Inside the Producer’s Corner with Suzanne Lyons
This is a series of articles that film producer and best selling author Suzanne Lyons (listen to her interview here) will be writing over the next 6 months. I personally asked Suzanne to share her knowledge, experience, and motivation with you the IFH Tribe. Whether you are a director, producer, cinematographer, screenwriter or editor I think you’ll get a ton out of this series. Check back every week for a new post that will help you on your journey as an indie filmmaker.
10 Tips to Getting a Filmmaking or Screenwriting Mentor
I don’t think you’re going to be to happy with what I’m about to suggest in this article. I’m going to address the topic of getting a mentor. I have a feeling I’ve lost you already, so come on back… it’s not going to be as painful as you think.
However, when I was speaking at a Scriptwriters Network event a few years ago I suggested that each person there get a mentor. You could have heard a pin drop and then one of the participants stood up and said, “Are you crazy? Who would I get? Why would they ever say yes? How would I get one?” Everyone in the room seemed to have the same reaction.
Please trust me on this one… it’s one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your career in the industry. When I would hand out the questionnaire at the end of the month- long Flash Forward workshop years ago I’d ask “what was the most important aspect of this class? What impacted your career the most? I was sure their response would be their team, their partner in the class, the exercises, the workshop coach who looked after their team, their brilliant instructor (me!). I was always surprised to see that 90% of the time they checked off the box marked “Mentor.” It really was a true testament as to the value of having a mentor.
Every time (yes, every time) I take on something new, getting a mentor is the first thing that I do! We don’t have to reinvent the wheel… not ever. When my film partner, Kate, and I launched Snowfall Film one of the very first things we did was to get a few mentors. The advice and suggestions we got from them was invaluable.
In the Entertainment Industry people have been making movies for over 100 years! There are 100s and 1000s of experts in all facets and at all levels of film and television. And the one thing they all (we all) have in common as human beings is, we all want to contribute.
You don’t have to do it alone. We can all use a mentor… we should all have a mentor… someone who’s been there, done that. So here goes…
1) WHAT IS A MENTOR?
A mentor is someone that you respect who is in a position to advise you on how to accomplish your goal. He/she is someone who can give you advice and guidance. A mentor is NOT a coach. They are not there to push you outside your comfort zone or make you accountable for your actions. Their job is to be an advisor.
2) WHO WOULD BE A GOOD MENTOR?
Look at what your goals are… “I am producing my first film in the $200,000 budget range;” “I am going for acting roles in one-hour TV dramas;” “My goal is to have my action/adventure screenplay optioned;” “I plan to make the move from editing to directing.” Now, who would make a good mentor? I know the actor is thinking it should be a casting director of one-hour drama. Not necessarily. I suggest you think outside the box first. Maybe the supervising producer of your favorite TV show would make an interesting mentor. Perhaps it’s an actor who’s been doing those types of shows for years. Also, it’s not necessarily the biggest name. For the writer, it may be the Director of Development at a studio that is doing similar projects. Also, if you are taking on a goal that is a completely new learning curve I would suggest having 2 or 3 mentors.
3) MAKE IT EASY FOR THEM TO SAY YES
When I was teaching the Flash Forward workshops, one of the first assignments was to get a mentor. The criteria was 3 ten-minute conversations over a 6 week period. Nearly everyone can say yes to that request. Or perhaps it’s a half hour coffee meeting. Something easy and doable. 99% of the time it will naturally go beyond that, but start there and make it easy for people to say yes.
4) HOW TO MAKE THE REQUEST
I suggest you start by writing an amazing letter or e-mail and include the following: A) Start with the request telling them why you are approaching them in particular. B) Tell them what it means to be a mentor, ie: 3 ten-minute conversations (in person or over the phone) over a certain period of time. C) Introduce yourself. Tell them what you are up to accomplishing with your project/career. Then, tell them you will be calling them within the next 48 hours to see if they are available and interested in being your mentor. If someone they know has referred them as a perfect mentor for you, please note that in your letter/email. Also, if you are going through their agent/manager, then make your request very specific with regard to when you need to hear back from them. Always create a little urgency.
5) WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM YOUR MENTOR
Your mentor is an advisor, not a coach, as I mentioned earlier. You want advice, guidance and strategy suggestions on how to accomplish your goal or project. For example, you can get suggestions on your goal and timeline… suggestions on people you should meet and ideas on how to reach those people. Perhaps they can help you with your pitch and how to perfect it. Show your mentor your strategic plan, your goals, your list of people/companies you want to meet and ask, “what do you think and what have I left out.” Also, I suggest that you request guidance on areas where you are stuck.
Exercise: Everyone at every level in every industry has a mentor. So get a MENTOR! Don’t put this off. As you can now see, this is very doable. Think how flattered you would be if someone asked you to be their mentor. Create your wish list, type your letter, get your questions ready and go for it!
6) MENTOR ETIQUETTE
Once you have a mentor, follow through. If you set up a specific time to call, then call when you said you would. Be professional. Keep your word at all times. It is a business relationship. Always acknowledge them and always thank them for their time.
7) BE PREPARED
Don’t expect your mentor to generate the conversation. Have your questions ready. Brainstorm with friends and colleagues if you need to and have a list of questions ready. When I was leading Flash Forward workshops I actually had some pretty big- name industry folks who were mentors call me to complain that they had to generate the entire conversation. Please take responsibility for this… be ready and prepared. One of the gals in my class wanted a very big-name actress and on the Saturday night after class she sent off her request letter to the actor’s agent. That night her phone rang and the actress she wanted as her mentor said “Hi, I heard you wanted me as your mentor this month. Well I’d love to do it and I have ten minutes now. So, what do need help with.” Thank God that during class that day I had them come up with a few questions to get them started. So, my student was thrilled to have her mentor and she was prepared with her questions!
8) DON’T PUT THEM ON THE SPOT
Your mentor is there to give you advice, guidance, suggestions. Don’t ask them to read your script, watch your reel, listen to your CD, go over your portfolio, etc. If they ask, that is excellent. If they want to extend the meeting from 10 minutes to a full hour, great, but let them make the offer. Also, please don’t ever use their name without permission. If they suggest you call a particular person or company that they know personally, always ask them if you can use their name. Never assume that you can. You are requesting their wisdom, not their rolodex.
Remember to acknowledge your mentor on every call or meeting. Thank them for their time. This is very important and something we all to often forget to do.
10) COMPLETING YOUR AGREEMENT
When you have had your 1/2 hour coffee meeting, your 3 ten-minute conversations, your lunch meeting, etc. and the business relationship agreement is complete, thank and acknowledge them again for their contribution to you as a mentor. Thank them for their time, advice, wisdom and expertise. Remember it was a business agreement and now it’s time to complete that agreement.
Suzanne Lyons is President/Producer of Snowfall Films, Inc. having produced/exec produced 12 feature films to date. She co-founded the Flash Forward Institute which focused on teaching the tools of business needed to market oneself in the entertainment industry. She recently launched a game-changing online course called Indie Film Producing Masterclass with Suzanne Lyons. She’s the author of Indie Film Producing: The Craft of Low Budget Filmmaking published by Focal Press. She has also hosted over 125 informational videos on the film industry. When time permits she does private career and business coaching. Suzanne is originally Canadian and lives with her husband in Los Angeles, CA.
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- Recording Sound for Indie Film
- The Art of Micro-Budget Filmmaking
- Cinematography MasterClass
- Film Festival Hacks: Submit Like a Pro
- Self-Distributing Your Film Online
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