Ask Michael - Column #1 by Michael Wiese
(Note: I was ask to write a column for an ill-fated website. They did manage one issue. This was my contribution.)
In this new column from one of America’s most prolific producers of independent media products of all kinds, we start with the most basic questions. We’ll select from your questions for future issues.
What’s it take to make it? And how do I know if I have the “it” factor?
This is a question that haunts everyone, from beginners to established pros. You’d be amazed at how many people are still trying to prove they have “something” or are “somebody” in Hollywood. Ultimately, this is a fruitless quest. If you enjoy the process – the day in and day out process of writing, or shooting, or editing, then who cares about making it?!! You are doing what you love most and that if that’s not a definition of making it then I don’t know what is. But most young filmmakers want– fame and fortune, a house in Malibu, and lots of bling and admirers which they eventually find out is a dead end.
It’s very important to understand for yourself yourown definition of success. If its all lot of stuff then when you’ve got it you will have made it. But then what? There is never an end to acquiring more stuff – which as any rich guy will tell you – becomes empty pretty quickly. Does he who dies with the most win?
Okay, how about fame? Maybe that’s your definition of making it. Fame is fleeting. A year after having the #1 hit at the box office you’ll find your DVD in the bargain bin at Blockbuster. Then how are you going to climb up the heap to the top, again, and again, and again? Is that what you aspire to?
Think back to a time when you were 6 or 7 years old. What did you really enjoy doing? What did you chose to do before parents, peers and pop culture started confusing things? Maybe you liked to dress up in costumes or maybe with toy soldiers or Sims characters you entered imaginary worlds. Or maybe you liked to be alone and draw, or write short stories. If so, then I wouldn’t be surprised if you find real contentment through acting, or directing, or storyboarding or screenwriting. Doing now what you did then but this time you get paid for it (even though you’ll do it for free).
Anyone who is in a position to hire you or collaborate with you will be able to clearly identify from your interest trajectory that you are the “go to guy” (or gal) for the job. I’ve hired lots of people and its never really about the resume or the reel; it’s about the fire in the belly that you see in the other person. We all know its going to go over schedule and that we’ll all be working twice as long and twice as hard so the person hired better want to do it rather than be doing it for the paycheck or the glory.
Therefore, do something that you really, really like that the 7 year old in you clamors to do. You’ll have found your calling and everyone else will see you as having that special “it”,
How do you get started?
Martin Scorcese said that if you want to be a director start introducing yourself a “director”. It’s acknowledging and affirming where you want to be before you get there. Create your own reality. So if you want to be a writer, or cameraman or actor, start writing, shooting and acting. It’s be, do, have. Not the other way around. Take any job you can that allows you to exercise your skills, talents and most of all learn.
Now I know that you’ll say, “I have to eat”. And yes but you also need to feel your soul and do what you have to do. (If you to do it, that’s a sure indication of whether or not a vocation is for you – there’s really no other choice.
You can (and I have) held all kinds of non-media related jobs in order to pay the rent AND keep doing what we have to do. Clerk-by-day, film editor by night. Keep the faith and eventually you’ll be able to quit your day job.
And, there’s no need to hurry. What’s the point? Enjoy what you are doing. Build your skills and soon enough you’ll be living your dream. It truly takes many lifetimes to learn everything you need to know about filmmaking so don’t get caught up in America’s fascination with young celebrities (who you never hear of again next year). This overnight success fantasy destroys lives, careers and relationships. Get your head together, hone your skills for a sustainable lifetime career. There’s plenty of room for someone special like you, with your passions and your experience. Mighty oak trees don’t grow overnight. (Although I did hear about some kind of bamboo that grows very slowly for decades and then quickly shoots up to 50 feet.)
How do you meet people that will help you?
They are all around you, all you need to do is ask.
If you go to film school or work in a media job you will instantly meet dozens of people. Keep in contact with them because a year or two or ten later you’ll be working together. The amazing thing is that I am working with new people today as well as those I met decades ago. You build a base that will help you and support you throughout your career.
True mentors are invaluable. These are experienced people whose work you admire. When I was 19 I boldly introduced myself to Salvador Dali who took me under his wing, held a premiere for me, and launched my student film which ended up being invited to Cannes. Had I not the courage to meet him my student film would languish on a shelf somewhere. You can get to anyone that you want to meet and the older they are the probably more likely that they will help you. Read Spielberg’s biography. He found mentors at Universal Studios while his far hipper contemporaries were hanging out on the beach and in the canyons. It’s no mistake he’s the most powerful filmmaker in the world. He understood the value of mentors.
I’ve tried to make it easier for emerging filmmakers to get connected with experts and mentors not only by publishing film books but by creating a consulting/mentoring service. It’s amazing to me how few actually make the phone calls. So unless you put yourself out there, you’ll still be sitting at the same table at Starbucks in five years whinging over not “making it”.
The secrets that no one will tell you is 1) you are an original with latent talents and unlimited potential and 2) you’ll find the support, encouragement, and mentoring that you need by asking.
Now get outta here. You’ve got a film to make!
Michael Wiese is an author, producer, director and film book publisher who lives with his family in Cornwall England and virtually operates Michael Wiese Productions (www.mwp.com) in the States. He has works in film, television, video, and publishing. His new documentary feature – The Sacred Sites of the Dalai Lamas – was shot in Tibet.
©2007 by MWP