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Mark Allen
Director , Screenwriter , Composer
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How To Start From Nothing - part 01

How To Start From Nothing - part 01

This is going to be focused on the arts, but could very well apply to worlds I don't know as well.  The premise is that if you look at the successful people in the arts - perhaps a majority started from meager beginnings, what is more important than money can be your approach.  Now, I'm not going to say that it wouldn't be nice to have a huge benefactor who just pays for your life and projects - but maybe not having one can build a little character and make you appreciate the end result.

In order to make this of a reasonable length, we are going to assume that you realy do have some raw and/or nurtured talent at your discipline and that all you need is a break.

This is what you can do.

1 - Know how your industry works.  Don't put it on a magical pedistal that is unacheivable.  People are doing it, if you have the talent, you can too.  Whatever job you want, there are people who are doing that job.  If you think it is just the most unachievable thing - it will be.  Sadly - many people who don't have the talent end up achieving this goal because they do not see any reason why they shouldn't while so many talented people who truly respect their art and unable to ever look at it as anything other than an unachievable dream.  

2 - Don't let money stop you from learning.  If you're reading this now, you at least have internet connections and right there alone you can learn a huge amount about your art.  The library is an amazing resource, use it.  There is just so much information "out there" now about everything.  Most people use not having money as an excuse to be lazy, unfortunately - you do have to work harder.

3 - Learn to  work more efficiently - not just harder.  I remember in my days of no money I ate a lot of soup because it was cheap.  I had this horrible old donated can opener I would use and it was so hard to open cans - yet, I needed to do this everyday.  One day many many years later I was at a friends house and I used their can opener and it was so easy to use - no struggle - no cutting myself from shards of metal - it just glided around the edge and pop - you were done  - the lid didn't even fall into the soup.  I marveled at this for so long that my friend asked me if I wanted to take the can opener home.  I didn't need to at that point, I could buy one and I did.  I couldn't believe how inexpensive they were.  The point and metaphor here being - sometimes you need the right tool.  For the things you do everyday or the things which will help you achieve your goal - get the right tool.  If you're a dancer, don't use shoes which will end up hurting your feet or body 'cause you can't afford ones that will not injure you.  You MUST not injure yourself, so you must have the right shoes.  They don't have to be the best shoes, but don't take your frugality to a point of digression.

3 - Break your goal into steps.  Most people see where they are and where they want to go, but they never think about mapping their way there.  Let's say you want to be a successful actor (you can apply all the same concepts to music or whatever you want).  This is what you'll need to address (other than working on your skills).

Step One: Self Awareness...

I'll give examples for a couple professions - but read them all as you might pick up an idea from them.

For Actors...

Evaluate your goal honestly.  Are you the gorgeous leading man/woman or are you the "friend" or the "neighbor" or the character actor or the lead for a more complex movie that isn't about looks and is all about being raw.   I can't tell you how many times I see actors trying to be things they can't be.  Equally, I see actors not being things they could be.  For example, try casting a 30 year old handsome man in Hollywood - you get bucket fulls of qualified headshots, the guys walk in and talk like their twelve years old.  They've not mastered their instrument.

Know who you are and commit.  Picking up from the last thought - if you ARE the leading man/woman type - BE it.  Make sure every aspect of your being is that exact character.  Casting directors want so badly for the perfect character to walk in that door.  But mostly it's a bunch of generic actors.  Most of the actors that I've watched succeed had this - I'm not sure any didn't.  Either they were talented and beautiful (and even a specific ethnicity in several cases which made them even more unique) OR they were a unique/unusual type of person who really committed to who they were and built their portofilio of characters around that.

Own who you are and be prepared for everything.  Know what works.

For Writer/Directors...

Know your genre.  The industry loves a specialist and, frankly, you're probably only really good at one thing.  There is one thing which makes you unique and and you should really own that.  Know every single movie that is like something you might make.

Know your weaknesses.  You WILL need to pitch your projects.  If you are someone who says "I'm not really "that" kind of writer."  You'd better become that kind of writer.  Enroll in an acting class.  Enroll in a sales class; hell, if that's your weakness, become a salesperson for a 2nd job - learn to sell your work..  Whatever your weakness - if it might stop you - address that vigorously.  But be aware of it

Step Two:  Get inside your industry.

I can't tell you how many people you'll meet in Hollywood who will talk about their industry aspirations and obviously have no idea how it works.  They don't know the nomenclature (that's right, translate that into Mandarin, ha!).  You can feel it when someone knows their industry - even if it isn't the arts - can't you tell when someone is talking talk and when someone is talking from experience?  Usually it's because they're not saying ridiculous unrealistic things.  Often artists are afraid of losing their individuality by learning the industry.  It makes no sense to me.  Knowledge is not poisonous, there is nothing it can do to harm you.  You can choose to use it or not - but if you chose ignorance over that option - guess what you'll get?

Now - you might even find that you can make money while doing this.  Yes, you're already making money in the industry then.  If you can't get a job in your industry - try to get an internship - but make sure if you're not getting paid, you at least are learning.  Lousy tasks do help you learn if you can find the lessons in them.  What your goal is is to "learn the talk."

Musicians usually think about practicing and then doing gigs.  When they finally make it, they sign a contract which makes them need 5 albums in order to ever see profit - they go bankrupt.  Perhaps if they'd learn their industry a little better, they could have had a longer career.  (By the way the book "Confessions of a Record Producer" by Anonymous is a very good book.  The industry is changing, but it's not a bad idea to know what has been the standard since the middle of the last century.)

If you are living in some remote nowhere land where there is no local cable station or sound studios or whatever - you have no connection to the industry - then this will have to be done via research - but since you're not getting to know anyone in your research, you'll need to compensate by getting to know people online.  Maybe AliveNotDead is a perfect location for that.

And with that.... I have to end part One and will pick up from here in my next blog at some point... and, yes, I'll be addressing more and more how to START from nothing.

over 16 years ago 0 likes  13 comments  0 shares
Your words are very inspiring! Couldn't agree more with what you have written!
over 16 years ago


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April 13, 2007