Making Movies: 4 – Get to Work
Sure, it’s great to keep an eye on your long-term goal. But, as your parents are doubtless constantly reminding you, you need a job far more immediately. Unless you intend to live in their basement.
But what kind of job? Keeping with our functional approach, let’s think for a minute about what a job can give you:
1. Money 2. Experience 3. Connections 4. Credibility
Let’s look at each of those a bit more in turn:
Unless you were born with an extensive trust fund (in which case, come talk to me about investing in movies), you’re going to need to make money to pay for your life. The tradeoff, though, tends to be that as you maximize how much you earn in any given job, you tend to minimize your returns in the other three categories. Make sure any potential gig pays well enough to cover low-cost essentials (an apartment shared with roommates, vodka that comes in plastic bottles, etc.), or you won’t be able to sustain yourself moving forward. Then, beyond that, focus more on the intangibles you can get out of a position, at least in the near term.
Looking back to the three-leg theory of filmmaking, there’s a fair amount of technical expertise involved in aligning each leg. If it’s raising money, are you familiar with PPMs, pitching investors, operating agreements, or the laws regarding accredited investors? Or, if it’s attaching cast, do you know how to make offers, draft deal memos, or figure out the finer points of a most-favored-nations deal?
And, of course, especially if you’re looking to produce or direct, would you actually be able to make a great film after the three legs are in place? Are you familiar with tech scouting, storyboarding, or how a shoot day runs?
There’s a lot of stuff to learn, and you can probably only pick it up by doing. So, ideally, a job helps you start filling the void in some area of your expertise.
All three legs of a film have at least one thing in common: getting them in place is far easier with an excellent Rolodex.
On the money side, for example, there’s a old adage that investors pick jockeys, not horses – they’re betting on you as much as on the project. Which means a cold-call is nearly always doomed to fail. Whereas a pitch to someone who knows you, who’s been actively following your career, and who is waiting for you to put something exciting in front of them, has an incalculable leg up.
A job, then, is a great way to start building your network. Perhaps it gives you the chance to meet agents, established producers, writers with interesting spec scripts, or entertainment bankers. All people you’ll need to know eventually. And all people you can meet far more easily if you’re in the context of an established company.
People are like sheep – they love to follow the flock. If a number of name actors are attached to a film already, for example, it becomes increasingly easy to bring in more.
Eventually, to direct, write, or produce, you’ll need a lot of different people to place bets behind you. And the more you can provide social proof, evidence that other people have already bet on you in the past, the easier that will be.
That’s one more thing a job can potentially provide – a stamp on your resume indicating you’ve already been picked as smart and savvy by a decision-maker at some organization.
Here, too, there’s often a tradeoff. Working at a small literary agency, for example, you’d likely get much more hands-on experience, get to build many more outside relationships directly. Whereas working at CAA might leave you literally delivering mail, but provides a far more impressive piece of resume padding.
So, how to balance those four factors? And what kinds of jobs, specifically? In our next several posts, we’ll look at a number of possibilities, and the upsides and downsides of each, through the lens of those four factors.