There’s an often-said phrase that is guaranteed to break the hearts of aspiring writers everywhere. I heard it again recently. Actually, I think it was a Twitter-chat, so I read it. But I could here the pain in the writer’s voice:
“It really is ‘who you know’ isn’t it?”
The “it” he was referring to was “breaking into Hollywood”. And yes, it is “who you know”…but let’s face it: EVERY business in the entire world is “who you know”. Generally, the only people who are bummed by the “who you know” realities of Hollywood are people who don’t know anyone.
We can divide the people who don’t know anyone in Hollywood into two groups:
1) People who don’t live in Los Angeles
2) People who do.
If you don’t live in Los Angeles, I’ll admit it’s much harder to get to know people in the entertainment industry. But it is far from impossible. Since I live here, this is not my expertise. But if you want some insight, do yourself a favor and check out Screenwriting From Iowa…and other unlikely places. Also, read Austin Kleon’s amazing book How To Steal Like An Artist and pay special attention to Chapter 7: Geography is no longer our master.
But if you live in Los Angeles and don’t “know anyone”, there’s really no excuse. More importantly, there’s no excuse to have a bad attitude about it. What fuels our bad attitude about this? As with many things in Hollywood, it’s the language we choose to describe something.
When people face the dreaded “who they know”, I feel they’re looking at their general lack of “contacts”, or “people in the industry who can help my career”. Used in a sentence, someone might say, “I’m going to a networking event so I can meet some new contacts”.
I just threw up in my mouth a little. I hope you did, too. Let’s never, EVER say that above sentence again, okay? In fact, let’s stop using the word “contacts” altogether. I prefer two different words:
Friends. And fans.
If you live in Los Angeles, then it is virtually impossible to have friends that aren’t connected to the entertainment industry in some way. Your friend may not be J.J. Abrams, but if you live here, you’ll most likely have a circle of friends that share your interests and ambitions.
I moved here from Orlando where almost all of my friends were aspiring actors, writers, and filmmakers. And almost all of those friends moved here, too. So I instantly had a huge community of like-minded friends who were all in the same boat as me: we were all broke, deeply desiring to somehow make a living doing what we love. But we hunkered down and worked hard. Now, over eleven years later, most of those friends are still here. Some have jobs outside the entertainment industry. Some are TV showrunners, working actors, successful screenwriters, busy directors, and one is even the co-host for one of the longest running game shows in television history.
Yes, I was blessed with a rich community of friends when I moved out here. But that didn’t stop me from making plenty of new friends, and wouldn’t you know it, now I have friends in nearly every corner of the industry, including plenty of friends at a great theater where I get to play from time to time.
Do friends lead to work? Absolutely. An example that happened to a writer I know: he worked in children’s television years ago with a good buddy of his from college. That college friend is now running a hit TV show and called this writer and offered him a job. Is that an instance of “who you know”? Sure, but it’s also an instance of two friends who found a way to work together because working with your friends is FUN. Now, if this writer was lousy, we could all bitch and complain together. But he’s great. Which bring us to the other word I mentioned: fans.
If you’re good at what you do, if you work very hard to get better, and if you’re a nice person to be around, then you will cultivate what I like to call “fans”. Anytime an executive enjoys one of my scripts, calls me in for a general meeting, and we hit it off, I consider that executive a “fan”. Out of that initial round of thirty general meetings I had ten years ago, I feel I made 5 or 6 real fans. One of them gave me my first job in Hollywood and we’re still in touch to this day. Since then, I’ve made more fans in the industry, including producers, directors, and executives.
Of course, the ultimate goal is for your friends and fans to be one in the same. Two of my best friends created the incredibly successful web series Written By A Kid for the red-hot web channel Geek & Sundry. They are my friends, but I am also their biggest fan. I will tell anyone who will listen about their show and if I’m ever head of a network, they will have an hour of primetime a week to do whatever they please. Then again, when internet content overtakes television someday, I could be working for them. The point is: if you and your friends are mutual fans, then it makes perfect sense to work together someday. Why not make a lot of money and do it working with friends whose work you admire? I can’t imagine a better working life in Hollywood.
Now, I’ve been at this for a while. And if you’re just starting out, the mountain of “who you know” seems to be a formidable one to climb, hopeless really. But remember that pretty much everyone starts out not knowing anyone. But anyone can make friends. And EVERYONE can work hard and make fans.
So first things first: let’s stop worrying about “who you know” and start enjoying a creative life filled with friends and fans. I promise that the “who you know” part of it will take care of itself.