Playing the Hollywood Game

Gordon FiremarkMy friend, Gordon Firemark, is a west coast entertainment attorney, specializing if visual medial. I am both honored and pleased that Gordon is the first guest blogger at Solo Entertainment Lawyer. Following is Gordon’s post, “Playing the Hollywood game”.

I first got interested in the entertainment industry when I was about 12. In Middle school.

I’d started hanging out with a group of kids that were always getting into one kind of trouble or another. For some reason, the school principal spotted me and asked me to run the lights and sound for the school’s annual variety show. This was all it took to divert me and set me on the path that’s led to where I am today.

Through school, I did the sound for the school shows, plays, musicals, band concerts, etc. (I was also in the band, but didn’t display any real talent as a saxophone player). By the time I finished high school, I was working in professional theatre around my hometown.

I grew up in a small town-feeling suburb of Los Angeles, and while it was an affluent community, there were relatively few hollywood types around. This was the kind of place where the streets get rolled up at night. In college, I majored in Radio, TV and Film, and graduated expecting to work in production. And I did, but before long, the Writer’s Guild went on strike, and the work opportunities dried up for a while, so I went to law school.

You’re going to be a lawyer? Are you crazy?

In law school, I focused on the entertainment fundamentals: Copyrights, trademarks, Music Law, Entertainment Law, contracts, and what-have-you, and during my 2nd summer and 3rd year, I worked at internships in a couple of major hollywood studios.

But after graduation, the In-House business affairs job I’d coveted just didn’t materialize. In fact, I graduated law school into a really tough time in the legal marketplace. Similar to what it’s like these days.

Eventually, I found a job working in a small litigation boutique, and quickly confirmed that litigation is not my cup of tea. So, after a relatively short stint there, I decided to quit my job, even though I didn’t have anything else lined up.

And so, a solo law practice begins

After a few weeks of looking for my next job, my phone began to ring with former colleagues from the production business who had small collection matters, or simple contract drafting projects for me to do. After a few months, it became evident that I had a practice in the making. So, with the help of some cash from my grandfather, I rented an office in a high-rise executive suite, bought furniture, and hung out my shingle. That was 1993. I’ve been in solo or small partnerships ever since.

But that takes clients

So, now I needed to find some more clients. To do this, I had to become a “hollywood guy”. Here I was, a highly trained, well educated, skilled lawyer who really understands the business (or so I thought at the time), I had all the tools, knowhow and credentials. What I didn’t have was the contacts. Connections. So I set out to make them.

Breaking in

Hollywood is a small community within a large city. The trick to becoming an insider in Hollywood seems to depend on being seen. A lot. That means being out at the clubs, parties, events, and so on, on a pretty regular basis. You don’t get invited to the parties and events until people know you, so that meant I spent a lot of time in the clubs around town, making contacts, and passing out business cards. Well, being a heavyset, balding guy, I wasn’t getting comped into the clubs, and nobody was buying me drinks, so this got expensive pretty fast. Not only that, but it meant lots of late nights.

I was also working hard to network with other professionals, and that often meant breakfast meetings, lunch meetings, etc. And, because I did have a little work to do, and needed to earn the money to support this lifestyle (such as it was), I had to be in the office (or in court) early every morning.

It wasn’t long before I was exhausted… and it showed. But, I was making connections, right?

Why quality is more important than quantity.

Well, what I learned is that it wasn’t about the quantity of the connections, it was about their quality. Having a big contact database full of people who barely know you isn’t that valuable. Better, I think, to have a handful of people who really know you well, like you, trust you, and think of you first when it’s time to make a referral or hire a lawyer themselves. The key is to make FRIENDS, not just contacts.

But, you do need to target the kinds of friends you seek. You remember the old line “you don’t have to marry a rich person to be happy, but it doesn’t hurt”?  Well, as long as you’re setting out to make friends, you might as well find folks who have other friends who fit your target client profile. That way, your friends will become your referral sources.

Things changed for me pretty rapidly when I moved into an apartment building in the flats of Beverly Hills. It was a dump of a 1-bedroom, but the building was filled with other industry folks. Some of my neighbors were working in the talent agencies, some in management, some in other areas of the business. These became some pretty good connections. They were low-level, but so was I, and we were positioned to move up the food chain in Hollywood together.

Networking

Around this same time, I got involved with a couple of industry-oriented groups, and started networking with other groups as well. I joined the board of directors of the Friars Club (which catered to comedians) and increased my involvement with the local Bar Association’s entertainment law section. (I eventually became chairman of that group).

I was still hitting the clubs, so I’d be visible, and perceived as a “player”, but I didn’t have to try so hard. I had a “wingman” everywhere I went, and that more than doubles your effectiveness at networking. Instead of always having to introduce yourself, you can introduce each other. Believe it or not, that alone takes a lot of the stress out of this kind of situation.

Being authentic

But the other thing I learned from networking with my friends and neighbors first was to let down my guard and be authentic. The guy who lives next door knows a bit about who you really are, so you can’t keep up pretenses around him. Assuming the real you is someone people like, they’ll make those introductions, referrals, etc.

Be good. Be really, really good.

But being “real” isn’t going to be enough just by itself. To succeed means building trust, too. Trust comes from being true to your word, scrupulously honest, doing really good work and doing it consistently. If you get a referral from a friend, and you deliver sloppy work, or you deliver good work late, he’s going to hear about it. He may give you a second chance, but he may not, and he’ll be more wary about referring to you next time. So, you have to do good work, and you have to do it all the time. Steve Martin describes his formula for success as “Be so good that they can’t ignore you.” I think this applies equally to professions as it does to the artistic trades.

Takeaways

So, here’s my recipe to making it in your chosen field.

- Care about people - Help people (clients)

- Share your knowledge freely - Demonstrate your expertise, but don't show off or make it all about you

- Be so good they can't ignore you! (Steve Martin) - Reputation counts! Guard yours vigilantly.

- Show others (especially clients and opposing counsel) courtesy, cooperation, trustworthiness, and reliability.

- If you're taking something on, take it on with a commitment to effectiveness, efficiency, and enthusiasm.

- Be grateful, and share your gratitude. There's no better way to attract the good stuff.

- Be good, and be persistent, without being pushy, and above all else, be real.

What game?

When you’re good, you get noticed. When you get noticed (for being good), you attract opportunities. Pretty soon, you might just find you’re winning the “game”, without realizing you’re even playing.

Here’s to your success!

Great post Gordon. Thank you again. Gordon’s blog and website are one and the same:  http://firemark.com. He is also the co-host of the podcast  Entertainment Law Update at http://entertainmentlawupdate.com.  Gordon can be found on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. His handle is gfiremark.

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