8 Ways to Empower Your Entertainment Career Path

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skydiver gripping wing of planeA friend of mine tells the story of the first (and only) time he went skydiving.

It wasn’t one of those tandem situations, where you have a seasoned jumper strapped to your back to pull the cord at the right time and guide you to the designated landing spot. My friend was solo as he dropped out of the plane and into the whooshing air in free fall.

He got overanxious (who could blame him?) and pulled the ripcord prematurely. The parachute deployed and my friend spent many long minutes drifting into the middle of nowhere, and then another long, lonely while once he landed wandering around , carrying his balled up parachute and looking for any signs of civilization, much less the area where he was supposed to have landed.

That skydiving story reminds me of my early years in the entertainment industry.

The wilderness years, I guess you could call them. I wasn’t sure where I was in relation to everything else in the biz, whether it was the right spot for me, or how to find another spot that might be better. I had little idea how to find good people to help me with my career, how to compel them to actually help, or how to assess the help I got.

I carried my entertainment career goals and dreams with me, balled up like my friend’s parachute, as I wandered the industry.

Does that feel like your experience? In my case, as I tell in the introduction to my industry guidebook, I landed in Minneapolis, Minnesota and actually found an unexpected outpost of the entertainment industry there. (Go figure.) Not the end of my wandering but a promising start to my career.

Fast forward a few (okay, like 20) years and I have learned well how the industry works. I have not only navigated my own way in entertainment, but I have helped many others navigate theirs, and watched still others travel their own paths, sometimes to their initial goals, other times to somewhere else surprising and just as good or better.

The industry has changed since I landed in it. I gotta tell you, here on the inside some people are a little panicked because old business models are crumbling.

If you built a fortune off of the old models, this is bad news indeed, but for newbies and those who are nimble, it’s actually good news. More distribution channels for content, not the least of which is the Internet, means that the previously solid gates are leaky and the gatekeepers are weakened.

This is an exciting time to be in the industry. It’s like the Wild West without the guns. Yes, it can be scary, especially if you are still gripping your parachute and limping a little from a hard landing; or even just anticipating a landing and wondering, “What then?”

But I founded Your Industry Insider and wrote my new book, “Breaking into the Biz: The Insider’s Guide to Launching an Entertainment Industry Career” to offer an alternative to stumbling through the wilderness years.

I provide guidance and resources for ambitious, creative people who wish they knew more about how the industry works – and how to make it work for them – than they do. People who feel – and maybe always felt – that they belong in the entertainment industry, and who want to be part of a community of educated rookies working on their common goal of becoming industry movers and shakers.

Is that you? If so, below are some ways you can start RIGHT NOW to make your own future in the entertainment industry:

Embrace your peers. When you are a student or just starting out, you might look at your peers and see a bunch of nobodies just like you. Based on this, you might conclude that knowing people above your level is more important than networking with your peers. But though you’ll undoubtedly need a few people already in power positions early on in your career and beyond, they will never be “your” people. Those you came in with will move up along with you. You will be bonded by sharing the journey. And good news – today’s nobodies will be tomorrow’s staff writers and junior executives and then studio heads and executive producers.  Just like you.

Don’t abide by the gatekeepers. In his interview with Your Industry Insider a few years back, veteran Director of Photography said, “As a beginner, realize that the whole movie business is a Catch-22. Basically, you can’t do something unless you’ve done it already. But the whole business is filled with people who were told they couldn’t do something and did it anyway.” That pretty much covers it.

And it brings me to…

Make it real. Remember how I mentioned that the gates are leaky and the gatekeepers are weakened? Back when there were limited distribution channels (TV channels and movie theaters), the infrastructure of agents and managers and casting directors and studio executives and other gatekeepers was solid. If you wanted to get your work seen by an audience, on some level, you needed buy in from someone. Not anymore. You can create whatever it is you want to create for relatively cheap and get it seen. And if you create something good enough, even if you only get a niche audience for it, those so-called gatekeepers will come to you. Content is king. Make it real.

Be strategic & current with your goals. Instead of getting overwhelmed by choices or feeling adrift in a vast ocean, hone in. Connect with your passions, with what made you want to be in the industry in the first place, and with how you want your life to be on a day-to-day basis. From that, you will have a clearer idea of what types of opportunities to pursue. And as you grow personally and professionally and your life inevitably goes through different phases, check in with your goals to make sure they reflect your current focus and how you want to live. What works for your life and makes your heart sing when you are just starting out may not make sense a few years – or more – down the road.

Learn the rules.  Sometimes I hear people say, “Don’t ask permission, ask forgiveness,” meaning that you should just go ahead and do something if you think you should and, if it turns out to be the wrong move, you can apologize afterwards. That’s terrible advice when you are new to an industry. What might seem logical and a good idea can actually turn out to be detrimental to your reputation, your job hunt, or your career. First, seek to know the rules of the industry from the inside out. Then you can break them selectively on purpose, rather than breaking them – or worrying about breaking them – by accident and maybe not even knowing you did it.

Create a stable and workable means of support.  One of the big reason people don’t achieve their industry goals is because they aren’t able to support themselves long enough to give it a real shot. You need to commit. If you are pursuing a creative career, find a steady source of income that can cover your living expenses and allow you to go after your dreams on the side. The best option is a position that allows you to grow professionally while you make a go of it, ideally one that gives you a concurrent career path to follow while seeking your dreams and to fall back on during possible lean times throughout your career.

Work harder than everyone else.  The loftier your ambitions, the bigger your dreams, the more this is key. You don’t get the highly-sought after job or land the plum part by showing up half-prepared. Doing the work, being the most prepared, is one of the best ways to own your career path, to empower yourself, to hold your future in your own hands.

Develop resilience.  No matter how hard you work, you won’t land every job, get every part, or rock every pitch meeting. And you can’t count on that type of batting average to provide your self esteem. You must have a solid core of self-worth (which can be partially fed by a good therapist, supportive friends and family, and/or some kind of spiritual life) that will allow you to endure the ups and downs of an entertainment career. And the quicker you are able to bounce back from a setback, the more ready you will be to take advantage of the next opportunity to come your way.

If this is the kind of information you’ve been craving to help you with your entertainment career, stick around. Your Industry Insider is for creators, connectors, and doers who long to craft a clear, unique, and compelling vision for their future, which they then step confidently into.

For a step-by-step guide to help you launch (or relaunch) your entertainment career, consider picking up a copy of “Breaking into the Biz: The Insider’s Guide to Launching an Entertainment Industry Career.” It’s the rule book and road map I wish I’d had when I was starting out, only written for today’s industry seeker. And remember, I’ve been hiring people and helping people get hired and reach other goals in the business for years. I know the deal.

So grab your parachute and let’s get going. You’ve got places you want to get to, don’t you?

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About JennyYM

Jenny Yerrick Martin is a veteran entertainment hiring executive with 20+ years in film, television, and music. She created yourindustryinsider.com to give students, recent grads and others a true picture of the layout of the industry, and how to break in, transition to a new area, or achieve more success on their current path.

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  • Ted

    December 5, 2013 at 8:47 am

    Hi Jenny, thank you. This is very helpful. I’ve worked in theatre as an actor. I’m a guitar player and an audio engineer. I’ve definitely had to learn a few things the hard way.

    Most importantly I’ve learned to not take anything personally.

    Best,

    Ted

    NYC

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