20 Bits of Advice on a Career in Show Business


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Everybody seems to be posting lists these days. Here’s one… 20 things you should remember whether you’re trying to get ahead in reality television, acting, writing, directing, producing, pretty much anything show business related.

1. Do what you say you are going to do.
2. Don’t latch on to a mentor who has never done something.
3. Understand that a large portion of what agents and managers do is provide a ladder over a firewall that keeps the riffraff out. You still have to work like heck to make your own connections and move your career forward. Also: your name probably won’t come up in meetings until you’re at least mid-career and already making the agent/manager money.
4. If you freelance, your paycheck should be looked at as 1/2 to 2/3 of its value, tops. Many people are off several months each year. Some people I know have gone up to a year between gigs early on.
5. Network with people when you’re NOT looking for work. Look for opportunities to mentor once you’ve achieved steady employment in your field.
6. Look at entry-level gigs as apprenticeships. Don’t just collect a paycheck until you can go on to the next thing, open your eyes and ears and learn something.
7. Savor your successes, but don’t get too impressed with yourself.
8. It’s okay to think commercially, but don’t do it exclusively.
9. Spend as much time working to advance your career as you do admiring the works of others. There is no such job as “SVP of Ron Howard Career Trivia.”
10. Pick four restaurants: Two swanks, two dumps. Eat there all the time. That way, if you ever have to take someone to lunch or dinner for a meeting, you’ll be greeted by name and given a good table.
11. When meeting someone whose work you admire, be sure to tell them your name first instead of wandering up and vomiting praise all over them.
12. Study your craft. Make stuff, even if it isn’t very good.
13. Remember this wonderful piece of advice I once received from a writer: “To make even bad stuff, you have to believe you are making good stuff.”
14. Don’t beat yourself up over how fast you climb or if you have to slide back and take a lesser position on occasion. Life is long. Projects are short. Your stomach doesn’t care how you pay for sandwiches.
15. People tend to get promoted very quickly, sometimes ahead of their skill sets and ability to execute. Be patient with anyone who’s trying to learn on the job.
16. This is show business, not fair business. Don’t dwell on moments where you feel you’ve been overlooked or wronged, and don’t shoot your mouth off about people who feel didn’t deserve their breaks. The same might be said of you someday when you get your break.
17. Be presentable. It costs less than you think. This does not mean overdress… it just means you should iron clothes and wear stuff that doesn’t look faded or cheap.
18. Don’t stuff your face at crafty out of boredom or as an excuse to get away from your desk.
19. Save your call sheets. Try to help the people whose work you liked to find more work. If they impressed you, they’ll impress someone else, and your good taste will be noted. Never recommend a friend who can’t deliver just to help them find a gig.
20. Remember to have a life. Take care of your body, your mind, and your heart. It’s a grueling business at times, but look for the joy even in the hardest gigs.

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