May 27, 2020

Do You Need a Mentor to Succeed as a Writer in Hollywood?

Do you need a mentor to succeed in Hollywood? Let's learn from experience. 

I moved from the Philadelphia suburbs to Hollywood in the summer of 2012. Almost exactly 8 years ago. I lived on a friend's couch, got a job as a runner, graduated to becoming an assistant, story editor, sold a script, and I've been doing some form of professional writing ever since. 

Along the way, I've had many mentors. Some good, some bad. A few let me down. I let a couple of others down myself, and the rest have stayed. 

The best ones have been stalwarts in my time of need. 

Helping me learn how to pitch. Reading my material, even collaborating at times. 

But 8 years into Hollywood, an appearance on The Black List, and with one feature film made, and I started to think about the idea of mentoring. While I try to use this blog to give my bossy opinions on everything Hollywood and screenwriting, I wanted to expand our purview.  

I threw a question out into the TwittersphereDo mentors matter, and how do you get them? 

I got a handful of nice replies. 

So then I started calling and polling friends. I promised to leave names off the record and let people speak freely. 

Today, I want to dig into the idea of mentors, mentorship, and what to look for in a mentor themselves. 

Let's get started. 

Do I Need a Mentor to Succeed in Hollywood? 

I was so scared when I landed at LAX in 2012. Everything I owned was jammed into 3 suitcases. I had a wallet full of cash from selling my car, and I knew that best-case scenario, I could make it to January if I didn't find stable work. That was 6 months away. 

The clock was ticking. 

But I had a dream that I was going to become a writer. 

And not just any writer. Like one of the writers people love and respect. 

A great writer. 

As I sit on my back-support cushion on a chair on my deck typing this...I think I have a long way to go. 

I'm not sure I need a mentor to succeed, but I do think it would make my life a lot easier. 

Let's dig into the details. 

Navigating Hollywood 

Hollywood is a tricky place to navigate. While there are many varied breaking-in stories, most of my friends who I know that have "made it" are people that got a leg up from a mentor, someone in the same field as them who saw their talent and wanted to elevate it. 

But those people are so hard to find. 

Hollywood is fickle. 

You'll meet people bitter at someone else's instant success, angry that the next generation has it easier, or just someone boxing you out because they're afraid you'll take their job. 

This is a cutthroat business. I always believed that. 

But knowing what I know now...I should have been way more scared landing at LAX. 

Mentors Matter  

A mentor is someone who has seen it all, handled it in good and bad ways, and wants to share their wisdom with you. They have the map to avoid certain pitfalls that ensnared them, and they can lend an ear when you have a problem that is outside your area of expertise. 

They usually have friends in high places, so when it comes time to get staffed or to score an OWA, they can champion you behind the scenes to make it happen. 

But mentors are not required to do this much. 

The onus is not on them. 

The idea is, if you do the work and excel, they'll give you that extra push over the top. 

Bad Mentors

Unfortunately, many mentors come out of work relationships. Sometimes you start as an assistant and work your way up. But this can be really tough. One problem I've found is those people never see you in any other capacity except beneath them. 

Even after you move on to different jobs or rise in the industry. 

This makes having a career and upward trajectory tricky. 

Another bad mentor is the creep. The person who uses mentorship as a guise to take something they want from you. Whether that be material, connections, sex, or anything else nefarious. 

That's why it's so important to do your homework when meeting with someone you want to mentor you. 

Ask around town, try to figure out their representation. 

See if you can contact their old assistants. 

Where to find a mentor 

As I mentioned above, the best place to find a mentor is to get a job in the field you want. If you want to be a TV writer, starting out as a writer's PA...it's a great place to meet people who might see a little bit of themself in you. 

You can also reach out to places like LinkedIn or even Twitter. You never want to ask them to read you or be bullish. Sometimes it's just asking to buy them a cup of coffee or for a quick phone call for advice. 

Some contests for directing and writing offer mentorships like the Sundance Labs.

You should also look through your school's alumni page. See if anyone can connect you to already successful people living the life you've dreamed about. 

There are also lots of conservatories set up within Hollywood to help certain groups. Women in Film is an excellent place for women to seek safe and helpful mentorship. They teamed up with The Hollywood Reporter to track mentors and mentees and showed incredible results. 

Time's Up launched an incredible Diversity Mentorship a few years ago to help people get connected. 

And a quick Google allowed me to find something for Australians in Film who are seeking mentorships. 

Still, I think the best way to find these people is to work alongside them and show them how much effort you put in. 

Then suss out their character. 

Sum it up

Mentorship is certainly important in the Hollywood landscape. You need to be read and you need your material to be put in front of people who can pay you to do the work. Building a career is not about one sale, it's about a sustained period of working. 

That's one thing I have struggled with in my 8 years here. 

Sustaining the business. 

And it's one lesson I seem to learn over and over again. 

Although I've gotten much better at socking away money for a rainy day. 

At the end of the day, it's easy to blame the lack of success or struggles with sustained success on having bed mentors or not having mentors at all. But the truth lies closer to home than you might not want to realize. 

While a great mentor makes things a lot easier, an okay one or no mentor at all will not have that huge of an effect on you. 

It's still on you to own the things you did wrong, to produce not just good but great material, and to do all the work involved with fostering your success. 

The bottom line is that it's not just about the mentor, but also about the mentee. 

If you're willing to put in the hours and to do the work, the sky is the limit for you no matter what. 

Mentors are amazing and can solve a lot of problems, but the only way I think I have stuck around here so long is by making mistakes, falling hard, and having the fortitude to get back up again. 

It's been 8 years and I hope the next 8 get a little easier from all the lessons I've learned. 

I promise to share as many as I can here because some of those hiccups really sting. 

All I ask is that you pay it forward, too. 

Sometimes it's a lot better to not worry about finding a mentor and to just be the mentor you wish you had.

As always, if you have questions, comments, or concerns, put them in the section below. 

And get back to writing.      

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1 Comment

Completely agree with you here. For the most part, the best mentors are people you have worked under who has given you guidance (and a little bit of friendship). But the truth is, a mentor usually kinda has to WANT to help people. I know a lot of talented people who just don't care or are "too busy" to sit down and chat.

In reality, people who were MENTEES...make great MENTORS.

May 28, 2020 at 6:11PM

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Kevin
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