Going Hollywood

Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd
Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd

Alex writes in:

I am about to graduate from university this month. I recently discovered your blog and am a big fan, I appreciate the work you do. If you have the time I would love to ask you a question as you’re in the industry and I am not sure where to go.

My dilemma is this: I have begun work in corporate business and have discovered that while the money is great, it’s not my passion at all. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about working in the film industry since I was an extra for The Vampire Diaries and The Originals almost three years ago. The excitement I felt those days are some of the happiest I can remember.

I wanted to see if you have any advice for me. I am really struggling with the idea of picturing myself not working in the film industry at this point. Every day I go to work I am absolutely miserable. I live near Atlanta but I am unsure of how to break into the industry, I am humble and very open to learning so I really just want to get my foot in the door and prove myself, as I have very little experience. I am quite worried about being able to pay my bills, that has been the main obstacle keeping me back from going for my dreams.

A great many people are sucked in by the glamour of Hollywood. Your first day, you find yourself surrounded by beautiful actor, talented artists, and an endless supply of craft services.

Bill Murray in Groundhog Day
Pictured above: TAPA on set

And if you’re a background actor, let’s be honest, most of your job entails standing around and not getting in anyone’s way. “Furniture that breathes” is one of the less flattering ways I’ve heard it described.1

Working background can be relaxing or boring, depending on how you choose to view your experience. It can even be exciting if you’re fresh in the business and take in all the hustle and bustle going on around you. The key thing to remember is, this is not the typical experience for most people on set.

There is a Dark Side…

Darth Vader
I’ll never join you!

Plenty of people are miserable on set. It’s a lot of hard work, long hours, and you often have to deal with some very unpleasant people.

You might feel the same of your job, and the grass always appears greener on the other side. As much fun as you had on your first day on set, there’s no guarantee it’ll continue to be like that. You might wind up like many of the bitter, sad, angry crew members I see every day.

What’s worse is, you’re right, you won’t be able to pay the bills. The way to get started in this business is to intern on (many) shows & movies. It’s better to get this out of the way when you’re in college, and still supported by your parents.2 Now, you’ll have to live off your savings, and there’s still no guarantee when or even if you’ll get a paid gig.

There is Another Option

If you already have a stable career, I don’t believe you should throw it away. I think you’d be better off trying to find another way to express yourself, like making short films on weekends. It’s more fun than the actual work of the industry, and if you earn enough money in your day job, you can actually hire crew to make your movies look professional.

But if you’re absolutely dead set on joining the industry, don’t just pack everything up and move to L.A.

Simpons / Beverly Hillbillies
We’re moving to Beverly Hills, Ma!

Start trying to make connections before you move here. Try and reach out to people online, then visit the town. Set up meetings over coffee or drinks. Don’t ask for a job, just meet people and build a network. You’ll have to do it anyway, and you might as well start before you arrive.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Yes, it’s more complicated than that. They’re an important part of the process. Please don’t leave angry comments.
  2. That’s always assuming you can afford college, or your parents can afford to support you, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic for another day.
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4 Comments

  1. Sign up with the local extras casting agencies. Start to network subtly when/if on set/appropriate. Try local networking groups like Film Bar Mondays. Be friendly and have a go-getter attitude.

  2. Atlanta has a fantastic program called Georgia Film Academy. I took it, my friend also. It is 3 months plus an internship after, but then you go straight to the set! Now, it’s up to YOU to hustle and not sit around just taking notes. If you are a go-getter in class, people will notice. My friend went straight to a *blockbuster* film prodx through his internship- and another friend to Walking Dead and more. He wasn’t placed…he earned it. I took it because it was only 750 dollars and I was able to learn all about the film industry but did not choose to do an internship. In ATL, the really good people get fast-tracked, really fast. IATSE is strong too. Here though, we do have issues with locals who end up on set and have no clue. They know someone who got them in, or they puffed up their resume. But they stand out b/c they can’t work independently and they don’t get asked back the next week.

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