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The Cliff Notes to Succeeding in Hollywood

By Michael Ferris  |  01-Jan-2008

How to make contacts and get your foot in the door - it's Easier than you think.

Everyone says that it's not what you know, but who. To a large degree, that's absolutely true. I don’t care if you want to be a PA, an editor, or the president of Paramount, you have to know the right people who will get you where you want to go.

You can't show up with the most amazing reel anyone has ever seen and expect deals to drop in your lap. You can’t write the next big blockbuster on your computer at home and expect it to automatically sell. You're friends with someone who's friends with Will Smith's personal trainer, right? No? If you’re getting discouraged, don't be. Because knowing someone who's someone is a lot easier than you think.

Here's the reality of the situation. You aren't looking to be BFFs with Steven Spielberg (though that wouldn't hurt). You don't need to know the most famous or powerful in order to know someone who's someone. Here's the thing, and it's a distinction that you need to understand clearly. You aren't looking for a megawatt star to be your friend, you're looking for a champion of your work. If this means a young turk agent, or a newbie exec, that's more than enough. You could easily make the case for just having an assistant be a fan – because assistants either have the ear of someone, or will be promoted and become someone in their own right.

If you are an editor, cinematographer, or crew member, you can skip the rest of this section and go right to your own chapter. Everyone else, follow me.

Okay, so you've got your goal, and it's pretty simple: befriend/be-fan someone who can champion you. How do you go about doing that? There's a myriad of ways, all with their pros and cons. I’m going to discuss the fastest and most foolproof one.

The first step is to research companies and pick a few that work with the type of sensibilities close to your own. If you're a writer, pick a management company that represents writers you respect or who write movies similar to yours. If you want to be an exec, pick a company that makes the type of movies you would. If you're a commercial director, pick a commercial production house that's done work like yours. If you're a feature director, pick an agency or management company with clients similar to you.

It's important to pick a small to mid level company that has great credits and a good reputation.
Why? If you pick a large company, you’ll easily get lost in the shuffle, and it's harder to impress and stand out. A really small company, like an actor's shingle, especially if that actor makes the kind of movies your sensibilities fit with, is the most ideal. Many times, Actor's assistants have ended up becoming trusted confidantes, and then producers or writers for their movies, and eventually filmmakers in their own right.

The second step is to, wait for it... get an internship at one of those companies. Wait, what?! That's right. An internship. A NON-PAYING internship. 10 hours a day, as many days a week as you can spare. 5 days a week for at least one month straight is the best situation, because it takes at least a couple weeks to get oriented, remember names, observe what the power structure is, grasp the office politics, etc.

Why an internship, though? Well, if you get, say, a secretarial position, or Office PA job – it's much harder to make a mark and get noticed. Paid positions are expected to work their butts off – it's in the job description. But if you're unpaid and still the first one there and last one to leave – THAT gets noticed much quicker. Which leads to:

If you work incredibly hard, you WILL be noticed.
I've seen so many slacker interns that I'm almost thanking the heavens above for everyone else not realizing the opportunities they aren't taking advantage of. So first, work hard. Make sure that when you finish a task, you ask if there's anything else you can do. If there isn't, go around asking other people if they need anything done for them. Make yourself indispensable and dependable first and foremost. Be the first one there in the morning and last to leave. I cannot stress to you how quickly impressive this is to people in the industry.

Not only must you be hardworking, but be pleasant! Find who you can pal around with and do so... be the guy/girl everyone wants to have around. Slowly integrate yourself from intern to friend over the course of your internship.

Beg to do coverage.
If you don't already do it. Make sure every bit of coverage you turn in is a masterpiece. Make sure it shows how well you understand scripts. This is important, because the end result you want from all of this is to be the go-to guy for script analysis. If you can find a way to get the responsibility of dealing with script submissions, you can become the go-to guy for whether a company should even look at a script. The Gatekeeper.

And with that power, and the friends you make, you will learn so much about the industry from an insider's point of view it's ridiculous. And those friends? True contacts that will serve you for life. Willing to read your work, give you advice, notes, and a real shot once you have that script, short film, or reel ready.

After 1 month of working your ass off, you should have at least a couple admirers. Fans of you. Depending on how many more contacts or how deep you want your relationship with these contacts to be, you can cut down your hours to 2-3 days a week and stay a few more months.

At this point, you might be asked to stay and be someone's assistant. If you're looking for a job, great. Take it. Being an assistant is Hollywood's apprenticeship. Sure, they're the underclass, but you learn a lot more about the inner dealings of the business than you did before. You start making contacts from here by setting up "drinks" with other assistants, making friends and getting information, etc.

Another option is to repeat the intern process at another company. It never hurts to make as many contacts as possible – and if you can afford it, this is the fastest way. The result of an internship, if you know how, is your foot firmly in the door.

Michael Ferris founded the company Your Insider ( in December 2007 to tackle every filmmaker's biggest problem: "it's not what you know, but who you know."

The service is simple: submit a good script or short film, and he'll pass it on to his contacts at studios, agencies, and management companies. If a script or short isn't ready to be passed on, it receives notes on what to improve. After working for Academy Award Winning producer Arnold Kopelson (PLATOON, THE FUGITIVE, SEVEN) and manager/producer John Jacobs (ANGER MANAGEMENT, BLADES OF GLORY), it was helping film student Travis Beacham (KILLING ON CARNIVAL ROW) sell his script to New Line Cinema that inspired him to start the company.

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