Make friends in the industry instead of trying to kill the competition. You’d be surprised how many times a filmmaker helps another filmmaker get a job. Besides, you never know which person you’ve met that might end up running a studio.
90 percent of all statistics you read or hear are made up. This is a business of storytelling and that includes distributors. I’ve read about some of my competitors moving 100,000 units of an obscure title, and I’m pulling out my hair (well, not actually, as I’m bald) trying to figure out how they did it. Then I talk with someone and find out it’s all bulls***.
Be realistic in your expectations. Not every film is going to make $100 million. If you are realistic in what you’ve created and what you expect, then you can work toward achieving that goal and more.
Learn from failure. Every great person in life has failed before succeeding. We as a nation failed; our founding fathers built a nation in which everyone was equal, and yet we had slavery for another 100 years and women didn’t get to vote until the 1900s. As a nation we’ve learned from mistakes and failures. You, as an individual, should learn from each mistake as well.
Keep trying. I’ve been on many panels where I’ve heard an audience member ask, “What’s your advice for making it in the business?” and the pompous filmmaker states: “Get out. Find another business.” I hate that. So my advice: If you really want to make it, you will, but you can’t half-ass it. There is nothing worse than someone who complains that they can’t get a break. Create your break. If you are an actor, do student films. If you can’t do that, save money and make a film. Ditto for filmmakers. Make shorts; look at YouTube.com and the success of shorts. Find a way to get yourself noticed, preferably not by stalking.
Find your niche. Most people come to LA to be Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie. But some may find that they are a better director or a great casting agent. Be realistic about who you are and be open to opportunity. Joe Roth (head of Revolution) and Bob Shaye (head of New Line) both run studios and still direct movies on the side. They are great executives who wanted to be filmmakers.
Slow down. Don’t show your film unless it’s done or if you really need money. Everyone will tell you that they’ve seen rough cuts and that they can visualize a completed film; they can’t. Better to go slower and finish everything. You get one shot to present yourself so make it count. You are in a business where you want someone to invest large sums of monies into your project. Make sure it’s ready to be seen. This is true for a completed film down to a business proposal. Take your time and do it right (Hey, isn’t that a disco song?)
Make friends, not enemies. Even if you are unhappy with the work someone has done, if you yell and scream, plan on never seeing that person again—because who wants to work with someone who is nasty (Yeah, I know you’ve heard stories about famous producers who are giant a-holes, but do you really aspire to be that?). In our company we will work professionally with someone even if relations are strained, but other individuals and companies won’t.
Be aware. For scripts, for films, for everything. Be aware of the marketplace. Don’t be a parrot and make or write whatever is hot, but don’t ignore what is going on as well. We made the film Pariah when the industry turned against violent, controversial films and was embracing gay and lesbian indies. We should have been more aware of the marketplace. Right now documentaries and slasher, bloody horror films are pretty hot, but it’s starting to change and something else will come into fashion. Be aware and be ahead of the curve, not behind it. Romantic comedies are the hardest film for any distributor to sell. If you make one, it better be the best film of all time because if it’s not star-driven, you have wasted everyone’s time and money.
Don’t make films about Hollywood. I know a lot of producers, writers, etc. tell aspiring filmmakers to write about what they know. Don’t make films about trying to make it in the business. Outside of Hollywood most people don’t care. Write and film the other parts of your life.