Long road
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The myth of overnight success

by Jenny Yerrick Martin

After 20+ years in the mainstream entertainment industry, most of it as a hiring executive, and 5 years as the writer of an entertainment career website, Your Industry Insider, I released a book called Breaking Into the Biz: The Insider’s Guide to Launching an Entertainment Industry Career. Recently, I have been revisiting that book in preparation for a live event we’re producing called Los Angeles Entertainment Industry Orientation.

Below is an excerpt of one of my favorite chapters, which contains some guidance for the long road ahead.

“The myth of overnight success”

When I was in my mid-twenties, an American Film Institute Writing Program graduate told me that the students are told that it will take an average of ten years for them to break into writing professionally for film and TV, to get their first paid writing gig or first script sale.

That seemed like an incredibly long period of time then, and I dismissed the advice as something a school would tell you if it wanted to temper your expectations. But having interviewed many writers for YourIndustryInsider.com and knowing many personally and professionally, I can now say that it’s a fairly accurate estimate.

This applies to anyone who has big entertainment aspirations – screenwriters, songwriters, TV writers, actors, musicians, singers, directors, producers in all fields – positions that for the most part have no “ladder” (progression of positions leading to the top) and require a great deal of hard work and a little luck, or a lot of it, to succeed.

I know this might seem like a splash of cold water on all your dreams of “making it” and you will be tempted to skip reading this, but don’t. The aim here is not to dissuade you from pursuing your dreams, but to prepare you to survive the long haul and know what you’re likely to encounter along the way. The old saying “Ignorance is bliss” may be catchy, but ignorance doesn’t set you up to survive the lean years, which will no doubt involve perseverance, recovery from setbacks, course correction, and lots and lots of “no”s before and between significant “yes”es.

Here are some strategies, actions, and words-to-the-wise to help you on your path:

You will have to put yourself out there.

Though you might want to wait until you are “ready” to start networking (by whatever definition you have of “ready”), it’s best to get out there while you are honing your craft and developing samples of your work. Start connecting with your peers and with people further along their professional path; any of them could be a career ally at some point.

You may have a day job you hate.

Instead of focusing on the hatred, try to find something to like about the job. And if all else fails, focus on what it gives you, which is the means and the time to pursue what you ultimately want to do until you can make a living at it. Note: If the hated job doesn’t allow you to pursue what you ultimately want to do, it’s time to move on.

You will hear “no” a lot in one form or another.

If you are an actor or musician, you will sometimes hear it to your face. TV producer Deb Spera (Finding Carter, Criminal Minds, Army Wives) says you should rejoice in the “no”s you get, that each “no” gets you that much closer to a “yes.” That’s easy to say when you are on her side of success, right? But you should appreciate that no successful person has ever gotten where he or she is in the biz by avoiding “no.” And understand that Spera still hears “no” regularly, even at her level. The “no”s don’t stop when you start making a living at your dream job. There are just more “yes”es mixed in.

You will have to take feedback from people of questionable taste, and some of that feedback will be total bullshit.

You heard me. Total bullshit. Here’s the thing you probably already know: Everyone thinks he or she is an expert when it comes to entertainment. Even established and very successful entertainment pros have friends and extended family who call them up regularly to suggest some way they could do whatever it is they do better.

You will have to deal with your loved ones growing impatient.

Family members and friends who aren’t in the business will have the impression that the leap from declaring your goal and achieving it is relatively short. Whether you are six months out of college or eight years out, these people will want to know when they’ll see you (or your “written by” or “directed by” credit) on screen, when they’ll hear you on the radio, when they can visit your windowed office on the studio lot. You may or may not want to engage in a detailed conversation about your progress. If you don’t, just smile and say, “Soon… soon,” and go get another serving of Thanksgiving turkey.

You will wonder if you will ever make it.

You can really stress yourself out with this one. There will be a lot of uncertainty in the time between when you set a goal and when you reach it. Try to enjoy the process – and your life – while you do the work that will get you where you want to go professionally.

You may not meet your original goal.

It’s true. Watch someone get voted out of one of those talent contest TV shows and you will see. Not everyone can win the prize. Here’s the truth behind that one: In “not making it,” there is no abyss. You will not know what shape your life will take ten years down the line, what failures will end up being blessings, what seeming failures will turn into successes. But know that there is good stuff to be had in the future, whether it looks like your original vision or not.

I hope you will use what you have learned here for your journey. And if you want to get more guidance from me, from other experts on various aspects of making it in the entertainment industry in any position, and from very successful entertainment professionals, please join us on October 11 for the Los Angeles Entertainment Industry Orientation.

Jenny Yerrick Martin

About Jenny Yerrick Martin

Jenny Yerrick Martin is an executive at a studio-based film production company. She is also the creator/writer of YourIndustryInsider.com, which provides profiles of successful industry professionals, career advice, and other information on getting in, moving up, and making it in the industry. She is the author of the book, "Breaking Into the Biz: The Insider's Guide to Launching an Entertainment Industry Career". Follow on Twitter @showbizinfo

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