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Hollywood is a strategy game. Learn how to play it.

Peter Ritchie has been the Executive Director of LA-based Australians in Film since 2015, and knows what does and doesn’t work in the City of Angels.

Peter RitchiePeter Ritchie

The screen industry has never been more global. The days of having to choose between an Australian career and working overseas are over. The hunger for content is opening doors for people who can deliver amazing stories, no matter where they come from.

Nevertheless, Hollywood remains the epicenter of the English-speaking screen market. It is tough doing business in an intensely competitive environment, and even tougher if you’re diving in and out whilst maintaining your career in Australia. But you can land on your feet if you're mindful, plan ahead and learn from the mistakes of others.

1. Have a multi-year plan

Having a plan with goals is important to any screen career. The industry is transactional, so you need to know what you want, otherwise your career will be taken over by someone else’s agenda.  Your decisions on which projects to take (or not take) need to be well thought out.

Think about how your choices look from a career perspective. Control the narrative. Have a three to five year plan on what you want to achieve. Set short-term and longer-term goals. Create a plan based on those goals. Be prepared to say no to short-term gains for longer-term outcomes.

In terms of the USA, be very deliberate about why LA is featured in your plan.

2. Get financed

Getting your project off the ground or landing your first job is not going to happen overnight. Make sure you are fully financed to cover flights, living expenses, for both Australia and the US, and visa costs, as you follow your dream.

Some people never move to LA, and instead make frequent trips here, so you need to be able to get on a plane, get over the jetlag and do meetings the same morning you land. Coming to LA frequently is important if you want to do business here.

Make sure you have a budget, have an income source in Australia that is steady and an employer, customers or clients that are flexible with your hours and that your overheads remain low in both countries.

3. Do your homework

Some Australians think their work in Australia will get them in the door or that their easygoing charm will help them. That iconic Aussie style helps but even if some of your work is recognised here, it won't be enough when competing for work opportunities in the US market.

The first, most practical thing to do is research the industry and the city. LA is vast. The industry is massive. There are plenty of opportunities, so once you get in the door for a general meeting be on time and well-versed with the company you’re meeting with.

Be up to date on the latest industry news, executive moves and project announcements. Read the trades religiously: Deadline, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Indie Wire, The Wrap and also Inside Film from Australia. It is a global industry. Information is currency. General meetings are a two-way trade of information. An email asking to “pick your brain” for information isn’t going to do it. Bring your A-game to the table.

Remember your American counterparts, who are competing with you for face-to-face time, are exceptional presenters. Learn to talk-the-talk. Identify key people and companies you want to meet and research them. Create a database of contacts and leads you may already have. Make that the basis of your plan.

4. Sell, sell, sell

Hollywood is interested in new and exciting screen talent irrespective of its origin. In the age of streaming television, the business has become more global in its outlook and its approach to storytelling. There is now a ferocious thirst for content.

Have a strong sense of who you are as a writer, director, producer or actor. Have a solid elevator pitch so people can understand who you are and how they can help support you in achieving your career ambitions. Be clear and concise. Have an emotional connection to the project.  This will make you stand out.

For general meetings, have an agenda in your mind. What do you want to achieve? How you want to present yourself? Take comprehensive notes after the meeting and send a follow-up email. Where possible maintain business relationships on a simmering heat. It takes a lot of energy and focus but it is imperative.

If you are a writer, director or producer, have a slate of projects developed to a point where you are comfortable sending them out or at least talking about them in a succinct and effective way. If you are an actor do the appropriate training, work on your craft and tools and be engaged in the process.

Whether you are working in Melbourne or Milwaukee, you are working in a bubble, so when you get to LA you need to sound as if you are connected as much as possible to the industry and to your idea. You need to be able to talk to it, and defend it when challenged.

5. Find your community and get connected

LA is an energetic industry town that is run on ideas, passion and storytelling. But it can be a bit of a rabbit warren to navigate. There are a lot of ‘smoke and mirrors’ and dead ends that can easily trip up a newcomer.

If you plan on doing a stint in the city, find your tribe. Find like-minded creatives, colleagues and friends who will become your champions and supporters.

Your friends will be good at helping you decipher the Hollywood-coded language. This is where Australians in Film can support you. We offer screenings and industry events to help you sharpen your networking skills, create support networks and build friendships.

Keep your sense of humour, and above all else, believe in yourself. Never let that self-belief waver.

Screen Australia runs the Talent USA program for Australian creators to connect with both the LA and New York industries. Subscribe to our newsletter to be notified of when applications open. Talent USA: NYC applications close 29 November 2019.

Talent USA: LA 2017 contingent at Australians in FilmTalent USA: LA 2017 contingent at Australians in Film

Further Reading