So a few months ago I blogged about working intensively for film clients, and the opportunity I’d been given to spend 8 weeks as a virtual intern for Hollywood script agency WriteMovies. While details of the internship are confidential, I can say that I’ve had a truly privileged insight into the Hollywood script development system. I thought I’d look again at my recent thoughts about “What it actually takes to ‘work in the movies’…” , and give a ‘before and after’ comparison of whether I still agree with them now!
So what actually happened during the internship? Well, I can’t give any specifics or insider secrets, though I’ve seen some quite privileged stuff which has been fascinating and insightful. But, I can probably say that (as you can imagine, given the work of WriteMovies) I did read a heck of a lot of scripts at all levels of development, and submitted reports about them. A very high standard was set for my work, and there was a lot to do, but it was always a pleasure. If you’re serious about making it in this industry, you need to be comfortable with handling pressure – whether from outside or just inside yourself – and make the most of opportunities like this when you get them. I certainly feel like I put everything I could into it, and I’ve had the touching testimonial from my contact at WriteMovies, their Head of HR Lisa Vogel, that “You are bright, hard working and enthusiastic, you’ll be fine.” Thanks, Lisa. It’s been a fantastic experience.
So how does it affect the expectations of the industry that I had before the internship? I’ll pick them apart, one by one.
Statement 1: Nothing in this business is for the faint-hearted or half-hearted.
Feedback: Hard to disagree with this. The internship was exacting and demanding, and I often put in more work than I was officially required, out of passion for the work. But you don’t get anywhere in this industry by doing things by halves.
Statement 2: If your skills are limited to only one or a few areas, that’s fine, being focused is good and strengthens your identity. But it also leaves you highly dependent upon commissions and approval from others, which will typically prove to be extremely erratic over time; you’ll need to be prepared for that, and able to survive regardless of what comes your way. Producers in particular need a good grasp of all of what it takes to get these elements right – and if you want a solid, sustainable job in film, producers are almost the only people who can put themselves in a position to get it.
Feedback: From advice I’ve been given, I’d add that the best way to actually work in the movies is – you guessed it – to actually work in the movies. Get a job that does so, from the beginning of your career, and you’ll find it much, much easier to progress.
Statement 3: Everyone’s position in this business is insecure. Projects, films, companies, organisations, investment and funding, audiences, distribution portals and marketing platforms, are all coming in and out of existence all the time – so you can imagine the turnover of staff and jobs within these fields… If you want to help producers and other professionals to achieve their film projects, you need a good grasp of the pressures and strains that they are continually under, and how hard they have to strive every day to maintain their own existence. Nobody owes you anything, and you can’t afford to go around thinking that they even owe you the time of day to answer a polite email.
Feedback: It probably wouldn’t have done me any good to enquire about this opinion during the internship, and nothing came up which gives me reason to confirm or deny this statement. But do remember that this is my opinion, based on everything I’ve heard, read and noted over the years.
Statement 4: Because of all this, there’s also no room for timewasters and anyone who is ambivalent or half-hearted about working in the trade, warts and all.
Feedback: This was based on correspondence before the internship began, and nothing came up during it which changed this expectation.
Statement 5: The famous stories you’ll hear about foolish screenwriters being told “you’ll never work in this town again” are not a myth, even if the individual stories you hear might be. Screw up, and your card will be marked, potentially across the board. What’s more, you might never actually be told that you’ve done wrong.
Feedback: Again, this was based on correspondence from before the internship began, but I should point out that while this opinion is conjectural, I was given pretty clear feedback that if I proved to be a timewaster, there would be repercussions. I regard that as perfectly fair and appropriate – after all, they were giving me 8 weeks of privileged insights into the Hollywood system for free – and I kept my promises and was praised at the end. Can’t ask for more than that.
Statement 6: These factors mean that you need a high degree of stability in your life to fall back on, whenever you need it, to get you through the lulls and to support you when you’re too busy to manage even the everyday things. For obvious reasons, this creates a barrier to entry for a very high proportion of people. You can write a high-minded essay about “opening access and equal opportunities in the film business” if you like, but the reasons for any exclusivity are more likely to be due to these practical necessities, rather than any prejudiced covert agenda.
Feedback: I would stand by this one. The support of reliable loved ones is also important, to get you through the lulls. On a related note, I’d like to write a blog article one day exploring whether writing should be thought of as a career or a mental health problem. I’m not (quite) joking.
Statement 7: So, if you’ve read all this and you’re still hungry – well, good luck to you. Tell us your secret, we’ll all need it now and then!
Response: Case for the defence rests. Good luck!