Beyond Nepotism: New Ways to Make It in Hollywood
By Mitch Lusas • June 11, 2021
Your success happens by identifying the best possible connection that aligns with your brand and goals.
Many Hollywood legends got their start because of famous family members in the business, while many would-be legends never got their chance to prove themselves simply because they didn’t have an in. From screenwriters, to actors, to directors, and more, nepotism is how many people began their careers. Often related to famous families hiring their relatives, regardless of talent or experience, nepotism is something that can make other Hollywood hopefuls feel defeated before they get started. There are a couple of types of nepotism though.
The first type is family nepotism that we just touched on, but there’s also the relationship type. Relationship nepotism tends to favor job candidates who have a friendship, or friend in common with the employer. This “social proof” shortcut is a useful way for producers to avoid hiring creatives who lack competence or who are difficult to work with.
Relationship nepotism has thrived in Hollywood because it operates on trust and efficiency within a highly creative industry. While some view it as a negative thing (especially with family nepotism), it isn’t always bad. Relationship nepotism is more like this: if you have a friend who you geek out with about Stranger Things and you dig their insights, you’re going to trust them when they recommend a new show.
This is what happens in Hollywood. Whether coming from family, friends, or co-workers, there’s an underlying trust in creative taste that comes with a recommendation. For example, in famous families, the discussions at the dinner table are different. Their exposure to craft is different. All of this gives the children of Hollywood lineage a leg up, not just because of the connections that they have, but because of the artistic palette that they refine earlier than other creatives.
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” - Jim Rohn
From the perspective of Hollywood, relationship nepotism is one of the things that can protect the quality of production while also reducing talent-discovery costs. However, that perspective has shifted in some Hollywood circles, seeking more distinct voices.
There is a new way that talent is sourced in entertainment, and finally, a trustworthy and efficient alternative to nepotism has been presented that Hollywood executives are utilizing in droves.
Online talent discovery has arrived
Online talent discovery platforms cast a wide net when industry professionals are looking for screenwriters while maintaining the integrity of results. At their core, these services democratize a system that’s kept new screenwriters silent and have given them a voice. These platforms deliver the types of writers Hollywood executives are looking to work with from a simple search. But talent discovery platforms didn’t show up out of thin air. They were the answer to a cry in the industry for an easier way to find solid writing talent with real writing chops from diverse backgrounds.
While relationship nepotism was great for trust and efficiency, it also lacked variety and fresh perspective similar to family nepotism. At its worst, this created a boys club. Executives were afraid of losing their jobs if they took a risk so they played it safe—to the detriment of newcomers and new voices. It’s partially how we ended up with all of the coming-of-age movies in the 80s like Pretty in Pink and Can’t Buy Me Love that had similar tones and messages. Reliance on gatekeepers also didn’t take into account the human element that can bottleneck any artistic expression. From subconscious biases to a particular taste in genre, tone, or theme, gatekeepers could unwittingly suppress potential new Hollywood gold mines simply because writers or projects didn’t match up to what they pictured in their minds.
In recent years, the streaming giants catering to worldwide audiences have been inundated with demand from viewers for more stories from diverse voices. Shows like Never Have I Ever and Self Made have captivated audiences with their authentic storytelling and the people want more. In order to meet the new content demands (plus the need for increased remote work), Hollywood professionals needed a way to venture beyond their usual pool of talent and find new, high-quality writers who can deliver.
The new gatekeepers, online talent discovery platforms, are more like bridges, taking those human bottleneck issues that both family and relationship nepotism couldn’t address and discards them. They care about and advocate for their writers, giving them a fighting chance. At a basic level, these platforms operate off of unique algorithms that objectively match talented writers with executives based on the executive’s search parameters. The reason that they work so well is that they’re designed to keep the information brief, but powerful.
These platforms are set up to focus on showcasing screenwriters efficiently, giving them prompts to help them create their discovery-optimized profiles with information that industry professionals are seeking. Built by Hollywood insiders themselves, the tech companies behind these platforms know that these professionals don’t have time to sort through tedious details that don’t matter, so they intentionally curate the talent, while providing screenwriters inside intel about the industry. These streamlined processes level the playing field for screenwriters by acting as scouts, matchmakers, and tastemakers.
Preparing for the New Gatekeepers as writers
Now that you know the reason relationship nepotism has thrived for so long in the industry, it gives you insight into how you can approach getting proper attention as a screenwriter. Simply replace relationship nepotism with "trust and efficiency" in your mind. Now ask yourself, “How can I enter through a trusted, more efficient channel?”
Your craft will always come first. It doesn’t matter how well you package and market yourself if your work can’t stand on its own. The business of writing can be tough on creatives. From the number of no’s you hear to the opinions of people who tell you to give up and find another calling, it can be easy to think the only way to get discovered is through old-school nepotism. But the truth is, these professionals genuinely care about the quality of your craft along with the unique voice that only you can bring to a project. Keep honing your craft. It will serve you.
Now that you’ve got that practice down, it’s time to package yourself and your writing. When writers build a brand and lean into it, they see more success. This creates self-generating traffic because having clarity of brand means you’re able to clearly communicate those messages. That level of clarity allows you to show up in the right searches and communicate cohesively across every platform you choose to be on from LinkedIn to online talent discovery platforms.
Speaking of where to build your brand, don’t overcomplicate this. Find what the industry trusts, and build a presence there. One way to do this is to follow your favorite industry executives, agents, and managers on Twitter to discover the platforms they recommend or where they’re sourcing new writers. Check out this Tweet from John Zaozirny, literary manager, head of Bellevue Productions, and producer of Paramount's upcoming INFINITE.
When heavy hitters like John are telling writers that links to online talent discovery platforms like The Black List and Coverfly are a positive thing, it’s worth considering these platforms and creating profiles there as an extension of your writer “brand” presence.
Creating Opportunities for Yourself
Your writing journey will be filled with joyous moments. Moments where you get attention for your work and it feels similar to the first time you ever saw the grand finale fireworks display—shock, awe, and the desire for more. But it’s important to remember that while acknowledgment feels good, not every professional who gives you attention is going to be the right fit for your career. Writers building on their own successes still feel the excitement, but it’s not about saying yes to the first person who comes along. Your success happens by identifying the best possible connection that aligns with your brand and goals.
Know who some of those people are ahead of time. Research and figure out who you want to connect with and who their trusted network is. This will tell you exactly which platforms to build your presence on, as well as give you insight about who you're going to reach out to and why it would be a great match.
Once you know who you want to connect with, build a web of their connections. Every industry professional has their network of trusted, agents, managers, lawyers, producers, and studios. By taking this initiative, you become the go-getter industry executives want to work with. You have to be an entrepreneur and pitch yourself to the right people, in the right places, with the right presence. And the good news is that finally, you can actually do all of this from home. It happened for Alex. Why couldn’t it happen for you?