This is a guest blog post by screenwriter Robert Boesel, author of the funny and informative new book Adult Stuff: Things You Need to Know to Win at Real Life.
You just graduated from [insert prestigious university], majored in [film/theater/some liberal arts degree], and now you’re moving to Los Angeles! It’s so exciting! You’re finally going to apply all the artistic knowledge you’ve gleaned over four years at college (between drinking, naps, and trips to the cafeteria). As soon as you get off the plane at LAX, success will come to you. As you wait for your luggage at baggage claim, you’ll strike up a conversation with a movie producer, who happens to be in need of a [writer/actor/director/producer] for his new hundred million dollar movie. He’ll recognize your innate talent and hire you on the spot. SMASH CUT TO days later, when you’re sitting on set in your personalized director’s chair. You’ll be rubbing shoulders with the Who’s Who of Hollywood, and it’s all because you deserve it.
The only shoulders you’ll be rubbing will be your massage clients at the spa you’ll have to work at. Because guess what? Odds are, your first job in LA will not at all be related to your fancy and overpriced undergrad degree.
Also, you don’t deserve success. No one deserves success. The worst thing you can do as an LA noob is feel entitled. You might have been top of your class and got that grant for your black & white senior thesis film about tortured youths smoking cigarettes in an abandoned warehouse, but thousands of other talented twentysomethings are moving to LA, too (and at least a third of them produced that exact same senior thesis film). This is a “big fish / small pond” situation. Now you have to stand out amongst the most talented people in the world. No pressure.
Basically, it boils down to this: You’re not as good as you think you are.
And that’s okay. You just need more time to incubate that talent buried deep within. But don’t think your writing sample or acting reel from college is at the level of quality where executives will actually consider you for anything creative. They’ll maybe consider you for picking up their dry cleaning. Mayyybe.
And how do you even get that job? How do you break in? That’s the big question and probably the only reason why you’re reading this. Everyone’s story is different. What seems to be common, though, is the timeline of jobs. Anecdotal evidence supports this general timeline:
First 3-5 Years
You’ll work jobs that suck, either in the entertainment industry as an assistant or in the service industry as a barista. You’ll be treated unfairly, people will exploit you, you’ll question your hopes and dreams, and you’ll seriously consider moving back home to live with your parents.
About 5 Years In
At some point around the half-decade mark, you will have a tiny zygote of success, something so insignificant it might not even look like success. But it will keep the kindling of your dream alive enough so the flame doesn’t burn out.
You will see a steady increase in success, which will give you more confidence to achieve more success.
You might actually be at a place to start feeling like you could do this for a living. It’s still going to be difficult but not as difficult as when you began.
So that’s the basic timeline: about ten years to gain serious traction in Hollywood. Of course, there are outliers who achieve success much quicker. But don’t cling to the fact Josh Schwartz sold The OC and ran it when he was 26. Thinking about that doesn’t help you at all. Every once in awhile, someone wins the lottery. The rest of us have to work for a living. And that’s what you’re going to have to do.
Just Do This
People have said this so often it has become a cliché, but if you can be happy doing ANYTHING ELSE with your life other than entertainment, please do that. Seriously. It’s extremely competitive, and few people ever get rich and famous. Most people cobble together a sustainable life with the few jobs they end up getting. You need to reframe “making it” from “making it big” to “making enough money so you don’t have to move back home and live with your parents.”
And the “how to break in” question needs its own blog post, but here are two quick tips:
And once you get that entry-level job, keep your ego in check. Higher ups can smell your sense of entitlement. Don’t pout when the coordinator asks you to pick up coffee. That’s your job. Thousands of other recent grads would kill to get coffee.
And keep writing or directing or acting or doing whatever you want to do professionally. It’s exhausting working a full time job and then having to be creative after work, but you need to do it. No one in Hollywood cares if you succeed or not. It’s all on you. And as far as writing goes, your first 5-7 writing samples out of college will be very, very bad. But you still have to write those so you can get to the very, very good ones.
Listen, this blog post was a buzzkill. Noted. But you should know what you’re getting into. You need connections, talent, hard work, and patience. Here’s the kinda sorta silver lining: a lot of success in Hollywood is about atrophy. If you stick with it long enough, the weaker people will give up or get fired, and you’ll still be standing with that hard earned experience you learned through the years.
You moved to LA for a reason. Now get on out there and patiently make your dreams come true.