Whether you're working on animation, in film, or in television, the set is a magical place. It can feel like a holy destination, the place where dreams come alive. But what does it take to bring a film and television show to life? There are so many people working their collective butts off to make this stuff happen.
While at Comic-Con, I stopped past the "Set Secrets" panel to hear from directors, editors, composers, and others who provided insights on the process of developing and producing films and TV shows. The panel was made up of Ernesto Matamoros Cox and Lawrence Gan (editors of Arcane: League of Legends), Spencer Creaghan (composer on SurrealEstate), Jennifer Smith (music supervisor for Why Women Kill), and Doug Rockwell (who Zoom'd in briefly) and Tova Livtin (songwriters/composers, Julie and the Phantoms, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series). The whole thing was moderated by actor and content creator Chris Villain.
This was a really fun look at people whose jobs mostly go unnoticed in the mainstream, but who are the lifeblood of seeing series and stories come to life on any sized screen. The conversation ranged from breaking in, to breaking out, in their respective fields. If you watch any of their shows/movies, you know these are known to be visually stunning, tonally shifting, and genre-bending.
The conversation started out covering discovery. It's so important to embrace the unknown world. Learn about many different mediums and learn about the people you work with. Make bold choices, as well. No matter what project you're working on, think about how you can challenge tropes or expectations.
That doesn't just mean bold for the writing and directing, but go bold with the music too. They talk about adding opera into comedy, scoring monsters of the week with their own themes, and even pushing back against common science fiction computerized tropes by using string instruments.
This all ranges in the advice... but what are some really cool secrets people learned along the way? While I couldn't always catch who said what, I distilled down a lot of the secrets into general advice for you.
Secret Lessons from Brilliant Creators and Artists
1. No One Knows What They're Doing, but the Best People Are Learning Every Day
So many people are afraid of Hollywood because they think every professional is a genius, but what's actually happening is that most people are unsure of the exact thing to do. The best people are the ones who are embracing learning. They're picking up ideas and new techniques as they go, determined to get better and work smarter. Don't worry about what you do or do not know, worry about what you can learn.
2. When You First Start Out, Mimic People You Admire, Then Find Your Own Voice As You Go
Voice is so important. But it's okay to not know it starting out. Your voice will come to you as you leave mimicking behind and begin to embrace your own vision and expression in the world. Still, to learn, it's okay to mimic the greats and to blend in for a bit. Take your time figuring out who you are and why your ideas should be embraced.
3. Every Project Is a Collaboration and Should Be Seen That Way
One thing everyone stressed was finding a collective vision everyone agrees on. Knowing the goal of each project allows collaborators to maintain the same vision as rewrites, character changes, and story changes all come in. Things will always change, but if everyone understands the bigger vision, minor tweaks can only make things stronger. When you work together, the passion is contagious.
4. Be Okay Pivoting (Roll with Change)
During the pandemic, everything changed. People had set protocols, actors had to do lines in a different way, masks were mandatory—and all that is still happening. Things will change in the blink of an eye. Don't complain or resist (within reason). Embrace the change, and learn how to roll with it. No matter what you're working on, stuff will go wrong. Learning to be okay pivoting will make people hire you and want you around.
5. Don't Be Tough, Be Kind and Work Hard
Hollywood has a reputation for some people who are troublesome to work with... don't be one of them. Kindness and hard work will take you much further. Not only will it make people want to embrace you and your imagination, but it will also make you feel better and freer to rely on people when times get tough. Be kind and work hard, never phone it in. That's what gets people ahead.
6. Love your Work Deeply (Get Invested)
This sounds cheesy, but you gotta love what you do. Your love and passion can inspire others, but it can also keep you motivated during the long hours, rejections, and hard times. If you want to work in any of the behind-the-scenes jobs or even in front of the camera, you have to love the day-to-day.
These are all the secrets I learned. Let me know what you think in the comments.Check out more coverage from Comic-Con Special Edition, presented by Blackmagic.