Nine Show Business Survival Tips

The CAA building: more appropriate than the Hollywood sign

Now that I'm close to finishing my new script and preparing to pitch it to would-be agents, partners, financiers, etc., I have written this list – which, as with all advice, is meant to convince myself as much as it is to educate you, the reader. Thing is, I've seen many people get strung along by vague promises of fame and fortune, often for years. Heed my tips and hopefully you can avoid this frustration. Even if you have no desire to make it in Hollywood, I feel these tips are generally useful.

  1. Beware of name droppers. You will encounter these folks at all levels: they just love to tell you who they know, who they had lunch with, who they have an "in" with. My experience suggests that the more names somebody drops, the less influence the name-dropper actually has. Your best recourse is to smile, nod, and move on.
  2. Corollary: Beware of big promises. These people are easy to spot, because they're the first to tell you how much they can help you and how powerful they are. Why are they telling you this? Because nobody else will vouch for them. Your best defense against these people is to ask them for a resume or list of accomplishments. Watch them flee!
  3. Just say yes. Never turn down an interesting opportunity to work with somebody just because you think you might have something else going on at the same time. Instead, say yes to everything that sounds intriguing! In truth, most creative types are flaky, and nine times out of ten, a project falls apart. I think you're safe from overcommitting, no matter how many "Yeses" you give to your would-be collaborators.
  4. Remember, it really is a dog-eat-dog industry. We live in a selfish society. If anybody says they can help you, you should first discern whether they're already helping themselves as much as they can. (A nice house, decent job, or debt-free existence are good clues.) Anybody who is struggling to stay afloat will not likely be of any help to you, unless you're both so desperate that you'll try anything.
  5. Never get too excited. Yesterday I was supposed to meet with this woman who works for a hot production company. I couldn't help it: I started imagining this company falling in love with my new script, giving me tons of money, and letting me direct the film. Then the woman didn't show up for lunch. Turns out that she'd quit the company two days earlier! Don't count your chickens before they hatch. Or even before the egg is laid.
  6. Believe the (negative) cliches. All the horror stories you hear about showbiz are absolutely, positively true. No argument. They're all true. If you're smart, you won't waste your time trying to change the system, but rather going around it or making it work to your advantage. Expect the worst: you will be thrilled when actual progress happens.
  7. Be nice! This list may sound like a big pile of negativity, but I certainly don't mean to suggest that the only way you can survive is by being a jerk. On the contrary. Respect everyone. Don't stab anyone in the back. I once thought I'd burned a bridge, and was so relieved when it turned out that I hadn't. (It was with a former "enemy" of mine who wound up investing in my film at the last minute, which basically got it finished.) And always be grateful for any help you're given, no matter how high or low on the totem pole that helper might be. Show them your gratitude.
  8. Don't break your back for anybody. Hard work is a surefire way to get ahead in life, but Hollywood is ass-backward in this regard. Don't convince yourself that slaving away for jerks is going to get you somewhere. Anybody truly worth dealing with is also professional enough to work with you – rather than treat you like dirt.
  9. If you survived high school, you can survive this. This is the best and most reassuring advice I can give anybody. Think back on how you survived high school. That's exactly how you will survive showbiz, as Hollywood is exactly like high school. That said, if high school made you feel depressed, hopeless, or suicidal, this is definitely not the right industry for you.