I’ve noticed no matter how close you are to someone in LA, they seem to stab you in the back. I feel like I give them my all, and never want to ask them for “help,” and they end up screwing you over.
I know some people in the industry… and the lifelong question of when to ask someone to read your work, or help you out comes to mind. I am very shy about when to ask, and never want them to think I am “using them.” But, it seems like if you don’t go out every night, and drink and party with them, they lose sight of who you are. Some pull the Kevin Williamson, and you will be introduced to them 100 times, and they still cannot remember your name…
How do you know when to ask for help, or a reference, or both, or even a foot in the door? If you don’t party with them every night is that going to hurt my chances in the long run? And when should you ask?
I don’t want to come off as a user, but it seems like everyone else is. Do I need to sink down to that level to succeed?
I know there is such thing as a missed opportunity….but..?
Thanks in advance,
What’s not clear from your question — if it really is a question, rather than an extended harrumph — is exactly how people are using you and/or stabbing you in the back. Let’s look at some scenarios.
Are you reading their scripts, offering helpful notes, while they can’t be bothered to do the same for you?
Are they repeating your ideas as their own?
Are they talking behind your back? Stealing your beer? Making love to your girlfriend?
Are you helping them move, without receiving reciprocal futon-hauling?
All of these are clear offenses. But my hunch is that nothing so egregious is actually occurring. You’re just finding it difficult to make headway personally or professionally. So you wonder: Is this indicative of the Hollywood culture, or specific to you?
Let’s divide it into more distinct questions.
Does the entertainment industry, and Los Angeles in general, tend to generate a lot of shallow friendships?
In my experience, yes. You end up knowing a lot of people, but not knowing them very well. The boundaries between “someone you know” and “friend” are indistinct. People flake out on you more, offering only half-hearted rsvps (“I’ll try to make it.”) or after-the-fact explanations-cum-apologies (“Traffic was insane.”) Keep in mind that you work in an industry in which people genuinely don’t know when they’ll be permitted to go home. An assistant working at a busy agent’s desk might be there until midnight.
Can you form real friendships in the industry? Absolutely. One of my best friends is the woman who was hired to replace me when I left my last assistant job. I got to know her through the hundred follow-up phone calls asking where a certain file was, or how to handle Crazy Person #32. But you don’t form real friendships when you approach people with the worry that they may stab you in the back.
Here’s the thing to remember: Friends are for your personal happiness. Colleagues are part of your career. You may go to drinks with both, but don’t confuse them.
When do you ask a colleague for help, or a reference, or both, or even a foot in the door?
At whatever moment you think there’s a pretty good chance they would help you. And a lot of that depends on your level of chutzpah. Some of the most successful people in the industry are the most shameless about asking people for things. Brett Ratner wrote to Spielberg, who sent him a check. Does Spielberg feel “used?” Pretty unlikely.
I was never that ballsy, but I did a good job keeping up with my peers, helping them whenever I could. When it came time to move to a larger agency, I asked their opinions and got them to call on my behalf. I’ll call a writer I’ve met once to ask about a project, or an executive, or director with a questionable reputation. That’s how it works.
And don’t assume you have nothing to offer someone who has more experience in the industry. When I have coffee with younger writers, I’m asking them as many questions as they ask me.
How do you ask for help?
By doing so directly, while giving the person an out.
“I’m applying for a reader job at New Regency. You said you know Ethan Someguy. Would you feel comfortable calling him on my behalf?”
“I wrote a short that I want to shoot next month, and I’d really like your feedback if you’d be willing to look at it.”
You then follow up nicely.
“Just wanted to check whether you were able to connect with Ethan Someguy.”
“I wanted to see if you’d had a chance to read my short.”
Is it just me?
No, Anon, it’s not. At many points in my career I’ve wanted to throw someone through a wall. But the situation you’re describing seems at least partly attributable to your attitude.
You’re not in the happiest place right now, which could be situational or could be a bigger deal. Disappointment is not depression. But if your overall mood is consistently needling downward, getting the advice of an actual psychology professional would seem to be in order. All the career advice in the world isn’t going to make you happy if larger obstacles stand in the way.