On Making it in Film

by Edward Reid (Independent Film Creator)

Do you have to be the next big influencer to be happy? Do you need that next ten thousand followers, and then you will find joy? Are you just waiting for your big break, and that’s when you know you’ll be content?

Many people live this way, living for a future that may never happen. They believe they will finally be fulfilled when they reach a certain point. We live in a society filled with a big push toward only positive mindsets and the belief that whatever you set your mind to is possible. Yet is that realistic, or are we setting ourselves up for failure?

Being involved in the Atlanta film industry now for almost a decade and starting from the ground up as an extra with no connections, no skills, and no opportunity and getting to the level of an independent creator (writer, actor, and producer) with several award-winning short films, a feature film in distribution, and the largest film group in the Southeast, I think I can add some insight.

Specifically, for this article, I will address the Atlanta entertainment industry, what I know about it, how it works, and how to become, at least, satisfied with where you are and capable of having more opportunities in the situation where you’re at. I am content as I am right now not being worldwide famous and having a film in distribution, running the group, having mixers and workshops, just being asked to be a judge in our local festival, and having the capacity to begin the new project; I hope to start soon.

Something like this is an accomplishment for me, and we should see every challenge or small goal we reach as part of the ultimate fulfillment as the person we are now, not looking to future endeavors to create our meaning. Indeed, we all have our goals in life, but sometimes we may not get there, and that doesn’t make us any less of a person or a success, and we should value ourselves accordingly.

Being the founder and administrator, although sometimes a bit time-consuming, I have rules for people entering my group. Part of this is eliminating spammers, and also, I need to know why people are joining the group, so I ask some questions that include why they want to join the group, what their role is, and what they hope to achieve.

This gives me insight into what people think, including how they view themselves, and what they can become. I wish the best for everyone, and I hope all their dreams come true, but perhaps our society has given people an unrealistic outlook. So many people see themselves as becoming a Hollywood star and the next big writer or director.

From childhood, we are taught that we can do whatever we set our mind to, including certain occupations in entertainment that look exciting and enticing. I see this with my toddler shows, books, and songs, and I agree at this age it is necessary, but at some point, we need to grow up and recognize that this may be setting us up for failure. Most people will not be movie stars, rock singers, or film directors. The odds are simply stacked against them; that’s a fact.

I see many children groups and the desperation of the parents and children. They are willing to spend thousands of dollars on lessons, even pay for agents, and be on sets. Sadly, they are all being abused for this mindset, and people are preying on them and their dreams. Unfortunately, these are the worst kinds of people in the industry that’s not lacking for con artists.

My entrance into the film industry was by a fluke, it was never planned, and I never thought I would be in film. My background is as an educator, mostly as a historian and also as a writer. Then, one day someone told me about an extras casting, and I signed up over a summer break, and the next day, I was working as a bailiff next to the judge who was the main role on a court show. Then a policeman, a doctor, and several “featured” roles, but there are also many large casting calls when there are hundreds of people. So, you can imagine, at first, it was rather shocking and exciting (and I had no idea what I was doing).

I was in awe when I first began as an extra and saw how much went into production. Most people don’t know what goes into a large-scale movie/TV production. For example, one short scene can take one full day to finish, which may be cut and never seen.

On large sets, extras mostly sit around in a hot or cold tent for fourteen hours and then on set for two to three hours, sitting at a table or passing by the actors, and are rarely seen when the film comes out. Many extras think they will be on camera; that is their big hope; somehow, it will be a big break. I have never witnessed that. Being an extra can be grueling sometimes and extremely boring if you don’t entertain yourself.

I took advantage of the downtime on the big sets (cattle calls) and gradually got to know some people around me (after a vetting process) and decided to teach myself screenwriting by bringing my computer to set. Stories came together, and I shared the concepts with some of those around me; many extras have some sort of talent (many working as extras to get further into the entertainment business), so I could use this, and they could use me advantageously. It was mutual. Some have the equipment, many are actors, and it’s just about organization and producing a good story, and that’s what I did.

I gathered everyone with the necessary resources to create a well-received short film that won awards, then produced more short films. The films gave me credibility, access to more actors and crew, and some funding. Still, I also wanted to bring on more collaborators to make something bigger and better, so I also created my film group. That also seemed necessary, especially for the independent film community in Atlanta at the time, and it grew rapidly. Eventually, I wrote and produced a feature film that was picked up for distribution.

All of this took work, planning, and foresight. It wasn’t simple to just put a film together from scratch, and I think some people believe that great things come easy, or some extras believe they need their big break, but they don’t have to work for it. However, successful endeavors take effort and hard work and don’t always make you rich and famous. Realize this, start somewhere, celebrate small successes, and you can be reasonably content in these endeavors. At least, I feel I am at most times.

I also have to point out that anyone with a “soft” side or that is empathetic like myself has to be wary of everyone, I mean everyone. But, of course, dealing with creeps is in every industry, and it happens much as a historian as well; many people are unethical and simply vile and target and label you for a disagreement, but in entertainment, they are all “actors,” so they are skilled at deception, theft, and some have some form of personality disorders.

At this time, we have a writer’s strike, and perhaps for some in the independent community, it’s a time of opportunity if they view it that way, not to undercut the writers but to start making their own productions. Next month, I will host a writers’ meet-up for anyone interested in writing, for the joy of writing. People can hopefully find others to collaborate with or find inspiration from because creatives need other creatives.

By producing these films, creating the film group, and having these connections, I am now in a position that enables me to continue my filmmaking journey in whatever manner, but again this took time and effort. My next venture is a YouTube project about overcoming. I plan to highlight individuals’ resilience in times of struggle and how they succeeded when everything was against them, including addictions, disease, political regimes, and more.

Looking back, I think all of my projects and my involvement as a historian have focused on overcomers and often underdogs – I empathize with individuals who have beaten the odds.

I recognize that we need positive and uplifting media when we are bombarded with negativity. However, I hope such projects can give people something different that gives them hope and shows them that they can rise above the unthinkable.