So, you wanna be in showbiz, eh? Well, there are many ways to get your foot in the door, even if you don't know a soul in LA. As somebody who has more or less been there, allow me to share my insights, so that you may better prepare yourself for your rise to the top. There are, of course, always lucky breaks. It seems that everybody who's anybody in Hollywood gets several such breaks throughout their careers. Stick with it, and I'm sure you'll either get to where you want to be, or you'll smarten up and go home.
- The movie extra. The first step for many actors. Come to LA and you will see ads on telephone poles looking for movie extras, a.k.a. "background talent". Meet stars! Get your face on the big screen! Actually, you will work long days for very little money, get treated like cattle by the crew, be forbidden to even look at the stars or the director, and, above all, you will spend hours alongside other extras – some of the strangest, saddest people on earth.
- The script reader. Or, euphemistically, the "story analyst". Many would-be screenwriters (myself included, once) see this as a way to get in with production or management companies. But you will read a whole lot of terrible screenplays, then still have the same difficulty getting your own script read by anybody important. (Most likely it will be read by another poor reader like you.) However, it's an excellent way to see what scripts are out there, and what mistakes to avoid when writing your own. And you could make a sort-of decent living eventually, though you'll never get the satisfaction of "green-lighting" a project yourself.
- The Sundance star. It looks so easy: make a small independent film with friends, enter it into the Sundance Film Festival, get picked up by Miramax. Well, join the thousands of others who think just like you – as you vie for a tiny number of slots, many of them already filled by famous filmmakers and/or Sundance alumni.
- The "spec" screenwriter. True, some first-time writers do sell their "spec" scripts (i.e. screenplays that are not works for hire). But these people are usually represented by top agencies. Don't ask me how these "nobodies" land the big-time agents. It is a mystery.
- The film school grad. The idea here is that you will make an amazing student film that will get recognized by somebody important, and then you're on your way to the top. A smarter plan is to develop a technical talent while in film school, then work your way up to the top in that field. It's not glamorous, but it is (comparatively) dependable.
- The production assistant. Work on a crew! Participate in the filmmaking process! It can be fun, and in many ways it's the best entry into the film world – you start small, like on student films and indie projects, then network your way into larger productions. But do you think you'll eventually move up into the role of a producer this way? Maybe, but you'll still have to make that leap yourself – you won't hear anybody saying, "She's a good PA. I think I'll have her produce my next feature."
- The personal assistant. Be the "gofer" or "secretary" (or your demeaning term of choice) to a producer, executive, or star. Prepare yourself for mountains of verbal abuse and empty promises. Then realize you're on the road to nowhere. There are always exceptions, but this route to power is the most fruitless and masochistic you could possibly choose.
- The agency mailroom. At the major talent agencies, it is customary to begin your career at the lowest level, barely making minimum wage. Agencies have strict rules of advancement: Stay in the mailroom for a year or two, then move up to assistant's assistant. Stay there for another year or two, then be an assistant. Another year or two and maybe you can be a junior agent. Then finally you make it to agent. Yes, it takes forever. but Hollywood's top agents all did it this way. Basically, you have to prove that you have an insatiable drive to become one of the least-liked people in Hollywood.
- Get discovered! Just show your pretty face at the right restaurant or the right party and become an overnight superstar! Or, far more likely, spend the rest of your life as a movie extra, always waiting for that big break. (See first entry.)