My 1st Victory in TV Jobs: 7 Things You Should be Doing NOW To Prepare for a Hollywood Career
This past spring, I had the recent honor of serving as keynote speaker for my Alma mater Bowling Green State University and its annual Career Day. (I can’t tell you how special this invite meant for me, especially since as an undergrad I was “undecided” for so long as to what career would be “right” for me.) Bowling Green (or “B.G” as we fondly refer to it), Ohio – is about as far away from Hollywood as any place could possibly be. Straight lines of cornfields, long stretches of open roads, and mom & popshops of every kind surround B.G. in a way that keeps you grounded yet motivated to push yourself beyond its idyllic, blue-collar borders. Football is our game. Brown and orange are our colors. And the falcon is our mascot, letting others know we soar with spirit and pride. The university’s nearly 20-thousand-plus population makes the campus a town in itself; and it’s the type of diverse, large crowd where you can easily become lost… or discover yourself. Luckily, I found me.
So, back to my keynote speech for college undergrads seeking guidance and inspiration: How do you sum up four years of your college-life that would ultimately change your own trajectory and do so in thirty minutes? I wasn’t just speaking in front of students; I was also standing-tall in front of my professors – the very ones who had inspired me. At the crux of my keynote, I had to ask myself how I went from being the shyest kid sitting in the back of the classroom to the producer behind the camera calling the shots. I guess you could say, I was and still am very much an active observer. Sometimes it’s the greatest escape – seeing what others don’t and tapping into your own life experiences in such a way that can make an audience care and relate… and ride the viscerally charged emotional rollercoaster alongside you. Although my B.G. education helped immensely in prepping me for TV production, there are other lessons that I had to learn the hard way… thanks to my very first job in the daunting world of tv jobs. Here are the seven things that helped propel me toward Hollywood:
- LANDING THE RIGHT INTERNSHIP
During my senior year of college, I applied and was accepted into an internship program with E! Entertainment in Los Angeles. I was lucky that my school offered such a program, and once I knew I had a shot at landing that coveted internship, I did everything I could in securing it, including making sure my grades were top-notch. I knew this internship was right for the “producing track” I wanted because it offered: 1) Location – E! was in the middle of Los Angeles and I had the chance to stay in nearby housing at UCLA; 2) Programming – The network wasn’t too newsy or too “newbie” in a way that made me feel I couldn’t grasp their production style. 3) Real-World Experience – At the time, I had very little experience in TV production (aside from a few introductory video classes), but E! offered me the chance to learn many production essentials, such as: logging and isolating great shots and sound bites through their massive footage library, overseeing edit sessions on several shows, working directly with highly-skilled producers, and getting lots of face-time with numerous employees and multiple department heads. (The type of people who could possibly offer me a job in the future; and one year later, they did.) Plus, I also gained knowledge of the entertainment industry from a news-magazine perspective, which helped sharpen my writing skills and learn how to better communicate orally and on paper.
I have to say, working in that building was a real boost to my self-confidence, because hey, if I had gotten my foot in the door at a major cable network, I must’ve been doing something right…right?! Well, almost…
- FINDING THE RIGHT FIRST “INDUSTRY” JOB
After completing my E! Internship and returning to Ohio to finish out my senior year, I was ready – or so I thought – to tackle TV jobs. I was definitely ready…to be tackled and taken down to the ground, that is. My first job in TV was exactly what I needed even though there were times when I thought it would be my last. Why? My biggest regret to this day is that I had never even worked at the campus TV or radio station. My only exposure to TV production was my entry-level video classes coupled with my E! Internship (and the bragging rights that came with it, or so I mildly thought.) Don’t get me wrong, I did fairly well at my internship, but in hindsight, I left there thinking that I had somehow possessed the knowledge base to take on local news head-on. Here’s where I would’ve interrupted my then 20-year-old self with some important, painful breaking news: Nick, you’re about to be broken in, and make lots of mistakes for all of Northwest Ohio to witness.
I worked at a local FOX affiliate in Ohio. (This was after every other news outlet in town said “no” – again, because of my lack of experience.) Even though this wasn’t L.A. or N.Y., once I set foot in an actual newsroom, it read every bit “sensational”; and the word “live” didn’t help sooth me frazzled nerves. This was live news, twice a day, several days a week, with a list of moving parts so long that I almost felt like a “slipping gear” ready to be spit out. There was no way I would be able to cram all this information in overnight, let alone a few weeks! My first day of orientation was that overwhelming. I had no frame of reference. This was nothing like my internship, which ran at a much different speed. This was a high-stress zone and the tension rose like thick smoke with tattered scripts sometimes flying across my face, after we had a wrapped a “not so good” block because of my errors. I had convinced myself that inevitable death due to the paper shrapnel wounds would be better than having to repeat my on-air blunders again and again and week after week for everyone to see. Yes, I did a lot of things wrong in my first few weeks, but as difficult as it was, it only made me better.
You see, I was an “A” student by day, but by night I was barely making the grade in those early weeks in the newsroom. As a first-time production assistant, I was a blank, massively stretched canvas. But I soldiered on and got a crash course in everything from creating news graphics and learning to edit to operating cameras and floor directing talent. I basically had to learn everything: technically, creatively and politically, because part of landing your first job, is learning to adapt to the standards and protocol that are already in place. This was a fast-moving, tightly stacked newscast, and I could barely keep up initially. However, as time went on – my TV battle scars healed and when I completed my college senior year, I felt like I was truly ready to leave it all behind and re-set my sights on Los Angeles. This time, L.A. would be my new home.
- BALANCING SCHOOL & WORK
If you’re a current student or not, anyone can relate to the delicate balancing act that one must master in order to reach the creative path markers that let you know you’re on the right track – and to keep going forward! My junior and senior years of college were invaluable in that they taught me how to maximize my time and learn to plan several months ahead. Aside from a full course load and my senior year TV job, I also had a part-time job, so it was imperative that I balanced all three and yet maintained some sense of balance within myself. At the start of the semester, when the class syllabi were handed out, I made sure to jot down all the important dates into my calendar, such as days when research papers were due or dreaded exams. My second priority was my TV job, and I gave as much time as I could even though the waters were indeed initially choppy. But I knew without any TV experience, I would be at a major disadvantage for when I moved back to L.A. after graduation and have difficulty re-entering the number two television market in the country—let alone the TV & film capital of the world. With school and TV experience filling up my days, I could see the few empty spots where I could pick up extra hours with my part time job to help pay rent, and more importantly, SAVE MONEY for my big move.
- PLANNING A BIG MOVE
I’ve been asked this question several times by students who are looking to move to Los Angeles, New York or any place, for that matter. With my E! internship, I had the benefit of a trial living situation in Los Angeles, and after leaving L.A. to complete my senior year, I knew financially what it would take to get me back to Hollywood and to land on somewhat steady-ground—not to mention in a relatively decent neighborhood. If you don’t have the advantage of a trial living situation, then I suggest giving yourself at least a year or so that way you can: 1) Calculate the cost of living and save money. 2) Sell off possessions that can easily be replaced or are too costly to move; 3) Reach out to friends or friends-of-friends who may already be living in your desired location; 4) Start checking out websites and utilizing apps that list rental properties; 5) Initiate or maintain relationships with people you may have already met if you had the opportunity to intern in your desired city; 6) Create a “rock-star” resume geared at TV production and incorporate everything you can from prior jobs even if it’s not TV related. Chances are, you can parlay those hard-earned skills in a way that makes you more marketable—because TV production isn’t just a raw skill set, it’s also effectively communicating and selling ideas. I want to stress marketability because successfully working in TV is largely in part due to other people’s perception of you—again, make all your prior experiences count; 7) Set a target date for your move, because from this point forward, everything you do will put you one step closer to visualizing and realizing your new life.
- LEAVING THE COMFORT ZONE
I just told you what you should be doing financially to plan such a life-changing move, but holding steadfast to your dream is also very much mental, emotional and spiritual. More often than not, big cities are made up of “transplants”—people who moved there for the very same reason you want to. Hundreds if not thousands have made similar choices that have led them to their next creative path marker; and with such drive and determination, unsurprisingly brings with it lots of competition. You need to start preparing yourself now for the all the unfamiliarity hurled at you and with great-speed. Remember, you’re choosing a career track with a lot more uncertainties, but in doing so, the rewards are much greater. Think about it… you have the power and the gift to tell stories from a perspective that nobody else could ever tell because it comes from the depths of your own creative spirit and the truth of your own experiences. It just sounds so effortless, right? Not so much. I always like to tell people, “It’s not supposed to be easy, because if it were, everybody would be doing it.” But that’s what separates the dreamers from the doers. The naysayers are not you; so don’t let anyone ever tell you what you can and can not achieve. Rejection is only one person’s opinion based upon an extremely small fraction and interaction of who you are and what you’re capable of. But again, rejection, trepidation, and uncertainty are necessary “negatives” in your career progression and are telltale signs that you have left the comfort zone as you embark on the road toward self-reliance, self-confidence and Level 10 creativity power.
- REALIZING WHAT YOU WANT BY WORKING TV JOBS THAT DON’T WORK FOR YOU
Having spent ten-years plus in TV production and the world of freelance, I’ve worked on more than my fair share of tv jobs that I didn’t feel were an “ideal” fit for my creative or personal spirit. You should be prepared to deal with quite a range of personalities in this business, so before you earn a high-title that lets you “check” such personalities and egos, check your own first. Even though I may not have always been chomping at the bit for a second go-around on a gig that I clearly did not want to do, these jobs helped me hone in on the type of content that I actually wanted to produce and showed me how to do so using production techniques I was learning in those “not so good” moments. These production techniques could translate to any job. Like the old adage goes, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger and that couldn’t have been more dead on. There are so many intricacies in production and story telling; and these rough patches made me a better producer and manager for enduring them. (And, I’m still learning today.) That’s because every network, production company and show runner has his or her own signature style and formatting structure to tell a story effectively, and you should be familiar with some of these styles and formulas because formulas work and formulas sell. The saying that every story there is to tell has been told is somewhat true, but what makes each show different from it’s multiple counterparts is the execution. As a producer-slash-manager, I’ve discovered how to achieve successful results on-screen by not just executing an idea but also effectively managing my crew and treating them like people. What a novel concept, right? Money will get you far, but kindness will guarantee you real success and a reputation that no amount of money can ever buy. So roll up those sleeves, suck it up… and know that it will all be well worth it in the end!
- KEEPING THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE
I can’t tell how you many times I was pushed to my creative limits or felt choked by logistical meandering, but there’s no simple away around it. There are no absolutes in life, especially in TV. As you gain experience and work on a variety of TV jobs, you’ll possess not only knowledge but also the necessary foresight that will help you spot and avoid potential problems in your current job or the next. The best Showrunners and directors often meet with their key crew members to break down every aspect of production before cameras even roll in order to spot potential gaps, conflicts or major mishaps that could thwart production and prove very costly in every regard. As you gain foresight through such experience, you will hopefully also recognize and rely on your own individual perspective and instincts— this is through finding your own voice that will guide you as you tackle the next creative endeavor. When you possess perspective, you can do more than just entertain, but inspire someone just like you who’s searching for his or her own creative compass.
Speaking of newfound perspective, it was only at the conclusion of my keynote speech at Bowling Green that I realized how these seven valuable lessons made me believe in me and shaped who I am today. My years at B.G. also played a crucial part in igniting the flame of determination, but that’s a story for another time.
I left the B.G. campus that day as an invited guest and industry professional…clearly no longer the undecided, timid student I was some ten-plus years ago, and in a series of full-circle moments, my story and keynote inspired several in attendance to just “go for it”. For some, the journey may take a year, for others more or less. Regardless, I hope sharing how my first job in TV played a huge part in changing my life and helped me overcome my own personal fears—or should I say, the perception of fear—proved to myself that I had a story worth telling and continue to do so by serving others, when it’s time to tell theirs.