Take heed young, aspiring filmmakers and producers: if you’re not paying careful attention to good advice, someone else is, and they’ll be the ones ahead of you.
That was one of the words of wisdom given in a panel discussion at TheWrap’s latest in a series of Breaking Into the Business LIVE events. Wednesday night’s panel was held at the University for Creative Careers, or SCAD Atlanta, the first of such events held outside of LA.
Mark Canton and Tucker Tooley, two producers on the Gerard Butler heist film “Den of Thieves” filming now in Atlanta, took time out of their evening to tell college-aged students about the value of mentors, honesty and respect in the entertainment industry.
“You really have to be dedicated and have no arrogance,” Canton told TheWrap CEO Sharon Waxman. “Leave whatever concept about your own greatness at home, and just put yourself into where you want to get to and make it happen.”
Tooley got his start working at WME, and he recalls a day when Canton, then the chairman of Sony’s Columbia Pictures, called the office and everyone went into a panic. Tooley was smart to view Canton as one of his mentors; he was paying attention.
“The cream rises. You can recognize talented people and smart people and those who have walked a path you haven’t walked,” Tooley said. “A mentor doesn’t have to be close to you. It can be someone you watch from afar but pay close attention.”
“I lived off ramen until I was 34. I’m only here because I’ve had the best mentors in this business,” said another panelist Meagan Lewis, a casting director who has worked on “True Detective” and “The Wire.” Lewis explained that by embracing mentors and understanding how the whole industry operates, she’s slowly but surely come to trust her instincts.
“I don’t think I was good at my job until at least 5 years ago when it clicked for me and I felt confident in a room,” Lewis said. “I’ve tried leaving the business 3 separate times. My largest sabbatical lasted 6 months, and I said ‘I’m going to work at Bank of America, I’m going to get holidays off, I’m going to get benefits and health insurance, this is going to be great!’ But if this is where your passion lies, you don’t have another option.”
Canton and Lewis both agreed it’s about earning a little and learning a lot. When you’re young, you don’t have all the answers. You’re supposed to be learning and gaining experience from your failures.
“The answer is never ‘I don’t know,’ it’s ‘I’ll find out,'” Lewis said.
In a question and answer session at the end of the panel, one young actor asked how he could take better control of his career. Surprisingly, the panel didn’t suggest he move to LA, but instead talked up the value of remaining in a smaller market like Atlanta. The industry has changed, and the ability to book multiple auditions a week in a smaller market versus just one on the coasts is a good way to get your reps.
But for as much as the industry has changed, Canton still says you need people in your corner who will challenge, contest and be critical of your abilities.
“The one thing that will never change, you need a team. It’s a team sport,” Canton said. “I don’t care if you’re Marty Scorsese or Steven Spielberg or especially them, you need teammates. Nobody can do it alone and be successful. You can educate yourself, but from a functioning stand point, it’s a true team sport that we all do.”
Tooley says “producing” is a verb; you actually have to get out and do it. It’s been on the job that he’s learned the most in his career.
“Having situations that you can’t conceive of in your head, that you can’t think of in advance and react to them in real time, and learn from your mistakes, frankly, and from the things you do right, those are the most valuable lessons that you’ll ever learn,” Tooley said. “There’s no rulebook. There’s no set way to do it. You just have to find things you’re passionate about and never give up on them.”