The slick, fast-talking Hollywood agent is one of the most recognizable archetypes in all showbiz lore. Usually, these deal-making denizens of Century City’s glimmering glass skyscrapers are only depicted as representing actors, directors and the occasional hapless screenwriter.
But agents exist for below-the-line crew as well, and can be just as involved in the placement, packaging and career advancement of on-set laborers and tradespeople as their higher-profile coworkers.
A strong network of personal and professional contacts is still the best tool for crew members just beginning their career, but a good agent can be instrumental in moving more established below-the-line crew members into more prestigious and lucrative department head roles.
Shrewd career management for below-the-line crew members was the subject of Film Independent’s recent “Craft Your Career” event, held on April 26 at the Film Independent offices in Los Angeles and featuring insight and advice from super-agent Brian J. Goldberg, of the boutique (and below-the-line focused) agency WPA.
And while we’re not sure about “slick” (though he did have a pretty cool motorcycle jacket), Goldberg’s “fast-talking” credentials were undisputable, with the veteran rep offering a rapid-fire evening full advice on everything from creating the perfect reel, to networking, to the power of saying “no”—here’s some of what we learned:
NETWORKING IS KEY
Without hesitating, Goldberg told the audience: “the most important thing you guys can do right now is network. It’s a really small industry and you never know who you’re going to meet. Getting a job…it’s a game of musical chairs.”
It’s true: producers rarely have the time (nor the inclination) to source unfamiliar and/or untested crew members. The film world—particularly below-the-line—is a complex ecology of personal recommendations and referrals. Regardless of your specific craft or trade, getting your name and email added to the Rolodexes of up-and-coming filmmakers is critical.
“Meet as many directors as possible in the beginning,” said Goldberg, citing filmmaker Q&As, guild events, festivals and industry mixers as good environments for meeting potential collaborators. He also added, “In the beginning, you may need to work below your rate, or for free, to create relationships and establish credits.”
For aspiring DPs, Goldberg recommended music videos as a stepping-stone, giving the example “The Daniels” (aka Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinart), who rocketed to success on the strength of their YouTube clip for DJ Snake’s “Turn Down For What,” and who recently won a directing prize at Sundance for their feature Swiss Army Man.
Goldberg noted the importance of working on projects with name talent, regardless of the scale of production, noting that “webseries is no longer a dirty word. A lot of great talent [is] heading to the web.”
“People want to work with people they like,” said Goldberg, plainly. “Offer to help in whatever capacity necessary,” he added.
THE ART OF THE REEL
A well-cut, high-quality reel can be a DP or Editor’s best friend. These examples of prior work can build your reputation, get you in the room and help you land the job. Conversely, a bad reel can make you seem unprofessional—or worse yet, out of date. But aside from attaching your name to top tier footage in the first place putting together an effective reel isn’t rocket science.
“Be honest with your reels. Be honest with your credits. Be truthful about your resumes,” Goldberg cautioned. “These days with the Internet, it’s so easy to check, and [lying] is a good way to get blacklisted.”
Beyond simple honesty, Goldberg shared a few industry best practices: “Have your own website. Try to show famous faces. Make sure the people in your reel are alive. Dead celebrities will date you. Make sure to show different looks. Use cool music. Make sure your reel is in high definition.”
But Goldberg’s biggest piece of advice is to not cram too many disparate tones and textures into one rapid-fire montage. He advised creating separate reels tailored specifically to different kinds of work—commercial, narrative, documentary, etc. Sure it may be a bit more work at the outset, but if this hyper-targeted approach lands you better, more career-advancing work it’s worth it, right?
“It’s easy to send a reel,” said Goldberg, “but it’s hard to get someone to watch it. People are going to want to see famous people in your reel.”
MEETINGS ARE ABOUT SELLING YOURSELF
“I want to give my clients as much homework as possible,” said Goldberg, stressing prep when meeting with the directors and line producers. “It’s really important to have that face-to-face meeting,” he went on, adding: “show up early and be ready.”
He offered more tips for making a lasting and positive impression—like bringing a look book to familiarize yourself with your potential employers’ names and faces. He also noted that it was important to have your reel saved on your laptop or iPad.
“There’s nothing worse [in a meeting] than fumbling around, trying to pull up a link,” Goldberg observed.
Goldberg also noted that while small talk is an important social lubricant (as well as a critical part of establishing commonalities), it was important not to let it dominate the meeting. “When you’re in a room, you have limited time,” he said, cautioning the audience not to be distracted from the task at hand—namely, to sell yourself, your talents and your ability to make their project a success.