the most enjoyable aspects about being at USC is the de-mystification of the entertainment industry. Being able to have conversations with agents, producers, directors, as well as professors who have spent decades in the industry helps give honest perspective and insight into this unique world.
In my Business Insider class, our primary goal is to learn the mechanics of the industry and understand what it takes to break in and sustain a career. Surprisingly, the most desired trait is not talent or qualifications, but likability.
“If they have to see your ugly face every day, they want to like you,” jokes one of my professors.
“You can get lucky once, beyond that you need character to survive,” said another industry veteran who we met while visiting and prepping our films at the Warner Bros. Studios.
“Nice guys don’t have to finish last. Be strong, generous, honest, thoughtful and kind,” Ron Meyer of Universal Pictures told a graduating class at UCLA. “This business often gets a bad rap but you will find that most people in the industry are good, decent and intelligent. Jobs come and go but your reputation matter. You don’t have to be an asshole to succeed.”
If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my time here, it’s that the industry is substantially more difficult to be a part of then I had previously imagined. For example, there was a recent opening for a creative executive (relatively lower level job) at a major studio. They promptly received 200 applications.
Quite frankly, it’s intimidating. I know so many desire to make a living out of the entertainment industry, yet the hard truth is that few will make it. Knowing that the odds for my success are slim, I am still pursuing film with 100 percent focus that often makes me question my sanity.
However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. If there one thing that industry professionals really like to see (something that also greatly contributes to one’s likability) is passion.
In the past two weeks I have heard many incredible success stories, and with every single story told, it is obvious that the said individual’s passion was a large factor to his success. There simply isn’t room for jerks and personal agendas. You have to be passionate about the industry to have a chance at succeeding. My professor did point out, however, that there are “generally good people under a lot of pressure, everyone’s bound to break at some point.”
To clarify, there is a stark difference between passion and interest. Interest is the enjoyment of the idea of being a part of the film industry. Interest is something I’ve had in the film industry for several years. I’ve laid in my bed many times and dreamed about being a successful producer and getting to revive the Stargate franchise on top of producing all of my dream projects. However, does this mean I’m passionate about film and television? Not necessarily.
Passion is something you can only verify once you’re neck deep in the industry, working long days with little or no pay (or even being a film student/intern) and seeing little success but still saying, “This is worth it and I’m still grateful to be a part of this industry.”
Getting to observe the industry through the school (as well as getting a taste of the work through projects and assignments) has taught me a lot about passion, and I have seen some amazing examples.
Passion is the kind of thing that causes an intern to read almost 30 scripts in one weekend. Passion is the kind of thing that causes one to stay up for three days straight working on a project for management. Passion is the kind of thing that drives studio executives to work 60-hour weeks and then go home and read scripts all weekend.
Passion is the kind of thing that causes an individual to continue to lobby their first film even after seven years of failure (Rian Johnson’s “Brick”). Passion is the kind of thing that makes crew members work until midnight and then get up at 6 a.m. to go back to set. Passion causes individuals to work to their limits and not sleep until they’ve done the job and done it to the best of their abilities.
In the past two weeks, a new world has unfolded before my eyes. I have to admit I used to glamorize the film industry. I knew it was hard work, but I created a false perception of the industry where my subconscious highlighted the more desirable and enjoyable aspects of the industry, and seemed to forget about the less pleasant realities of the matter.
I’ve barely scratched the surface, and if anything, this is making me truly evaluate my desire to be a part of this industry. However, with each passing day, I am increasingly convinced that this is exactly what I want to do. Even when I am swamped with work and running off four hours of sleep, I am still so grateful to be here, and I am still excited about the work I am doing.
When most tedious and mundane things seem bearable, and, God willing, even enjoyable, you know you are passionate about something.
The bad news is that this industry is nowhere near as glamorous and lucrative as it seems. However, if you are truly passionate about the industry, and you are ready to persevere, work hard, and treat everyone with respect, you might be pleasantly surprised with the results.