Saturday, June 09, 2007

Gaining Access

A few weeks ago over lunch, a forty-something friend from Seattle confided that she wondered if moving to LA would be the right choice for enhancing her acting career. Remarkably, two of her forty something friends moved to LA in the last couple of years and found immediate and continuing work as actresses. While we like to think of the Northwest as a great cauldron of independent film and music activity, realistically, the opportunities here are limited for paid work. She had moved here from Northern California hoping to be able to work in "socially meaningful" film projects, but to her great disappointment large numbers of those types of films are not being made here either.

In the film community, "socially meaningful" tends to means a production which has the potential to change the mind of the viewer to another position of thought. The classic documentary film from a balanced journalistic perspective, while still with us, now represents only a small fraction of the documentary genre. Now, documentary film with strong viewpoints is accepted, or, in some instances, scorned depending on your point of view. BJ Bullert in her book Public Television: Politics and the Battle over Documentary Film presented case studies from the 1970's and 80's where the then difficult topics such as AIDS could not get airtime, especially where a strong argument was made by the filmmaker on the most controversial side of the subject. Some argue now that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction.

With the literally thousands of films and other artistic endeavors promoting a perspective, how does a person gain the type of access that lands a major media slot? Arguably, there now may be an opening for a few created by You Tube and other internet sources, but the long and short of gaining access is still going to be getting out and doing. For a filmmaker that means actually making the rounds on the festival circuit, direct marketing to consumers, or the harder work of finding a distibutor. For an actress that will probably mean working in pieces that are not "socially meaningful" works of art. And, so on . . . .

Which brings us to the real question, how many of us do "socially meaningful" work in any profession all the time and on every project? And, do those who do have the opportunity to make a living? While the answer is undoubtedly yes for a few, careful scrutiny of the facts shows that most pros in the entertainment industry had to pay their dues on projects of lesser enlightenment. Many continue to do so even when their star quality is in high demand.

One of the perks of Celebrity is the opportunity for access. Angelina Jolie is but one example of a celebrity using her access for "socially meaningful" work. Bono is another. This also explains why sometimes an industry insider gets wide access for a project of questionable quality and gets to have their voice heard when others would not.

James Cameron's Lost Tomb of Jesus was just such a project. Much hyped, but slow and not scientifically sound (one prominent archaeologist called it Archaeo-Porn), this documentary presented a clearly defined anti-biblical perspective. The same cable network would never present a documentary coming from the opposite viewpoint with such sloppy scientific and production value. But, because James Cameron produced it, he was able to get access. Cameron's most notable directorial roles included all three Terminator movies and Aliens, and while these films arguably contain some social commentary, they hardly could be considered truly socially meaningful.

Artists and others get access to have their voice heard or point of view seen by doing. To do it may be necessary to go to where the opportunity to work exists. Or, alternatively to bring the work to where you are. North by Northwest in Spokane is an example of a local entertainment industry company that has been able to successfully bring meaningful film industry production work to Spokane, Washington. Pete Jackson was able to bring production home to New Zealand on a sizeable scale. But again, he did the hard work of both going where the gatekeepers of the work were located in Southern California and then convinced them to bring the production to where he was.

He did not accomplish this by putting up a You Tube video. Along with great skills in production, simple skills but oft times frightening phone calls, e-mails, and networking are what makes a difference for an artist. Couple that with a substantial portfolio of finished projects and start reaching out to people in your industry whatever that may be and you will be surprised how many established professionals and emerging professionals will respond. Being active and meeting people is one of the best ways to establish access and that can be done over the phone and through e-mail. It's old fashioned hard work, but worth it.