Beatbox Giant Productions

The producers of Kinzai Ninjas, a new animated web series.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

How to get a job in Hollywood

Today there were two striking examples of how to get a job on a movie. The first is the classic case of who you know. A few days ago my friend the UPM (Unit Production Manager) asked me to sort through some resumes of sound mixers, separate the wheat from the chaff. My immediate boss had already sorted through them and weeded out the wannabes and pretenders. Every resume that was in that file was from someone who was very qualified.

Okay so how do you pick from the fifty qualified people? One person was personally recommended by another crewmember, and that resume went to the head of the list. And as I was sorting through the names I thought I recognized one, but I wasn’t sure. I called his numbers and I confirmed it was a sound guy I had worked with almost two years ago. But this dude stood out because he had a great attitude on this no budget thing where I was the AC (Assistant Cameraman). On that shoot we had a 24 hour work day, and he still had a good attitude at the end of that torture (I however was fried).

This resume of a person I worked with falls into my lap, and I liked the guy. I placed his -- and only his -- resume in the UPM’s lap. She called him immediately, liked him on the phone, arranged an interview, liked him in person, called his references and they were all glowing, the director liked him, and then we hired him after two days of very thoughtful deliberation.

But his resume alone would not have gotten him the job. Was he qualified? Yes, absolutely, but there were other equally qualified candidates – some with better credits on their resume. It was my positive working relationship with him on the set of that no-budget film that set the wheels in motion.

That’s what people mean when they say it’s all about who you know. Which means, he would not have been hired solely on my recommendation. Or even if the UPM herself had vouched for him. This guy was thoroughly vetted. Every reference was called, and every question was asked. If he had been unqualified, he would not have been hired and my judgment would’ve been called into question for even recommending him.

So not only do you need to know a lot of people, but you must be prepared to play in the big leagues when called.

The other person applied and was hired for the job within 45 minutes. Our Prop Master was looking for an assistant since his normal personnel were all working. I offered to place an ad for him on Craigslist, and he agreed, but was skeptical of how effective it could be. I put the ad up and the first person to apply was unusually qualified for the position. I called her to make sure she was available for the filming dates, and she said she was. I called the Prop Master and he hired her based on that conversation. The ad went up at 5:01PM and she was hired by 5:42PM. Done and done.
That’s more of the right place right time thing. I’ve received a few other applications, but none have been as qualified that first applicant. She still had to be qualified, but she also had great timing.

A few points. Connections only get you so far. You not only have to have the connection, but you have to not suck. If someone uses their connection to get you hired and you are a disappointment, you will never be recommended again – by anyone.

That’s why I recommend to folks to stay where they are and learn their craft at home where it’s much cheaper to do so. It’s very expensive to live out here, and no one cares where you get the skills, as long as you have them when you move here. Also don’t move here if you want to be a director or actor. There are a million wannabes here (including myself). Direct your films, act in your friend’s movies, and get experience. When you can’t bear it any longer, and must move here, wait a little longer and be sure.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Let’s talk about filmmaking

This low budget horror thing I’m working on is a good insight into what it means to be in the film industry out here in LA. My job is Assistant Production Coordinator. It’s a midlevel position, not an entry-level gig, but certainly above a PA -- short for Production Assistant, which do the majority of the grunt work in the film industry. PA’s are above interns (interns do the same things as PA’s, but interns don’t get paid).

Anyway I’m Assistant Production Coordinator. Yippee. That means I get paid $100/day and work 12-14 hours a day. It’s basically minimum wage plus overtime. That’s about half or a third of what someone in my job on a big budget film would make.

Most people get these sorts of jobs because they did well on a previous job. The intern that busts her ass for free will be remembered and become the paid PA on the next show. I’ve never really worked liked that. I’ve straddled the real film world and my own sort of magical independent stuff where I get paid to do the things I want to do.

I got this job because I produced this music video: with another producer who has several legitimate films under her belt as a producer. That producer liked working with me and got hired to be the UPM on this horror film. She created this position for me, and literally fought to get me hired. She also fought to hire our friend as a key crewmember.
If I didn’t produce that video and meet this woman, I wouldn’t be working now.

My job has everything and nothing to do with the actual creation of a film. Meaning, I was instrumental in getting the phones and internet working in the production office, and I was a key liasion with a difficult landlord. Without that sort of foundation, we couldn’t put the movie together, but it definitely not the same thing as actually being on set and getting a shot.

There are so many tiny details that go into getting all of the elements to show up at the same time. My boss is called the coordinator, because that’s what she’s doing. She’s lining up the pieces of the puzzle so when the director has a question, or the producer needs to know about something, she can get the answer immediately. She is the conduit through which all information flows.

The film production environment is such that it really pushes you to exclude all else from your life. Since I’ve been working on this gig for the last week or so, my life is changed completely. If I have any personal business that needs to be tended to (like my car which just blew it’s transmission), I must get it done before I show up at 9AM, or after I leave at night (I just got home and it’s after midnight). You’ve got to keep your eye on the ball all of that time, and it’s physically and emotionally draining.

Why? Is it just the paycheck? Not really, I was making about the same on unemployment. It’s about learning about the craft, and loving that I’m around good people that are striving to make the best movie under difficult circumstances.

On the music video, the director asked my producing partner, if our project, producing a high budget, high concept, music video for no money was the hardest thing she’s ever produced. She said that no, every project she’s ever worked is hard. And she’s right. The problems of a show like this horror films are completely different than Nicolas Cage’s new action flick. But just because a film has a huge budget, it doesn’t make the challenges of logistics and human psychology go away. In fact big budget movies may have it worse because they have a huge amount of ego involved.

Friday, October 08, 2004

A day in the life of a filmmaker

Okay so there are a lot of you in the Filmmaking forums that want to go to film school and grow up to be directors.

Here's what my day was like today. I just got hired on a movie to be a assistant production coordinator. Which basically means I'm the guy who handles the requests of the producer and the crews. If someone needs truck to pick up a prop, I'm the guy calling the transportation department. The whole thing involves a lot of paperwork and keeping records of who asked for what and when. Every piece of paper generated by the film will go through me and my office.

Okay so I'm working on this movie. Why? Because it's a great script? Because I want to be the production coordinator someday?

No. The answer is because it pays, I was qualified enough to get the job, and my friend put herself on the line to get me hired. That may sound cynical, but on every film there are only a few creative people, most are just doing what they're told and that's that. I took this job because I'm learning to be a better producer. There are a million things that go into producing a film, and I've only stumbled across a few hundred thousand of them. Being in this environment will help me learn for when I'm alone producing my own projects.

Getting back to my day today, we rented a suite of offices to be our base camp. A place where we could plan and carry out how we're going to make the movie. The offices were supposed to have phones preinstalled and furniture that we could use. Both of those things were not true. So we've been sitting in offices where we had to get a whole new phone system installed (actually it's being installed tomorrow) and we had to move all of the furniture out so we wouldn't lose a day of prep in a week.

It was a whole lot of hurry up and wait. And it's all pretty vital, because next week is going to be nuts with everyone in the film gathering at the office trying to put together their elements and make it into a whole film.

It's a horror film. I haven't read the script yet, just got it this evening.

I'm sure I'll ramble more about this stuff later.