This past Wednesday, November 9, The Independent Filmmakers Collation of Kansas City and Women In Film – KC, flew me back to my hometown to hold a lecture on the “How An Independent Filmmaker Can Successfully Navigate The Distribution Process.” The surprisingly well-attended event (surprising because I’m always amazed when more than three people attend to hear me speak) was held at a theatre built into the basement of a coffeehouse, in one of the hippest parts of Kansas City – Westport.

Strategically nestled into a pair of thermals and a new sweater to combat my always-cold California body from the bitter cold Kansas City nights, (although the days were quite nice) I armed myself with a Dr. Pepper as I prepared to guide the audience into the darkness that is the reality of the distribution business.

After being introduced by Bobby Thompson, an old friend who was instrumental in orchestrating the event, (thanks, Bobby) I proceeded to spew out some “distributor insights” that all filmmakers should hear. Industry truths like, “the fate of most independent films are decided before the film is actually made,” or “currently, independent film stars are financially worthless when it comes financing or pre-selling your film.” Then, about halfway through my talk, somebody asked me the question I get in every single talk I give outside of Los Angeles:

“How do I break-in to the (film) industry, while living in Kansas City?” I responded with “Honestly? You move to Los Angeles or New York, because you have to be on the playing field before you’ll be seen as a relevant player in the game.”

Naturally, my response triggered a few gasps, shifting in chairs and sighs. While the delivery of my response could have been have been less blunt, it certainly wasn’t untrue. Then, I went on to offer a few suggestions as to how to “get on that playing field” without moving to Los Angeles or New York.

Thus, today we’re going to explore things you can do to “break-in” from comfort of your hometown. But first, let me offer you the following disclaimer:

There is no substitute for living in Los Angeles or New York. Both cities offer more entertainment-based opportunities on one city block, than most other cities do in their entire city, country, or state.

Furthermore, the film schools in L.A. and NYC (UCLA, USC and NYU) are the “Ivy League” of all film schools, the crews are far more deeply experienced, and the distribution and production companies are led by multi-billion dollar studios. Hell, even the internships are light years more eye opening than 99.8% of all other film and TV internships worldwide. Thus, your best career move would be to actually move to either L.A. or New York.

However, if you’re not quite ready to flee the comforts of your less hectic, less expensive hometown quite yet, here are some things you can do to stay competitive while living outside of the two film Mecca’s of Los Angeles and New York City.

Change Your Phone Number
Probably the easiest way to change your perception of being an “outsider,” is to change your phone number to a Los Angeles or New York City area code. This is especially important if you’re sending your resume out for a job or a film crew position, because being perceived as a local will severely increase your chances of getting considered for the job. Simply put, “locals” and perceived to already be aware of the “industry rules of engagement,” while outsiders have the perception of having to be taught everything. Even if you need to be taught everything, it’s better to have the perception that you don’t.

The main area codes in Los Angeles are 310, 424, 323, 213, 818 and 626. The lesser-known area codes include 805, 949, 562, 559, 661, 909, 760, and 650, and I’m sure to be missing a few more. My point is, even if you are in Los Angeles, but have a “lesser known” area code, you’re still be deemed an outsider. Thus, actually living outside of L.A. or New York City will put you at a serious disadvantage to be taken seriously.

As for New York City, the main area codes are 212, 718, 917, 646, 347, and most recently, 929.

Side Note: Even if you utilize this tactic, you should still plan on moving to Hollywood or the Big Apple, because that’s where you need to be – at least until you establish yourself.

Get A Los Angeles Or New York City Mailing Address
For the same reasons as listed above, you have to appear to be on the playing field to be invited to play the game. Since most post office box services offer actual street addresses without having a P.O. Box in the address, appearing to be in Los Angeles or New York is far easier than you think. Thus, you should set up a mailing address in either Los Angeles or New York, and then have the service mail you your mail weekly.

Side Note: This step is merely a formality, since most correspondence occurs through e-mail.

Be Aware Of Happenings In The City You Supposedly Live In
This move is simple. All you have to do is read the Los Angeles Times or New York Times Daily online. Doing so will not only give you insight on current events, but it will also start conditioning you to what living in these cities is like.

Side Note: Like good sex, the “real thing” is far better than reading about it, so this step should be a step toward moving!

Read The Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter Daily
The Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter is collectively known as the “Bible” of the motion picture and television industries. Every deal, trend, conflict, discussion, upcoming release, marketing trend, and major review is inked in these two publications, so you’ll never be far from either coast as long as you read these “trade” magazines.

Furthermore, you’ll also learn some Hollywood lingo, like “helmer” (director)  “penned by” (written by) and “ten percenter” (agent). Since part of your battle is to know the language of the industry, reading the trades is a vital move.

The Hollywood Reporter cost $199 for a year of print and online, or $99 per year for an online only subscription. Here’s the link.

The Daily Variety offers 50 “Weekly Variety” magazines + 252 Daily Variety magazines + one year of online access to Variety.com, all for $329. Here’s the link.

While you don’t have to subscribe to both trade magazines, you really should become a regular reader to at least one of them.

Additionally, if you are a student, you should ask about educational rates. Lastly, if you just can’t afford a subscription, call your local library and ask if they carry either publication.

Attend Major Festivals Like Cannes and Sundance
Even if you don’t have a film playing in the above listed gems, attending these festivals is a great way to make contacts.

Cannes would be the best (and hardest) to attend, because a) It’s a closed festival where your credits/industry experience has to be approved before they give you the opportunity to buy a pass to the festival, b) it sits on the sand of the Mediterranean Sea in the South of France during mid to late May, so everyone you’ll meet will be in a generally good mood and c) getting to Cannes and staying there is ridiculously expensive, so only those serious about their careers attend. Simply put, you’ll meet more “important people” in Cannes in 10 days, than you will in Los Angeles or New York in 10 months, because they’ll be accessible as they bask in the sun.

Sundance would be easier to attend, because a) it’s in the USA, b) tickets are available to the general public and c) most of the “meet and greet” activity is concentrated on one street; Main Street in Park City, Utah.

Either way, attending the events where a high concentration of relevant film professionals converge at, is a great career move.

Okay, everyone; that’s what I have for you today. I thank you once more for lending me your eyes, and I look forward to borrowing them again next Tuesday.

As always, I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal.

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  1. Bwakathatboom says:

    It’s worth mentioning that you’re talking about breaking into the “Hollywood” film industry. If someone is looking to have an agent, take meetings and be assigned the latest video game or comic book adaptation for a $10 million dollar paycheck (a perfectly noble goal) then, yes, Hollywood is the only place to be.

    If your goal is to earn a decent living making films, you can do that anywhere. There’s an entire planet of professional filmmakers who have never set foot in Hollywood.

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