I once heard a quote, "You are what you practice most." I forgot who and where I heard it but it stays with me constantly.
When I first moved to LA in 2008, my first job was on NBC's The Office. I was friends with the Assistant Director and she brought me on as a Production Assistant. Since then I've worked on many different shows, scripted and reality, and the main thing that seems to stay consistent for the scripted gigs (TV and film) is that the lower you are on the totem pole, the further away you are from the camera. If you've ever been onset for something scripted you've probably seen PA's either wrangling extras, cleaning up, dealing with food/catering, or locking up the set. It's very rare that one would be hovering around the director and/or cameras.
So being friends with the AD worked wonders when I worked on The Office. She'd pull me from regular PA duties to introduce me to all the cast and crew, and leave me to shadow the director. It was one of the best learning opportunities I've ever had and I asked as much questions that I could. By the end of the season, I was on a first name basis with the directors, writers, and one of the producers.
One of the first questions that I had for them, of course, was the question that many of us have wondered as a newbie: "How do I make it? How do I become an actor/writer/director/etc?"
My career is still very young and still have a lot to learn and accomplish, however, after being here for only four years, I've come to see how weird and somewhat oblivious that question is. First of all, "making it" is completely different to everyone. Some people do it for pure love and find satisfaction just being onset and in the environment, some just want to be able to work full time, and some just want to be rich and famous, which I think is the worst reason given that you're not gonna be rich or famous for a long time, if at all. Second of all, it's a question that's assuming that this industry is like most industries and that there's a set path to achieve the success you're looking for, which is the farthest thing from reality.
The entertainment industry is very unique. When you graduate med school, you're a doctor; graduate law school, you're a lawyer, graduate engineering school, you're an engineer; but when you graduate from film/drama school(or mostly anything in the arts), you have no title and in most cases you're a waiter. Asking that question just showed how little I knew about how the business worked in thinking it was remotely similar to the others. It's nothing like "How do I become a doctor/lawyer/etc." In this industry, one single person can't tell another person, "This is the right way to succeed". Everyone succeeds in different ways and there is no set path in this industry which renders that question practically obsolete.
I offer an analogy:
Imagine an overgrown jungle standing in between you and your goals. You standing at one side and "success" is on the other. If you want to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc, then your path is clear. Go to college, study this, study that, do this, do that and BAM, you graduate and you're out the other side of the jungle. You know exactly what you have to do and how long your journey will be and the path is practically paved.
But in the entertainment industry, there is no path. There is no one single way to get through. There are things that you could do to increase your chances and put you in a position for success and I'll cover those things in another post, but for the most part, all you can do is be persistent on your journey and keep chopping at those vines, making your own path until that glorious day you bust through. There's no way to know how thick the jungle is or how long you'll have to travel and that could be very intimidating. Many people, most of them close to you, will discourage you and tell you to take the paved path and pursue something more "realistic". Which makes no sense to me because WHATEVER career path you choose, you'll have to put in hard work and dedication so why waste all that energy on something you don't really want to do. What's the difference on whether or not you can see the path or not? The end of the jungle IS there, so call me crazy if I truly believe that as long as you keep going, YOU WILL EMERGE. This is NOT a lottery, it's a BUSINESS and if you pursue it from that perspective, work on your craft, be consistent, build a body of work, build your brand and market it intelligently, then there is no "if" you succeed, only a "when". Only you yourself will prevent success before this town does.
So when people ask me that question, I tend to tell them the same thing that those writers, directors, and actors all told me when I asked them: "Just do it." If you want to act, then act. If you want to direct, direct. If you want to write, write. If you want to dance, dance. The only thing that any two careers ever had in common is persistence. That and make sure you know your shit. Opportunity meets readiness and someone who's not in your industry shouldn't know more about your industry than you do. Yes, a lot of it is who you know but think of it this way: Who you know will get you on, but WHAT you know will determine how long you stay once you're there.