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How to Get into the Entertainment Business: Behind-the-Scenes Jobs that Pay $100,000 or More a Year!
Background and Needed Characteristics
What does it take to make it into the entertainment business? It only takes persistence, perseverance, commitment, chutzpah (daring), and a lot of luck. Then add talent and creativity. It takes all that and more, but despite these obstacles, people do it every day.
Although we seldom think about it, those in entertainment are among the most entrepreneurial individuals in the country. They are usually self-employed, self-starters. They may not have retail storefronts, but they are dependent on their own efforts and relationships for their next paycheck. Entertainment is glamorous, but it is also a tough business. Many of those in this business generate income in the six-and seven-figure range, but they work hard, long hours and their efforts can be deflated by one bad review, which can close a production, destroy box office revenues, cause the cancellation of a television production or lose someone a radio talk show or commercial.
COLLEGE NOT THE WAY IN
This is not a business where a college education earns you a shot at a job. In fact, young, fast-rising Erica Huggins, executive producer of Robin Williams' What Dreams May Come, will tell you that college will not prepare someone for the business. Only the business can. "But," says Bill Royce, co-producer of the The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, "don't discard one thing college will teach you- responsibility. In entertainment, when you get a job, no one shows you how to do it. You have to do it yourself; be responsible. Responsibility is one of the most important characteristics in this business."
This is not a business, however, that you get into by answering an ad in the classifieds for a management trainee, either. The most likely way someone makes it-" on-the-job training." Indoctrination and training usually starts in the mailroom, where prospective behind-the-scenes entertainment industry employees cart packages and deliver messages, or as a runner (better known as a "gopher") where they fetch this and that, walk dogs for well-known performers or high paid emcees, and do any job- odd or not- that has to be done.
Entertainment is glamorous- when you get to be one of the behind-the-camera stars, but until then it is hard work, long hours, weekend duty, and minimum wage. In fact, many have made less than a fast-food worker at McDonald's while they climbed the ladder. Why don't more people make it? Primarily because not enough of the entertainment hopefuls who search for behind-the-scenes opportunities are willing to do menial work to make their dreams come true. The common thread shared by all who were interviewed was that they were willing to do any kind of work in pursuit of their aspirations, and they did it willingly because of their zest, zeal, drive, and strong personality characteristics.
What kind of characteristics? Take Tom Sanders, a daring photojournalist, who is half stuntman, half photographer. Sanders specializes in parachuting out of airplanes with two or three cameras strapped to his helmet. He's one of only four free-fall cinematographers in the country who are talented enough (and crazy enough, some would say) to leap out of an airplane and shoot video, film, and stills at the same time. To top it off, Sanders will tell you that the only reason he jumped in the first place was because he was scared.
Today, Sanders, whom many remember as the stuntman/ photographer who followed former President George Bush into the wide open air spaces as he jumped out of an airplane to celebrate his seventy-second birthday, finds it hard to believe that his greatest fear (before he started jumping) was heights.
"I couldn't stand them," he recalls, "so I took a class- call it positive thinking- where the ultimate test and technique that was used for building your confidence was tackling your worst fear head-on. For me that was parachuting out of an airplane. When the instructor told me I would have to do it, I thought he was crazy ... but I did it and at the same time discovered a new career and an incredible business."
Sanders, who is noted for his unique aerial photography (he carries a video, film, and still camera), never took a class in the subject, so how did he learn photography? How did he become one of the premiere stuntmen/ cinematographers in the business?
"Believe it or not, when I got my first camera, I read the instructions carefully ... and over and over again. The trouble with most people is they just peruse directions, especially when it comes to cameras. It's only natural, especially with today's technology, that most of us think all we have to do is point and shoot. All I did was follow the directions, which is what most people do not do. Good pictures are made that way, and you will never make a career out of photography if you don't follow the directions."
The camera, he says, is like anything else. If you do not study and work at it you will never be any good. "It takes commitment, like everything else in this business."
Commitment is vital in every industry, especially entertainment. Few breaking into an industry hear as many "no's" as those who are trying to create a behind-the-scenes show business career. You need a thick ego and a driving personality.
HOW EMMY AWARD WINNER DID IT
Les Rose has it. Who else would send "186 resumes out trying to get a job in television news. I used to put my rejection letters on my bedroom wall in my one-room apartment. It was the most unusual and colorful wall in the building," laughs Rose, a five-time Emmy award-winning photojournalist and television cameraman.
Rose, like Sanders, has daring, too. Once, while working in Florida, he discovered there was a job opening in Los Angeles with the CBS affiliate. He wanted desperately to come to Los Angeles, but knew his chances were minimal. Many have faced similar situations, and they may have given up. Not Rose.
"I knew that whatever news director did the hiring was going to first look locally. In a market like Los Angeles, which is loaded with talent, there is no need to mess with someone 3,000 miles away, like I was." But, that did not discourage Rose. With-out blinking, he sent a tape which showed his photographic ability through some of the stories he had covered in Florida. Then he called, and he still remembers the conversation.
"I was competing against every local talented photographer in L. A. I said one thing to the hiring manager-' if I fly 3,000 miles to see you, will you give me five minutes? ' He probably thought I was crazy, but he said yes- and I landed the job."
Outrageous? Daring? Of course, "but to make it in this business you have to do the unusual," says the outspoken, talented photographer. "Make sure they remember you."
Not many could forget Rose. Born in Nebraska and raised in Florida, he appeared to be heading for a career in medicine until "organic chemistry got me. So I switched. I tried a little of everything, including history and then mass communications." His first encounter with entertainment was typical of many of those who have made it-" I earned money through college by being a disk jockey. It may sound like a cliché, but I took to it like a duck to water. I loved the excitement."
Rose did not remain a disk jockey for long before he landed what has become one of the career building blocks in entertainment- an internship. "I landed one and believe me that is the most valuable thing you can do if you want to get into this business. Become an intern. The hours are crummy, the pay is lousy, but you learn the business."
THE IDEAL STARTING OPPORTUNITY
Rose, who was to garner five Emmy's at a major television station, landed his internship at a radio station. "It wasn't a giant outlet," he says smiling. "It was a small, on-campus station, but starting out like that is ideal. You do everything. Contrast that with a major, network affiliate where I might have been pigeon-holed and never had the benefit of learning everything. I might have been stuck as a messenger running copy all day."
Because it was small, Rose did everything, from writing to editing copy. "Take it from me, when you get your first position, small can be beautiful. You don't want a large corporate setup where you are stuck in one job. Look at every position as an opportunity. I've seen many in the field go from a runner to a producer, simply because they jumped on the opportunity. If you're not an opportunist, this business is not for you."
Emmy Award winner Bill Royce knows about opportunity. He was a criminology major at the University of California (Berkeley), but he always harbored a desire to make entertainment a career. Despite his major, he dabbled in entertainment and wrote film reviews for the college newspaper. During a visit to the nearby San Francisco Film Festival, he met gossip columnist/television personality Rona Barrett. Even today- 20 years later- he remembers it well.
"I was star struck," he recalls, "just like everyone else. Most of us were afraid to talk to a celebrity when we met one. But I took the opportunity. Despite the qualms, I introduced myself." That introduction eventually led Royce to his first entertainment job- with Rona Barrett.
Andy Epstein and Erica Huggins know about Rona Barrett and taking advantage of opportunities too. Epstein, a dual Emmy award-winning producer, started out doing investigative pieces for the entertainment section of The Los Angeles Times. His work was spotted by gossip columnist Barrett, who brought him to Good Morning, America, and from there to Entertainment Tonight.
"I went from 5,000 piece articles to 30-word stories," he says, "but regardless of what you are doing and for whom, do it the best you can. Take advantage of every opportunity, whether it is as a messenger or director."
Epstein's rise was not easy or quick. He did his share of working in mail rooms and taking on menial jobs, but one of those positions taught him a great deal about consumers, what they are like and what they will buy. Through his father- one of the top local newspaper writers in Los Angeles, Epstein had met Bob Levinson, a public relations' (PR) guru who had guided the careers of some of the industry's best-known talents. Levinson hired Epstein to work in the mailroom, and he began to learn the business.
PR people always try to get their clients and products exposed by the media. They are constantly trying to sell media on doing a story, and being one of them- even for a short time- helped Epstein see how hooks and angles were developed.
"That experience helped me see how PR people created stories and news angles about entertainers that they sold to the media. It helped me learn what people wanted to see, read, and hear. I learned about the gossip, the consumer's fascination with it and entertainment, and later, when I was in the position of trying to find stories for the shows I worked with- Hard Copy, Entertainment Tonight, Good Morning, America- I had an advantage. I had already been trained in finding those hooks and angles by Levinson.
Some might say Epstein was just lucky to land the position with Levinson. But Levinson was more than an employer, he was a mentor. That, more than anything, is "what people need if they are going to break into this business," says Erica Huggins, the young Interscope (subsidiary of Polygram) executive producer/ producer.
Erica credits two mentors (film editor Janice Hampton and entertainment executive Robert Cort) with her rapid emergence. "They put themselves out there for me. Find someone you can learn from, and by watching and getting 'inside their head' you will learn. None of the positions in entertainment (or film) are clear cut. There are a lot of subtle avenues, and a mentor can help you find your way."
Huggins had little trouble finding hers. From the beginning, the executive- who was initially headed toward a career in anthropology and documentary films- had been interested in "good storytelling, one of the keys to good filmmaking." In college, while majoring in anthropology, she and her partner did a 20-minute film called The Subject, a love story. "That's what got me interested in editing" which would turn out to be her first job in Hollywood.
"Even though I did not know a thing about entertainment or Hollywood (her father is a psychologist and her mother is a schoolteacher), "editing our film fascinated me." It may have ended there were it not for a friend, who invited her to Cannon Films. On the strength of her brief film experience, Erica was offered an apprentice editor position at Cannon, where she worked on Firewalker with Chuck Norris. That was the beginning.
Although successful entertainment careers involve an element of luck and mentoring, networking- as experienced by Huggins- can be extremely important. There is, in fact, few things more important for anyone in the business, than networking. Regardless of how high someone climbs in the business, they do not make it without other people. It is a business built on relationships.
"Relationships are key," says multi-award winning commercial announcer Casey Kasem. Kasem, who is best known as the voice of American Top 40, says "you have to be in the middle of what's happening. That means meeting people." Kasem did. In fact, if it wasn't for a friend who virtually forced him to contact a commercial agent, Casey might still be a disk jockey in the Midwest.
Tisha Fein, who has been the talent coordinator on virtually every major awards show on television, agrees with Casey's relationship assessment and adds one other characteristic: "You have to be good with people, and you need a great sense of humor in the business."
Segment producer Michelle Baxter, who started at WWOR in New York and then moved to MTV, says "you have to be a people person. Instinctively know them." Jay Lowy, former president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) says that throughout the years one thing has not changed-" this is a people business. I know that is an overused term, but in entertainment it is true. It's who you've met and who you know. People remember."
RELATIONSHIPS ARE KING
Tony Selznick, who manages choreographers, nods agreement. "This is a connection business, built on friendships. In this business you find out that your friendship does mean something." That does not mean, of course, that you have to be slapping people on the back, but it does indicate how important it is to meet people wherever someone goes in the business. Relationships are king.
"Learn how to talk on the telephone," says Royce. "Try to make it stand out. If people remember you from the telephone- that is, they remember your personality- you will get in the door. I have a whacko sense of humor that comes across on the telephone. If you have a similar ability, it can be an enormous advantage. People look forward to talking to you."
Personal manager Paul Addis adds one more ability. "You need to be a salesman and understand marketing in my end of the business. Creative is one thing, but when you are a deal-maker and negotiating with labels, you need a good business sense. Artists (clients) look to us for that ability."
Unquestionably, one of the major characteristics found in any successful career is networking. It is an overused and abused term, but in entertainment it is a vital component. Most of those in this book can trace their successful moves to the days when they were interns and met someone who later played a key role in their career development. Networking is vital in entertainment for another reason. Unlike the corporate world where executives may spend two, three, or even five years (even in today's rapidly changing business climate), many positions in entertainment are short-lived. Downsizing and rightsizing have taken their toll in the corporate world, but they pale in comparison when you look at a show that debuts and is cancelled after the first two episodes.
HOW IT DIFFERS FROM CORPORATE WORLD
Some series may last for 13 weeks or less, a producer can be fired, a director replaced, a storyline completely changed. Whatever the length of a show, series, or so on, there is a unique camaraderie built among those on (or behind) the set/show. It differs from the corporate world, where the fate of one executive usually does not depend upon the fate of another. A CEO can be fired without disturbing the executive vice president or CFO. In entertainment, however, if the executive producer goes because the network or money people are unhappy, there's a good chance the rest of the executives and creative people will go, too. Hence when a producer goes to another show, they tend to reach back and pluck those who were with them. A loyalty has been built and a bond formed.
Still, a person does not move from one show to another unless they have shown talent, skill, creativity, and an endless work ethic. Andy Epstein had it. He was not, however, an overnight success. In the entertainment field, there isn't any such phenomena. Nearly every successful person in the business has gone through difficulties, and if there is one thing they have all learned it is that there is nothing as predictable as the unpredictable nature of the business. Entertainment, like other enterprises, depends on sales (ratings, box office receipts, etc.) but those in it are frequently at the mercy of sponsors and others who want to attract 18 to 34 year olds to their films and productions.
Nancy McCook, a former agent and active casting director, knows the demographic wars well. "It is not just a matter of demographics today," she says. "The teenage girl who has 14 earrings in her ear influences the advertisers and they, in turn, make demands on casting directors. For instance, instead of actors and actresses being sought after (for commercials), real people are in demand." What are real people? "A slice of life, the people who look like those you see on the street. They are not necessarily handsome or pretty, but they are real. The business is radically different today than it was a few years ago."
"Advertisers are running around asking casting directors and agents for slice-of-life people, and demanding show producers to come up with clones of Beverly Hills 90210. Those behind-the-scenes on entertainment shows, find that the news has to be more sensational in order to pique an audience's interest and capture the ratings."
HOW THE BUSINESS IS CHANGING
With all this happening, the person trying to carve a niche in the business has to closely watch and listen to what's going on. Nancy does that well. She monitors television nightly, sees every top motion picture, reads the daily newspapers religiously, and listens to radio as well. "The business- like all other enterprises- is changing. Just one example. Years ago, celebrities would not be caught in a commercial. Today, we are besieged by stars who want to be in them. Everyone has discovered there is money in commercials."
To keep pace with the changes, if you are going to enter the business you need to be flexible, a good listener, daring, creative, and risk-oriented. "David Smith" (not his real name) fits the bill. David, who went on to become one of the biggest figures in the motion picture and music industry (eventually partnering with two other prominent figures to form one of Hollywood's biggest studios), almost had his career end before it started. Initially, he began his career as many others- in the mailroom of a well-known theatrical agency.
At the time, the agency had a firm rule: anyone who worked in the mailroom had to have a college degree. David Smith did not, but on his application he fudged. The agency, though, always checked and the human resource department sent a letter to the university that Smith had named as his undergraduate school. All the agency wanted was confirmation that David had, indeed, graduated.
David knew the procedure and was aware it would only be a matter of time before the university filled out the form and notified the agency they had never heard of "David Smith." Every morning, for more than a month, he showed up at the crack of dawn for his mailroom duty. At 6: 30 A. M., long before anyone else arrived, David was there. And, for a good reason. Day after day he waited patiently for the postage-paid return envelope that would be sent from the university to the agency's human resource department. Finally it arrived, and David snagged it and dumped it in the round file. Thus, instead of being fired, "David Smith" went on to become one of the industry's most successful figures.
Dishonest? Somewhat. Daring? Yes. Of course. Should "Smith" have gotten away with it? Perhaps not. Still, it is evidence that in entertainment you often find people doing things differently. Take Don Graham, a legendary record promoter who has become one of the top behind-the-scenes record promoters in the country. Graham, who whose career goes back to the 1960s, was responsible for the success of numerous artists ranging from Peter, Paul, and Mary to the Carpenters and most recently Sara Brightman and Andrea Bocelli, the duo that has amazed the world with a multimillion selling opera album (promoted by Graham) called "Romanza."
To get exposure for artists, Graham is noted for doing outrageous, daring things. Typical of his chutzpah and style is what he did to take Peter, Paul, and Mary from anonymity to overnight stardom. Graham, who worked out of San Francisco, was called one day by a label that asked him to meet a new trio- Peter, Paul, and Mary- at the airport. The group was coming in to play the Hungri I, a famous nightspot that had spawned many top artists.
One problem- the Hungri I had not booked the trio. Could Graham get them in? Without hesitation, the young promoter met the trio, took them to the club, and convinced the owner to book them for a three-week run. The pay was so miniscule that the trio could not afford a hotel. So they stayed with Graham.
Graham pondered their fate and the idea hit him. He drove across the Golden Gate to a local college and looked up the council that was responsible for booking talent into the college. Once he found them, he made them an offer they could not refuse. He would provide Peter, Paul, and Mary at no cost to the college for a concert. All they had to do was show up on a designated night (with as many college students as possible) in front of the Hungri I, demanding to hear Peter, Paul, and Mary.
The students- although they had never heard of the trio- agreed. A week later, nearly 600 were shouting outside the club, holding banners up, and demanding to see Peter, Paul, and Mary. The event got so boisterous that the San Francisco police were called to break up the "riot." When the police showed, Graham was there with a photographer who took pictures of the action.
The next day, Graham visited the city's top columnist, Herb Caen. Graham told him the story, and Caen roared with laughter- and ran the pictures along with a story saying how great the new trio was and that no one should miss this engagement. Few did, and within weeks Peter, Paul, and Mary were not only the toast of San Francisco, but their record was sweeping across the country.
"This business," says Graham, "does not require a great deal of intelligence. You need enthusiasm, genuine enthusiasm, and in my end of the business, a record that is good. If you have those ingredients, you can make a career out of record promotion."
Breaks are a key part of anyone's career, and everyone in this book has had their share of them- as well as their ups and down. But, for everyone, the doubts, and frustrations were worth it. Some gave up promising careers for an internship, part-time position, or temporary post.
No other industry has as many people who love what they are doing as much as this one. What other explanation is there for an attorney who gave up a burgeoning law career to work for minimum wage at a TV station?
Where else would you find a promising young communications graduate from a prestigious Ivy League school, tossing it all aside to work as an intern for $8 a day in a local station?
Or, for that matter, what other industry has writers working as cab drivers, producers toiling as teachers, and budding creative directors working in fast-food restaurants for minimum wage? And, in what other occupation are you considered "senior" if you last 26 weeks on a job, or change companies three or four times a year?
That's entertainment, a business that has an unemployment rate of more than 90 percent but beckons to people throughout the country (and world) because of the excitement, variety- and big bucks ... if you make it. And, that's one of the truly fascinating things about entertainment. It may be a long shot, but with the right approach and dedicated work ethic you can make it.
Interestingly, none of those in this book ever thought once they would miss. Most went from (below) minimum wage to awards, triumphs, and six-figure incomes. They are enthusiastic about their trade, and will tell you the opportunity is there- for anyone. One of the keys: Never worry about money.
"If you get hung up in the dollar and cents thing, you will never make it," says multi-award winning animator, producer, and illustrator Bob Schulenberg. In fact, there's no sense in dwelling on money if you are trying to break into the business. The average fast food employee makes more, but the person who sets their sights on entertainment never thinks about how much they should be paid. This is a business where performance is rewarded, and handsomely. If you make it. And, you can.
WHAT EMMY-AWARD WINNER BELIEVES
Peter Lefcourt, screenwriter, is evidence of that. Lefcourt, who won an Emmy for Cagney & Lacey, admittedly was an idealist when he was young. He spent two years in the Peace Corps and wanted to get into the foreign service. He even joined the United States Information Agency (USIA) but switched directions when he discovered they "were too uptight in government. They fired me."
Why were things so stringent? Lefcourt laughs when he thinks back. "The State Department was convinced there was a communist plot in Togo. My job was to read the Togo newspapers every day and try and ferret out the anti-American plots." From there, Lefcourt did everything. He taught school, drove a cab, wrote adult fiction for $50 a story, and even moved to Quebec to become a chess hustler for $5 a night. Why Quebec? "I could not afford Paris, so I chose the closest French-speaking city," he explains smiling.
Lefcourt's moves and adventures illustrate one other characteristic of those in the business- they are free spirits. Usually, not held down by roots or worried about how they are going to earn their next dollar. They move where the urge takes them, and rarely worry about where their next meal is coming from. That does not mean someone who wants to get in the business has to be a free spirit or a wanderer, but it does indicate that in order to make it in the business the "average" entertainment behind-the-scenes worker does not think the same as the average worker. Perhaps it is that carefree nature that also allows them to be more creative- a definite requirement and characteristic of all who made it.
Graham is the epitome of someone in the business who has never worried, especially when it comes to money. In his early days as a record promoter, he seldom thought about money. He had just been discharged from the military, and he had saved a significant amount after spending his entire enlistment on a ship that was an icebreaker near the North Pole. "There wasn't any place to spend money."
When he returned from the service, he got into the business and worked for a wage that was barely over minimum, but he did not care. He loved the business. Months later, he was astounded when another employer came to him and offered him a job- at four times the salary he was making. To this day, Graham does not worry about money. He knows with his expertise, there will always be someone who wants his skills.
To shirk those financial fears takes a special kind of person. Lefcourt is an excellent example of that type of individual. After his chess hustling days were over, he got a call from Frank Price, head of Universal Television, asking him if he wanted to come to Hollywood. Price wanted the young writer to put together a screenplay for a television motion picture, and he sent Lefcourt a first-class airline ticket and $2,500.
"I had never seen that much money before," he says, "and it was something different for someone who had been working for $50 a story. I came to California, took an apartment in the Marina (Marina del Rey), and then with the last of the money, made a down payment on a Porsche. I went back to Vermont to clean out my apartment and move to California."
Then, it happened. He received a telephone call telling him the project was dead. Apparently, there were new moguls in charge of the studio and Lefcourt's project was expendable. Whereas, that kind of break would have discouraged most, it encouraged Lefcourt. He wrote a few more short stories, put a bankroll together, purchased a used VW, and with a "few bucks in my pocket, I drove across country to the Promised Land." As we'll see in later chapters, what awaited Lefcourt was not the most promising opportunity.
WHERE POLITICS PLAY A HAND
Politics? Like any other business, entertainment has it. Rose illustrates how it works. He had struggled for months to find a good position in television news, and finally the offer came. A great salary with a first-class station in St. Louis. He packed his Floridian roots and headed to Missouri. One of the first things he had to do was join the Union. He did, and a week later the union struck the station and Rose was walking a picket line. By the second week, he was struggling with his sign through 30 inches of snow. It didn't take Rose long to figure he would be better off (and a lot warmer) in Florida.
Graham has seen similar things. He may have a "hot" record, one that is a sure hit, and he has to deal with two or three major stations in the same market. They listen, and each asks the same question-" Do I get this exclusively?" Obviously, it is physically impossible to give all three an exclusive. But, if Graham can't, he may lose airplay on one, two, or even all three. What do you do? After years in the business, Graham has it figured.
Part of being a successful politician is being an equally adept compromiser. The ability to bring sides together is an art that most successful people in the industry possess. Even when you make it there is usually compromise involved because you are dealing with other creative people who have egos and opinions.
Jeff Olds knows that. Olds, a born salesman- as well as a promotion manager, executive producer, talent coordinator and associate producer- created one of MTV's hottest shows, Biorhythm, but not before he learned some harsh lessons about compromise. Olds, who was considered one of the rising young programming and creative stars in the business, was once brought in by Columbia to create a new concept for the Dating Game. Olds did. Within three months it was the studio's highest rated syndication show- and then Olds made a mistake. The studio executives wanted him to do something different with the show. He refused and was fired.
THE LESSON IN BEING FIRED
"It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I thought I knew everything, and that I controlled the entire situation. You don't. Sometimes your star rises too quickly, and it can kill you. Your ego is something that can easily get in the way, especially in this business."
What many find is that when they become successful those who were once willing and able to offer sound advice no longer do so. Instead, many of the highly successful industry figures (both in front and behind the camera) are surrounded by "yes" men and women. People who know something is wrong, but do not express their opinion because they do not want to fall out of favor (and perhaps lose a job).
Invariably, those who retain success in the business retain their objectivity. They do not have to rely solely on others for opinions. "What everyone also has to realize in this business," says Olds, "is that ideas and creativity count, but money counts more. Especially the people with money. It's the same in any business. You may be the creative force, but those with the money are paying for the concept and taking the risk. I never for-got that. It was a tough lesson, but worth it. It taught me a number of things aside from who runs the show. Most important, don't let your ego run you. To an extent I did. I was young and brash, and had just been given free reign and created a hot show that was top rated in syndication. I could do no wrong. At least I thought so." In entertainment, as is the case with any business, everyone is replaceable.
Lefcourt has learned something about control and power, too. "Motion pictures for television and movies for theatrical release may appear to be the same thing but they are vastly different insofar as who controls what. When you write a screenplay for motion pictures, the copyright is owned by the studio. You're on the sidelines with little say. The studio does the casting and controls everything. In television, the writer is not only the writer- and the person doing the rewrites- but they are frequently the producer, as well. The writer in television has much more power and influence. No question about that. But, if you are going to write for the big screen you have to compromise."
FROM SMALL TOWN THEATER USHER TO DIRECTOR
Chuck Bowman (a multi-award winner with Emmy's and Golden Mikes on his hearth) is a veteran producer and director who is at the pinnacle of his career, but he has not lost sight of the importance of getting along with others in the business. Bowman has analyzed the trade, the people, and what it takes to make it. And, he is well-equipped for the analysis. He has been through it all- from disk jockey and associate producer to producer and finally director. The talented native of Coffeyville, Kansas, has what he describes as a "slightly unorthodox" life story. When he was young, "the one consistency in my life was the movies," he says. "That's where I would go to hide. If I ever got in trouble, I went to see a motion picture. If I needed time to think, I went to the movies."
Thus, it is no wonder that Bowman became- at 16 years of age- an usher in a small movie theater in Kansas City. It was one of the best entertainment learning experiences of his life. Although the wage was minimum, he had the benefit of spending countless hours during breaks and at lunch in the balcony where he would watch films over and over again. Sometimes, as many as 15 or 20 times. The hours were not wasted.
"I learned the art of storytelling. How things went from a beginning to the middle to the end." He traces much of his success back to those early days and it made him realize "how important the art of storytelling is in this business. It was one of the best training mechanisms I ever had."
Storytelling is critical to the success of anything in entertainment, whether it be the six o'clock news or a two-hour drama. Any successful entertainment production invariably has a good story to it, and a characteristic that every successful individual in the business has is their ability to spot a good story and understand what audiences will buy. They do make mistakes. If they did not, there would never be series' cancellations or motion pictures that are flops. The ability to tell and spot a good story is a critical element in anyone's career. Executive producers, producers, directors, writers, editors- they would all flop without that skill.
Storytelling skills and understanding of what a story actually is and how it captivates an audience, is one characteristic that is shared by everyone who is successful in the business. It does not matter whether they are a photojournalist or producer. They know without a story- the intriguing beginning, middle, and end- there is no entertainment. Huggins describes it as "learning the rhythm and listening to the sound." Producing involves a great many things, but the most important is the ability to tell a good story. If that's the case, why do so many films- motion picture and television- end up with poor stories?
"No one," explains Huggins, "doubts that the story, the material, is king. The trouble is that there are so many forces tugging in different directions. They each have a say. The director, the actors, the studio financing the production. They are all in-putting and sometimes the story gets screwed up because there isn't a leader."
POSITIONS BUILD ON EACH OTHER
Whether someone starts as an intern, page, messenger or producer, everyone in the industry usually learns more than one specific job or skill. One position builds on another. Most in the industry are generalists, not specialists. Producers can become directors and vice versa. Talent coordinators can become associate producers, while photojournalists can become editors, and agents can become casting specialists.
This characteristic of being able to do more than one job, runs throughout the industry. People are not pigeonholed (i. e., as an accountant typically might be in industry) in one position. Most progress up the ladder. If they are good, they pick up one skill after another. Regardless of what position they occupy, and how much it pays, those in this book- most in the business- start at the bottom. A good example is Bowman. After high school, he went West and landed a job as a page for NBC. The producing, directing, and executive producer positions were years away.
The page position, however, gave him his first opportunity to learn and move up. Thanks to the page duties, he was able to use NBC's facilities and put together a quality demo tape that he later sent to his hometown radio station in hopes of landing a job.
"They turned me down," recalls Bowman, "but they turned me onto another radio station in Hays, Kansas. It was a college town, and they hired me. I worked every shift, every hour I could get- for minimum wage."
Wages did not matter. It was the opportunity, and it wasn't long before another one presented itself. The owners of the radio station were building a television outlet, and Bowman jumped at the chance to get experience in another media. "I did everything from booth announcer to car commercials. That's what you have to remember in this business, everything is experience and that's worth a million dollars. Sure, you may not be making much more than minimum wage, but the training is incredible. It's like going to school and getting paid for it."
Bowman moved whenever there was an opportunity, and the moves came frequently. From Wichita Falls, Texas, where he trained as a meteorologist, to Oklahoma for sports and weather, to Tulsa for late night movies and weather and a Saturday after-noon show.
Graham knows about moving, too. Although he spent most of his career in San Francisco, the opportunity came one day for a move to Los Angeles, where he would do national promotion for A&M Records. Graham took it. "In this business, it is difficult to stay in one place throughout your career. The opportunities come, and although you never know where they will lead, you have to take a chance."
Obviously, being in the entertainment industry is not conducive to a 9-to-5 job and normal home life. Everyone sacrifices, but most don't consider it as that. Entertainment is not just a job or a career, it is a lifestyle. Most in it do not have what is considered "normal weekends." Frequently, they are filming or traveling or working on sets or rehearsing.
THE WHO-DO-YOU-KNOW SYNDROME
Ultimately, whether it is motion pictures, radio, television, or music, the question is more "can you do it" rather than "who do you know." Certainly, contacts are of paramount importance, and everyone credits networking with a critical part of their success. But, at the same time, they maintain that politics is minimal. Talent and creativity mean everything. Regardless of who you know, if you cannot perform, you are out. The more skills you learn the greater the chance you have of moving up the ladder.
"Equally important as talent is passion, 'enthusiasm, ' and perseverance," says Graham. How else does someone carve a career in an industry that has such high unemployment. Richard Alvarez is one of those with the answer. Born and raised in East Los Angeles, his first job out of school was typical of a budding entertainment industry employee- as a messenger for a local channel. That was more than 20 years ago, and he remembers his duties well. For those who would like to follow in Alvarez's footsteps (an Emmy award winner) he can still describe his initial duties-" I tore wire copy off the machines and took dogs to the groomers for reporters ... whatever odd jobs there were, I got. And, I did them gladly."
Alvarez, like most of the others, made a choice when he took the messenger job. He had spent four years as a city employee with a solid, stable job in the library. But he gave it all up (" in an instant") to take the messenger's job.
Bit by the bug? Obviously, because Alvarez spent 18 months as a messenger and "I was passed up twice for a position. Finally, one day they gave me a shot and told me I had 90 days to prove myself. Initially, I was one of a two-man camera crew. I carried the recorder, and I wound up toting it for six months. Let me tell you, it's heavy, and although it is lighter today, it is still heavy."
Like Alvarez, most of those in the business remember their initial assignments well. Graham had just been discharged from the service, and he visited a neighbor, who happened to be the West Coast sales manager for a major record label. When Graham walked in, he was astounded. There, in the living room, was a stack of albums from floor to ceiling.
THE FIRST JOB OFFERS
"He asked me if I wanted to go to work for him, and my first question was 'Can I have free albums? ' When he said yes, nothing could have kept me away from that job." Nancy McCook was equally as enthused by her first offer. She had been working as a switchboard operator, when a commercial agent offered her a position to train in his company and become an agent.
Rose was a pre-med major "but organic chemistry convinced me I was in the wrong field," he says laughing. I switched to history, but started earning money in the entertainment field to pay my fraternity fees by working as a disk jockey on weekends. I found I loved it."
Olds was bored by the thought of going into the diplomatic corps. " Entertainment Tonight looked more interesting than politics." To his parents' horror, he dropped everything and moved to Los Angeles where "I was convinced the entertainment business was the answer. People looked like they had fun."
Schulenberg was going to be a concert pianist and probably would have been were it not for a piano competition he entered. "I lost," he says without a sign of regret, "and decided movies were much more interesting. I had a fixation with the motion picture Fantasia, and a skill at painting as well as piano. I decided I wanted to do classic animation. I wasn't sure how I was going to get involved, but I was determined to get into the industry."
Epstein, Rose, Graham, and the others have personality and talent. But, if those two attributes were all it took to make a success, then the entertainment field would have twice the number of people it currently employs. Add one other ingredient to the personality and talent mix- drive. Most successful salesmen have the same ability. "No" does not discourage them. They wanted to make it- desperately- and when things did not go right they came back and tried again. Unlike law, medicine, or other professional careers, those who became successful in entertainment did not plan, step-by-step, a career.
Most of the time, you may not even know where the job is going to take you. Despite the doubts, Olds dumped a legal career for it. His initial introduction to it was not the most glamorous event, but it sold him. During his senior year in college, he landed a job on campus working part-time for Warner Bros. His job-passing out flyers promoting new motion pictures. Obviously, Jeff did not do it in hopes of becoming rich, but he was enamoured with the glamour and excitement of the entertainment business-even if the flyers were 3,000 miles from California.
"You can't think about how much you can make if you are going to get into this business, " he says. "What you need- more than a hunger for dollars- is a commitment."
THERE ARE TWO PLACES YOU MUST GO
When he arrived in California, nothing was planned. "I didn't know what to expect," he recalls, "but I was willing to take the chance. If you want to get into this business, I think you have to have the same attitude. If you are going to make a career out of entertainment, Hollywood is probably one of the two (the other being New York) places you have to go."
Although Olds is relatively young (in his late 20s), his journey has not been an easy one. He has held up applause signs and worked in a Mexican restaurant as a waiter for $6 an hour. It was Ruby Rosa's Mexican Cantina and he remembers it well. He was between jobs and admits, "I was too brash for my own good. I wanted to be a producer, and thought I had built a good track record. I refused to take any job other than the one I wanted. Only trouble, it never came along."
Olds, however, still had to pay the bills. With ego in tow, he went to work for the Mexican Cantina as a waiter. "I turned it into my office," he explains smiling. "I used the telephone in the lobby as my office telephone, and I made calls- when I had to- on my break." One of those calls was to Disney. It was the one he was waiting to hear. Disney wanted to hire him as executive producer for a new series. But, the $6 an hour waiter held out-" I took a chance ... I told them I had another offer and would have to weigh both. Was I nervous? Sure. But, one thing you learn in this business is that it is not like working for a corporation. In corporate life, you get used to working in a position for several years, if not more. In the entertainment field, particularly television, many things are short-lived- and you get used to it. Security is not the paramount concern."
Craig Miller was another entertainment hopeful who dropped everything to pursue the industry. A Los Angeles native, Miller was set on becoming a psychologist. He went to UCLA where he earned degrees in child development and social psychology, and had every intention of going into one of those fields. But, Miller had an interest that not only provided a diversion from his studies, but it also brought him in contact with people in the entertainment field.
LUCAS TOOK NOTE OF SCI FI ABILITY
From the time he was 13-years-of-age, Miller was hooked on science fiction. In the 1970s, the genre was just starting to take hold and attendance at science fiction conventions and expositions was rarely standing room only. That didn't deter Miller, who became noted for his knowledge and the people who frequented science fiction films.
Miller's knowledge caught the attention of the marketing executives from George Lucas' studio. Lucas had just finished filming Star Wars, and, at the time, the studio was looking for every way it could possibly promote the film. Miller's knowledge of the sci fi audiences, who comprised them, and how they could be reached, landed him a job with Lucas- and psychology went out the window.
Three thousand miles away, and a few years before Miller got into the business, Peter Lefcourt was pondering his fate in New York. "I was an idealist," he recalls, "and because of the way I thought I did a number of different things before I finally got into the business. Initially, I never thought about television or motion pictures. I wanted to do something for the nation." Lefcourt was inspired by President John Kennedy's historic "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." Hence his entry into the Peace Corps and his dream of becoming a foreign service officer.
Then came his big break. A relative who worked in television suggested that he write for television. "I said I would never write for television ... I was above it!" Lefcourt recalls with a laugh. The relative persisted and set up an interview with a television executive from Universal Studios. A surprised Lefcourt recalls what the executive said. "He told me if I had any movie ideas to send them to him."
While Lefcourt was trying to make a career in Hollywood, Schulenberg- a transplanted Angeleno- was trying to make it in New York. "Getting into this business does not happen overnight. Sometimes you have to shift your goals. For instance, I wanted to do classic animation, or full frame. But there were technological advances that were making classic animation difficult to get into."
Schulenberg eventually made it, but along the way he did everything from working as an art director in a New York advertising agency to working on designs for the "Ice Capades." Schulenberg, who later did the art direction and co-produced The Secret Cinema, a 1966 production that is considered the forerunner of Jim Carrey's Truman Show, has spent considerable time analyzing the business and what it takes to make it.
"Obviously," he says, "you have to work hard. That's a given, but you also have to be realistic. If there isn't any opportunity, regardless of how good you are there is no place to go." Schulenberg found himself in a number of those situations, yet he always progressed. His secret- adapting. If there was not opportunity down one avenue, he would try something else.
Schulenberg's experience typifies what frequently happens in the entertainment business. You start out working in one position and before you know it you are doing something else. All the successful people in this book displayed the ability to be versa-tile. No one said "I want to be a director, and I won't do anything else." Entertainment does not work that way. Fledgling people in the business may have their hearts set on becoming an art director, costume designer or set director, but along the way- that is, once they get their first job- they soon find that one job dovetails into another. Unlike the chief financial officer in corporate life who spends their entire career with dollars and cents, the prospective employee in the entertainment field is going to run into a variety of opportunities as they build their career. There is no better example of that than Robert Brown.
Brown's background is one of the most unique. Born in Union, New York, his father was a famous butler who had worked for both Teddy and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and for years the family lived among the rich and famous. But when circumstances changed, Brown's father had to leave their suburban lifestyle, and they wound up in the Bronx, right in the middle of an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood.
Brown, who has impeccable diction- which is one reason he has become one of the most sought after voice-over announcers in the business- remembers it well. He was the "goy" (non-Jewish) in the neighborhood, and his greatest value (to the neighbors) was on Saturday (or Sabbath) when the Jews could not work or handle money. For help, they turned to Brown who would put the "nickel in the slot for them so they could ride the bus. It was," he recalls, "a wonderful upbringing. It gave me knowledge of two different cultures. I even learned Yiddish."
Brown, who says he was a shy youngster, shares a characteristic that is common with others in the business. "During WWII, I was in the South Pacific on a ship, and every chance I had I watched movies. I loved them, and wanted to be an actor. I'm a dreamer ... a daydreamer."
When the war ended, Brown still had his dreams, but not enough nerve to get on-stage. "I was really like every kid- they all want to be actors. I probably dreamt and thought about it more than most." Then, one day, the opportunity came. One of Brown's wartime buddies, who had "a great voice and wanted to be in radio had the nerve to audition for a local radio station and he landed a job as an announcer. That gave me the courage. I told my parents- not that I wanted to be an actor, but about my desire to be an announcer. In those days, announcers were accepted, but actors were considered drinkers and women chasers. I could never tell my parents I wanted to be an actor."
THE ROAD FROM LAW TO ENTERTAINMENT
It wasn't long before Brown's deep, expressive voice and looks landed him a job in the entertainment business ... not as an announcer but as an actor. It was a career that led him to Broadway, motion pictures, television, and, ultimately, to the voice-over studios, where his commercials for Chrysler and Coca-Cola have become classics in the industry.
Long after Brown's voice-over career was in high gear, Jerad Grimes came to Los Angeles to carve a niche in the entertainment field. Grimes, a native of Pace, Arizona, a small town of about 10,000 people, "always wanted to do something to get into the industry." But he did not start out that way. Instead, Grimes, who eventually became an associate producer for MTV, earned a degree in Criminal Justice.
Today, he shakes his head in puzzlement. "I actually worked for the County Attorney for two years. I found there was nothing but bureaucratic bungling and politics. My dreams of being a lawyer went out the window and I decided to head for Hollywood."
From the beginning, Grimes wanted to get into production. He was one of the fortunate few who knew someone, a cousin who worked at Columbia Tri-Star. She helped spread Grimes' resume, and he landed a job as a runner for the day.
"That," recalls Grimes, "is someone who runs for this and that. But, the one thing you have to remember, is whatever your title or what you are running for, do it to the best of your ability. Some people who land a menial job at a studio, don't take it seriously, especially if it is just for one day- like mine was. That's a mistake. People are watching you all the time, and they remember those who do the best jobs. I wound up doing a variety of things that day, everything from helping contestants on the show (Dating Game) fill out forms to making coffee and holding up applause signs. Before the day was half over, the big boss came over to me and said the contestants liked me and the crew did, too. Would I be interested in a permanent job ... was he kidding!"
ONE KEY CHARACTERISTIC
Grimes credits his hiring and rapid rise to another characteristic- a solid work ethic. "I was determined to be one of those people they would remember. Regardless of what they had me do, I would do it better and faster than anyone had ever done it before. If they had me make coffee, it would be the best (and fastest) pot they ever had. I wasn't an 18-year-old kid. I was 24 with a college degree, but I was willing to run and do the grunt work. In this business, if you want the breaks, you have to be willing to start at the bottom and do a great job while you're there. Don't let your ego get in the way. I could have, but I was focused on where I wanted to go."
WEBSITE OVER THE LAW
Erick Finke, a partner in one of the leading Website design firms in the country, was another budding attorney. Instead of coming from Arizona, however, he came from "all over. My father was an attorney, and we lived in places ranging from Phoenix and Germany to Spain. I worked as a waiter, wine steward and even taught classes that helped people prepare for the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test).
"But I was always interested in film. I evaluated my abilities and knew I was not a good director, but I was an excellent organizer; someone who could really get things (and equipment) together. I had the ideal skills to become a producer.
"If you are going to get into this business," says Finke, "you have to be open-minded. You have to be willing to do a lot of things ... things that you would not normally do because of your ego. Paying your dues is more important in this business than any other. Don't expect big money to start. I began as a volunteer, that means no money, with a film company that specialized in political features. It wasn't a Hollywood company, at all. It was located in Massachusetts. For anyone who wants to get into entertainment, you can make inroads in your hometown- if you persevere.
"Every town has a cable station that puts on local programming. Most are just waiting for people to come forward to help. The great thing about many of these local stations is you get to do everything. You might be the producer, director, announcer, or even have a role in the production. The experience is super, and there is nothing like it for background."
HOW DO YOU MEASURE CREATIVITY AND TALENT?
Rick Jewell, Dean of the University of Southern California School of Cinema, has looked at the progress Erick, Grimes, and many others have made during his 22-year career. "This isn't," he ex-plains, "a business that is an exact science. We had a graduate student here once, a young man who had a 4.0 from Harvard. Yet, he could not make a film to save his soul.
"Creativity and talent are two things you cannot measure on a quiz. Even if you have those attributes, you need- perseverance, personality, and networking ability. Even then, there is no guarantee. The one rule is that there are no rules ... there is no easy path to success, but there is a path. It is up to the individual to find it, but it can be found."