Do you know the first step to becoming a leader in the Hollywood community? Before anything else can happen, you must acknowledge that as of this moment you lack the resources to do it… which begs an obvious question:
Who says? What’s George Clooney or Steven Spielberg got that you don’t? Is it about the money? Is it about the access to opportunities? Is it about having the trust of their collaborators?
Yes. It’s all of these things, naturally. Even so, these are only materials. Anyone who acquires a leadership position will naturally pick these things up along the way. What we are really asking here is what kind of person it takes to do it. Do I have the right stuff? Do you?
No, I don’t. And while most of us almost certainly do not want to hear this, you don’t either. In fact, nobody does. If there’s one, big secret to mega success in any field, it’s the fact that realizing that level of success requires a person to be constantly setting and achieving goals for which they are never going to be prepared. To stay at the top of the food chain, you need to be constantly evolving. Evolution is a skill, and it can only be learned at the risk of being eaten. These heroes of ours are people who do their best work in high-risk situations, and they’ve taught themselves to do this by constantly demanding more of themselves than their experience and resources can comfortably deliver. Therein lies the hardship. If you want to rule Hollywood, do not choose the goal that is just within reach. Choose the goal that is just OUT OF REACH. Choose the goal you are only just incapable of accomplishing, and then trust that your resourcefulness and hard work will turn you into the person who can achieve it. Leaders don’t just manage their success, leaders manage their GROWTH. Own your evolution.
My name is Tennyson E. Stead, and my career in entertainment began as a stagehand in the theater communities of New England. Before my education in theater was even completed, I had built a regional client-base as a theatrical lighting designer and was expanding my business into New York. By that point, I could see what a future in theatrical design held in store for me. There was no point in pursuing it further, so I finished my degree and left the world of design without ever looking back. That, more or less, was when I found my interest in becoming a content creator. My whole life,
writing had been a creative outlet for me. That was the moment I gave it a principal place in my career and my future. With two suitcases and a laptop bag, I moved out to Los Angeles and started looking for ways to make money off of my production experience.
Without any film school buddies to certify my work ethic, I had no chance of getting on a gaffing crew… but I quickly learned that in Hollywood, there is one job that NOBODY wants to do. Asking for money is a part of the process nobody seems to enjoy. I’m no fan of sales myself, but film finance is an obvious and necessary part of film production. When the opportunity came up to learn, it struck me as an obvious way to get ahead of my competition.
Of course, film finance would only get me ahead if my writing and directing skills continued to flourish as well. Every single day of my decade-long career in indie film development involved at least two hours writing… at least until I started directing my own material. I wrote countless screenplays during those years, and I began developing my directing skills on guerilla theater and short film productions. My body of work, my industry connections, and the trust I’d earned with my collaborators became a gravity well that has been pulling in ensemble members ever since. Like the formation of a planet or a star, 8 Sided Films began to coalesce.
Listen to Tennyson E. Stead tell his ‘Arriving in L.A. story here.’
Check out more videos from this interview series
with Tennyson here!
When it became obvious that taking that ensemble to the next level required the time and energy I was putting into my film finance career, I left that behind as well. My entire life has been a constant process of reinventing myself. Every opportunity to rewrite the playbook gives me new tools and strategies to use. Every new perspective I am willing to make my own, even for a day, means I can relate to a whole new group of people. In turn, that relationship gives me additional power to lead. Who I am changes on a daily basis. My job, in a nutshell, is to ensure those changes are continuously making me more effective.
Living this kind of life creates one very important, very challenging problem that feeds and empowers every other problem in my life. This problem is the core challenge of true conquest. Pushing yourself to evolve means living with the constant threat of being eaten. If you are always pursuing goals for which even you yourself cannot completely see an endgame, then the threat of failure is both omnipresent and highly potent. Left untended, anxiety and stress will lead you down a path of self-sabotage. If you want to rule Hollywood, your greatest enemy is yourself.
That said, I do experience an unholy amount of fear and stress. Part of my personal development revolves around managing that stress more effectively, because I’m very certain the pressure I feel on a daily basis does not compare with the pressures of a man like Steven Spielberg. His decisions affect the future of the entire industry, as well as millions – maybe billions – of audience members. There are people counting on me… but not that many. Not yet.
How does a person handle it? You’ve got to take care of yourself. Treat your life and your body like a precision instrument. Maintain that sh*t. So far, I’ve found five tools that work well for me:
Get plenty of sleep. There’s two reasons this is important.
Obviously, performing tasks beyond your comfort zone is an exhausting
enterprise. Demanding peak performance from yourself means you need
to be at your best. Fatigue feeds frustration and anxiety, which will eventually lead even the most strong-willed person to make mistakes. Don’t give those feelings an edge. Go to bed on time.
Secondly, sleep gives our brains the time they need to develop new neural pathways. Just like a computer reboots when a program is installed, your brain needs that chance to integrate the experiences of the day. If you’re not sleeping, you’re not learning. Trust me. You can not afford to be making the same mistakes twice.
EAT WELL, AND EAT RIGHT:
For someone who only needs an “everyday” level of success to advance their career, the mental and physical stresses of an everyday diet won’t have much of an impact on performance. Rocketships, on the other hand, need rocket fuel. Eat the foods that keep you healthy, quick, and light on your feet. Avoid foods you can still feel five hours after you eat them. Keep your fats healthy. Keep your starches minimized. Remember that fruit is the fastest food around.
If you have time to exercise, you’re not working hard enough. Agreed? Good. Now put it in your datebook. You need the energy. You need the stamina. You need the endorphins. Good circulation and high oxygen levels in your blood are critical for good brain activity. Make yourself fatigue-resistant, and prevent fatigue from influencing your decision-making process or your performance. Make yourself strong and quick, so you have the strength and speed when it counts.
Why do drunks always survive car crashes? Physical, mental, and emotional stresses have only minimal impact on a relaxed human being. Martial artists and fighters spend years learning to take dynamic action from a place of total relaxation. This makes them more aware of their surroundings, as well as reducing the amount of energy they have to expend to accomplish simple tasks. In a fight, speed is not about muscle or torque the way it is with a car. What makes a human being faster and more precise under pressure is relaxation. Try meditation. Try yoga. Try martial arts. Again, I know you don’t have time for this. Remember that your career depends on your ability to manage stress without thinking about it. Stop telling yourself that this is something you’ll figure out when you need to, and put it in your schedule.
Invest the time to find people who will back you up effectively, and build strong relationships with them when you do. Let go of the people who need you to be whoever you were yesterday, and embrace the people who are excited to discover who you will be tomorrow. Most folks will find it very hard to relate to the life you are leading, and will urge you towards less risky choices. Worse yet, many of the worthy allies you find along the way will reach a point where they’re overwhelmed by the risks you’re taking or the scope of your projects. More often than you care to imagine, people you love and depend on will sit back and let you fail… and it’s not their fault. From their perspective, what you are doing is just too big and crazy.
Forgive them, and move on. Make room in your life for new folks who can grow at your pace.
This is an ongoing process. So long as your ambition continues to grow, there will be people you love who can’t keep up. Remember that not every actor gets to be George Clooney. Not every filmmaker gets to be Steven Spielberg. If you truly believe you are one in a million, then expecting all the people around you to be “one in a million” as well reflects some piss-poor math skills on your part. Still, you do need to find them. Look for the people who share these qualities, and ask for their help.
Overextension is never a viable plan for success. That inexperienced filmmaker looking to pitch the next giant blockbuster franchise will wear himself out. Anyone seriously looking to build a place for themselves in the Hollywood community needs to work progressively. Set smaller, more controllable goals that add up to larger goals. Cut your work up into bite-size pieces.
Just remember to eat things that are too spicy. Eat things that are too tough, and be patient as you chew. Expand your palette with every bite. Make yourself sweat at every opportunity. Set your sights on the top of the mountain, start climbing from the bottom, and trust that that your climbing skills will be far more formidable by the time you hit the cloud layer. If people around you think you’re crazy…
You are. What you’re trying to do is unreasonable. So be unreasonable. Just be smart about it.
If you’d like to ask questions, pose “what-if’s,” rebuke me with experience or hearsay, or just flirt from the safe distance of your personal computer, you can always find me at Tennysonestead.com. To find out more about me, my ensemble, and my stories, we welcome you to our online community at 8sidedforum.com – and please, please support our upcoming feature, Quantum Theory. Quantum Theory is the story of two brilliant, snarky women of science who develop a prototype that gives them the power to change reality itself… until it’s snatched from under them by by LDI, a ruthless and powerful defense contractor. Stealing it back means winning a shell game of changing realities against a foe who does not lose. The future of our world depends upon their success! You can find out more at here, and at Quantummovie.com.
Tennyson E. Stead is a writer, director, and producer of film and transmedia. In his childhood, he spent all his time building cardboard spaceships and rescuing his sister in them. These days he does basically the same thing.
For any production to realize its full creative and financial potential, every creative element must reflect the overall goals of the project. Every great collaborative work was produced by a team of talented people, united by a common intent.
8 Sided Films and the 8 Sided Forum represent our collective stewardship over the stories born from intent too multifaceted, specific, or unique for studio production, and our commitment to honoring that intent as the foundation for a more personal relationship with our audience.
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Check out Tennyson’s prior Film Courage articles: