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To Succeed in Film, Think Like a Gambler and a Politician

“It’s not about what you know; it’s about who you know.” This is the industry-old adage that has been uttered and confirmed by actors, directors, and producers for decades. As this advice has proven true time and time again, it still leaves independent filmmakers wondering, “How do I get to know the influencers and movers in the industry? And more importantly, how do I get to know them before they’ve hit it big?” There’s no sure-fire way to make this happen, but there are some techniques and mindsets that can help you make sure you’re getting the most out of every connection you make.

Thinking like a gambler…

Gambler’s are always playing the odds. The independent film industry deals with odds more than you might think. But, every time you are a part of a project, there is a chance that it will push your career to the next level. In gambling, money is usually what’s on the line. In independent filmmaking, money is usually not the main currency on the table; it’s time. Time and talents are the currency of the independent film industry. If you are getting paid, it’s most likely not going be what you’re worth, so the real currency at stake is the time you spend on a project and the amount of effort and talent you pour into the project.

The gamble you make every time you join a project is this: will the time and talent you expend on this project have a high enough chance of being seen by the right people to justify your expending the time and talent? The answer to this question can only be answered through diligent research and efficient questioning before you join a project. The research involved might include looking up any connections or credits director, producer, or other project leads have that could prove beneficial to your career. I say efficient questioning because no director is going to want to hire someone who is grilling them before they even get the job. You want to get the most information from the fewest questions. Sometimes writing questions down before a conversation can be beneficial. It seems counter-intuitive to bring in a list of questions, but for a lot of people in the industry, it shows preparedness, foresight, and direction. Only through this research and questioning can you gather the information required to either place your bet on the project, or fold.

I say efficient questioning because no director is going to want to hire someone who is grilling them before they even get the job. You want to get the most information from the fewest questions. Sometimes writing questions down before a conversation can be beneficial. It seems counter-intuitive to bring in a list of questions, but for a lot of people in the industry, it shows preparedness, foresight, and direction. Only through this research and questioning can you gather the information required to either place your bet on the project, or fold.

Thinking like a politician…

While politicians may be some of the most divisive characters around, a lot can be taken from statecraft and applied to a career in the film industry. Much like gamblers, politicians are always weighing their options and determining what is worth expending effort and political capital on. Politicians are weighing their personal beliefs, the beliefs of the public, and their careers when they make a decision to support a bill. The same should be true when someone in the independent film industry decides to sign on to a project. Additionally, every time a politician meets someone who is also in statecraft, they make a decision regarding how far out of their way they are willing to go. The same is true in the film industry. Every time you meet someone, there is a possibility that person will be the person who can help you push your career to the next level.

When taking on a project, it’s important to weigh three factors. 1) How much do you believe in the project? 2) Will this project reflect my talents in a beneficial way? 3) How much time and effort am I willing to expend to keep the people in charge of this project happy? There is no hierarchy these questions should be answered in, but the answers do need to ultimately net in a positive for your career. It is acceptable to take on a project that you believe in while understanding it isn’t necessarily going to take your career anywhere. The questions of how your talents are reflected and how much you are willing to go out of your way to keep the people at the top happy still need to be answered. In the film industry, your resume is whatever has your name on it. It can be frustrating to take on a passion project that comes back to haunt you because of a lackluster director or producer. The ultimate question when taking a project is: how much political capital will this cost/gain for my career in the film industry? If you’re looking to move forward, only take projects that increase your capital with others in the industry.

Contributor: Andrew Border

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