That's (a career in) entertainment

Those who have done it talk about what it takes to make it in music and the movies

Those who have done it talk about what it takes to make it in music and the movies

July 20, 2004|by Chris Copley

First off, let's get one thing straight. Making it big as a movie star or recording artist is like making it big in any career. The key is not what you know, it's who you know. Talent is important but will get you only so far.

The music biz

"This business is about relationships," said Kathy Chiavola, a singer-songwriter with a 20-plus-year career in Nashville, Tenn. "Talent is definitely secondary."

Chiavola ("kee-AH-voh-la") has developed a career covering several aspects of the music industry. She is a songwriter, a recording session vocalist, a performer and gives private singing lessons. She's also a teacher at Belmont University in Nashville.


George McClure, CEO and president of McClure & Trowbridge Publishing Ltd of Nashville, said a person needs the right personality qualities to make it big.

"You've got to have personality, unbelievable drive, persistence," McClure said. "You are going to hit failure after failure after failure. You have to be able to get back up on your feet and try again.

"But I said personality first. It's important. It's charisma and more than charisma. Lovabilility or hate-ability. People have to connect with an artist."

Know your stuff

But, of course, talent is important. It's the foot in the door.

"For anybody, they need to know how to play a musical instrument," McClure said. "Even if they're a singer, they need to know the fundamentals of music and play an instrument well enough that they can accompany themselves."

Chiavola said that to be a successful session musician - playing or singing background on recordings - you need fantastic musical ability. But to be a singing star, to get a major record deal in Nashville, a singer has to follow Billy Joel's advice from his song "It's Still Rock 'n' Roll to Me": "All you need are looks and a whole lotta money."

"Looks come first," Chiavola said. "And you're going to have to have a lot of money behind you - private investors. The next thing is to have a personal relationship with someone in a record studio."

"But it's not an all-or-nothing business, like you make it to the top or else," she said. "There's a huge middle ground. You can have a successful business and not be at the top."

The movie biz

Being a movie or TV star looks like fun, but it takes hard work, according to Myrl Schreibman.

Schreibman has been around the entertainment industry since the mid-1960s. He produced TV shows, won a Tony Award for "The Ice Show" on Broadway, produced the movie "The Girl the Gold Watch and Everything," and has produced concert tours for Tony Bennett and Earth, Wind and Fire.

Schreibman spoke by phone from Los Angeles, where he is director for the arts camp of University of California at Los Angeles. He said acting classes such as UCLA's are a good place to start an acting career.

"With acting, you're bringing a character to life," he said. "Acting for the camera is a more intimate form of acting than acting on stage. There's no magic wand you wave - it's a lot of hard work. The camera doesn't lie."

Start working at home

An acting career doesn't have to start in Los Angeles or New York, according to Brian Bullock, whose Bullock Agency represents actors in Washington, D.C.

"Get started somewhere, usually through community theater," he said. "It's a great training ground for actors. If a kid comes to me and says he wants to be a film actor, I tell him to start out in the theater."

Bullock said actors can make a living doing films in Washington. The area is one of the largest markets for "industrial" films - training films or informational films. And there are feature films shot in the nation's capital from time to time.

A new avenue for actors is the Internet, Bullock said.

"I can only see that getting bigger. It opens up a lot of opportunities for actors," he said. "There are films that are being filmed and shot specifically for the Internet. One I saw was an ad for BMW, but it was really a short film - five or six minutes. It was good."

At first, Bullock said, actors must audition and scrounge for work by themselves. But once an actor has a track record, it's time to look for an agent.

"When you meet with an agent, bring a professional headshot, a rsum," he said. "You expect the agent will get you work. But it's a 50-50 relationship. You have to show that you can make money as an actor. If the agent gets you an audition with someone like (director Steven) Spielberg, you've got to do a good job."

Agents work their list of casting directors. They look for a chance to get auditions for their actors. Sometimes an actor will get a script in advance and be able to prepare for an audition. Other times, the actor will read it "cold," not ever having seen it before.

"Most actors like cold reads, believe it or not. Expectations may be lower," Bullock said. "You have five minutes to look at the script and then there's a reader to read with you. They always say 'Nice job' at the end."

Follow your star

McClure's advice for would-be music stars is good for stars of all sorts: Don't give up.

"The really valuable skills are networking and persistence, but don't be afraid to think big," he said. "Follow your heart and follow your dreams, maybe a hundred people will say no to you, but if you listen to your heart, you will find work doing what you love."

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