Career Advice and Hollywood Caveats by JoDa Hodge
1) Watch out for sharks.
I can’t count how many aspiring actresses I know who personally told me horror stories of men in power doing small favors for them, expecting that the girl would then become their “girlfriend” for “no less than six months.” (A close friend referred me to an upstanding group of professionals who brunched weekly in Santa Monica. We rarely ever spoke about business or “networking.” We were friends first. If business came up, it was casual. Look for Mr. Berg…)
2) Avoid “networking” events.
How much traction do you get in a room full of aspiring talent and a few sharks? Instead your time is better spent volunteering at organizations of power, such as WGA (Writer’s Guild), DGA (Directors Guild), or especially the PGA (Producers Guild of America) and The Beverly Hills Bar Association. Connect to power to become power. How? Find out who is young, ambitious and will become the next big manager, producer, agent. Intern for them. Avoid the herd teetering on the cliff of obscurity, joining the revolving door back to where they came from, just another cliched actor who joins real estate. (Don’t them teeth shine so white in that company brochure?) At least people in power have the potential to offer you a stepping stone toward your goal, whereas some else who is treading water sings the lyrics from Hollywood’s popular anthem, “What’s the most you can do for me and what’s the least I have to do for you?” Never “wait to be discovered!” There are 1.2 million actors in town waiting for the same mythical discovery. Grab a camera and shoot it yourself damn it!
3) To avoid the cliché, become a Producer.
Write or find material you are passionate about. Learn how a movie is put together, not just every aspect of production, but get The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers. Find out the other nebulous, mysterious, less glamorous (but pragmatic) side of filmmaking. The directors receive far too much credit. It’s the producer that finds the story, hires the cast, crew and talent, secures the financing, ensures the shoot stays on time and under budget, supervises final cut, prepares marketing and distribution plans, locates a distributor…and then tries to squeeeeeeze a profit after the theater, distributor and investors are paid back… The Producer has the power. If you aspire to become an actor, become a Producer to find roles of your dreams and give them Life, because You made it happen. No dreams were ever fulfilled via a “networking” event. Maybe some fleeting fantasy, but nothing genuine. (Believe me, I know firsthand. Although, it’s funny that I can say, “I crashed Paris Hilton’s parents’ holiday party.” Sure, don’t forget to live it up a bit!)
4) Beware of the Microwave Man
I once collaborated on a project with a young person (emphasis on “young.”) We were working on spec. Danger Zone!
#1 Only work on spec (“in the hope of success but without any specific commission”) with trusted friends and mentors.
#2 Get to know your partner’s intentions by watching what they eat and how they treat intimate partners. Are they simply heating up TV dinners and constantly “dating?” Or are they taking the time to prepare and appreciate where their food—and their lover—comes from?
Do they brag bout how wasted they got, like it’s still a frat party scene, or do they get up early to focus on what matters most in Life?
Do they listen to your feedback or are they so soulless, nearsighted and pedantic (obsessed about trivial details) your Artistic and Business input gets steamrolled?
You could be dealing with a sociopathic narcissist and you will save yourself tremendous energy and sanity by waiting for a more stable and synergistic partnership to manifest.
This young person was more concerned about Who they know, not What they know.
Beware of the Microwave Man!
5) This is some advice I shared with a mentee yesterday:
“The best lesson I wish I had heard about film school is that you are laying the foundation of your career path there. The skills acquired to tell a visual story are actually secondary. It’s the Connections with future producers, directors, editors, sound guys, actors, etc. that are the primary benefit. These people, as they rise in their respective careers, will be looking to hire people they know and trust. Nobody broke into Hollywood because of a polished resume. It’s like a gang. Insiders work with each other, not outsiders. And, when you graduate and begin to rise, you will ascend quicker because of your Film Family you’ve been nurturing. And… They are only a phone call away—for life.”
In conclusion, look up one of my mentors, Chase Bartels at chase-la.com, who managed all the comedy TV writers at Warner Brothers Studios (Big Bang Theory, 2 1/2 Men, etc.), provides a consulting service for people seeking to break into Hollywood; what will best facilitate your rise… Though be warned, it’s a tough town. I learned I could actually get better traction away from the overpriced rentals and the opportunistic phonies back home. Not because Hollywood punched me in the jewels and sent me packing. It’s because I made enough personal connections, as friends, with power players, that when I attach a director and a name actor (famous neighbors here in Vermont I reached out to), I can make a few phone calls… And I didn’t have to sell my soul.
I hope you enjoyed my Tinseltown Novella!
JoDa Hodge (Producer)
From JoDa’s good friend John Swanbeck:
What’s the difference between an actor and her character? One thinks she is the character, the other wishes the actor would stop saying she is the character.
Whenever I’m working with an actor on camera, I always start by asking the actor to tell me about his or her character. In response, I usually receive a very thorough analysis of the story, the key relationships in the story, the history of the main characters, and a list of emotional and psychological factors playing on the actor’s character during the scene. After all that, I still wouldn’t recognize the actor’s character if I bumped into the character in a closet.
The greatest myth of character creation is the myth that, “You are the character and the character is you.” Actors are taught to approach characters this way for the purpose of responding honestly and without prejudice as they play the scene, which they see as great acting. However, all of their great acting is wasted, because it’s not happening to a recognizable human being. It’s happening to an actor. What’s the difference between human beings and actors? Human beings are defined by their limitations. Actors are defined by their limitless possibilities.
On camera, limitless possibilities translate as general. Human limitations translate as clearly defined character. Human beings, and therefore characters, are defined by their prejudices which limit the ways they see and respond to the world. Watching a limited human being or character clash with the world is what makes a story interesting. The “you are the character and the character is you” approach would actually work if actors isolated specific qualities or character traits (or character limitations if you will) that they themselves possess and let those specific qualities dictate how they play the entire scene.
After you have a clearly defined character that the camera and the audience would recognize whether they were witnessing the character in the middle of a heart-wrenching breakup scene or ordering coffee at Starbucks, then you can create all of the emotional and psychological factors playing on your character during the scene, and we will appreciate your great acting because we will see it happening to a fellow, recognizable, human being. That’s what is meant when someone says she or he identifies with a character. It means the person recognizes the character as a fellow human being and, therefore, can feel empathy for the character.
Oh, and, do you want to know how to describe your character with the result being that he or she will be memorable on camera? Describe your character as you would describe a friend whom the rest of us are going to meet at a party before you arrive in such a way that we recognize the person as soon he or she walks into the room and starts talking.