Hollywood, Filmmaking and a Career in the Movies – Lights, Camera, Action!

“The film business is like riding a trolley car; someone is always getting on, and someone is always getting off. Some ride across town, others go only a few blocks.” Cary Grant

It’s important to know that no matter how sophisticated, how computerized, how high-tech or far reaching the film business becomes, the industry is about people. People make movies and, as Cary Grant so aptly analogized, some people enter the business and ride it all the way to retirement, while others are there for a very short time; fondly know heretofore as Lifers and Short-timers. Very briefly, Lifers have chosen a career and will stick with it no matter what, or sometimes as long as it will have them. They have mortgages to pay, families to feed, kids in college, etc., while Short-timers are people that found themselves on the trolley for any number of reasons, and because they caught the ride they now have a chance to try out the business to see how it fits. If it does they may ride along for a while, some may even become Lifers, and if it doesn’t they will hop off, occasionally before the next stop.

In the past you may have heard that the film business is impossible to get into but I’m here to tell you it’s not because every single day new people, many having no experience at all, begin working their very first jobs.

The truth is the film business can be very transient, meaning that working in the business, as great as it sounds, is not for everyone. Just as some people are not cut out to be sales persons or deep sea divers there are people jumping in and out of the film business all the time, which is good news for any fresh body wanting in.

Without the big red bow, you have to be a certain kind of person to work in the film business because it takes a level of determination and dedication that not everyone can muster. It’s about mental and physical endurance. It’s about living in an extended family and playing well with others. It’s about what’s inside of you, and can you or rather will you rise above yourself during even the darkest hours. Of course the most interesting part is; you won’t know if you’re a film business person until you are actually there, working on a production, experiencing the merry-go-round and every moment that goes with: And, if at day’s end the sum of those moments add up to something magical? You may be there for a very long time.

Quick note: Nothing explains the phrase “during even the darkest hours” better than the documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse, a raw behind the scenes look at the making of the classic war film Apocalypse Now. The documentary demonstrates what transpires when a major motion picture slowly melts down until there is nothing left but chaos. Apocalypse Now Director, Francis Ford Coppola, with everything on the line, tiptoes so close to the edge of failure that he’s seemingly nanometers away from a nervous breakdown. “We were in the jungle, there were too many of us, we had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane,” which is eerily similar to the predicament the characters in Apocalypse Now found themselves in as everyone, bit by bit, loses their mind. So instead of art imitating life, it could be argued that this was a case of life imitating art, and throughout that utterly dysfunctional mess a brilliant film about the insanity of war called Apocalypse Now was created. If you haven’t seen Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse you might want to check it out, if for nothing else it’s a vivid reminder that production meltdowns are a fact of life, albeit most on a lesser scale than this.

So if the film business is about people, then creating relationships with people is a close second. As you know, without relationships the world would stand still. Nothing would get done. I could be holding the secret of life in my hand (screenplay writers take note) but if there’s no one to show it to, it would matter to me alone. And even if I had just one relationship, and that person knew only me, whatever fantastic knowledge we shared would end right there.

Under a black star-filled sky two polar bears are standing on a small slab of floating ice in the middle of the ocean. Surrounded by cold dark waves for as far as the eyes can see, one polar bear says to the other, “Well, eventually I’d like to Direct.”

Getting off that chunk of ice and into the business is one thing, which I talk about in my book, but at this point it’s imperative for all polar bears to understand that if they want a career in film the key to maintaining regular work is the ongoing development of relationships. Bottom line: You know who you know and that’s why you’re there.

It may also help to know that most relationships in the film business come and go, work and personal, and many times it’s because they have either run their course, or because you can’t help but meet new people. Depending on what film department you are in, you may work with the same group over and over or with a different group every time. Or one day you could be working with a company of people that you just spent seventy hours a week with for the last six months, that have become your family and friends, and the very next day that production ends and everyone scatters; some taking time off from work, others moving on to new projects. You may miss them greatly, and then again you may not, but because of the inherent freelance nature of the business, relationships are always starting, ending or evolving. Some last for decades and others a minute.

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