Episode 230 — Why You’re Stuck


Episode 230 — Why You’re Stuck

Welcome to Episode 230! This is one I recorded for all of us when we don’t get the wins that we want and we get baffled by that. I wanted to make it really clear as to why that is.

Let’s dive in!


[00:53] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was you didn’t get the job? Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write The Ultimate Demo Reel Guide from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. You can get this book for free right now at www.allanmckay.com/myreel!

[15:41] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be charging. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com!


[01:58] A lot of us tend to struggle in the beginning of our career. That’s such a common thing! And the thing is a lot of us are clueless as to why that’s happening. And I’m just going to be honest: IT’S YOU. It’s always going to be you not getting some results while others are; and it’s because some people are doing certain things and others aren’t. [02:17] When it comes to our reel and no experience in the beginning, it comes down to figuring out what else we can do. How can we get that first win? In the beginning, it’s about getting our foot in the door, no matter what it takes. It’s not about cutting a reel, sending it out and keeping this linear path. It’s about doing whatever it takes, hustling and entering through the side door; rather than expecting they should hire you just because you showed up.


[02:43] One of the things that’s very taboo is working for free. I don’t think it’s worthwhile going to a big studio where they take advantage of you and pay you nothing. But at the same time, you have to realize that there is a lot more to negotiate out there than money. If money is a factor for the other party, it means you can leverage that to get something from them. I think that’s something critical to think about. I’ve worked for free plenty in my career, and I’m not talking in the beginning of my career. I’m talking about making half a million per year doing freelance work, while still taking on free jobs because I’m more focused on the big picture. I’m not worries about the $5K or $10K I might get; I’m more focused on the six-figure pay I’m going to get by thinking big.

[03:43] When it comes to the beginning of your career, where would you like to be? Would you like to be sending out your reel, frustrated that you aren’t getting work? Perhaps, an opportunity comes up to work with a certain director; and that opportunity leads to the next job or a full-time position. And you can negotiate that: “I will do this one for free but I want to become part of your staff on the next one.” Let’s say you took that free job and it started your career. And 5-10 years later, you look back at that success and it all came from that first free gig. What are you going to look back at? You could take a chance and it would lead to all these great opportunities. I work for people for free even now because the relationships are worth it long term. I’m actually working on a short film for some YouTube guys right now! I’m more thinking about the other benefits that will outweigh the money. Just recently, I did a Marvel project and I did get paid; but the money wasn’t the thing I was focused on. I was more focused on building a relationship with that studio. But then I’ve also had people approach me and say, “Could we use your reel to land this job? And if we land it — we’ll hire you!” That’s when I say, “No, thank you!” So it really comes down to picking and choosing.

[06:24] Richard Branson says, “Say yes to everything”, and it leads to success. If you have nothing else going on, you should be building your network. The first industry job that I’ve ever landed was one that my friend recommended me for. I look back at that job as the one that changed my life, but it’s the relationship that got me in the door. So if you have nothing else going on, give yourself these opportunities.


[06:52] The key thing is that when you’re going in — know your worth. A lot of people have the wrong mindset about working for free. You have to know when someone is taking advantage of you versus when that’s a great opportunity that will lead to more. A good way to look at this is if someone comes to you and they can’t pay you, that’s fine. If you aren’t worried about money right now, you can take on the gig but you have to explain, “In order for me to take on this job, I have to turn down this other opportunity. I understand that you can’t pay me [insert your rate] per hour. To make this project worth my while, I’d like to get some on-set experience on this job. I’d like to shadow the Supervisor for a couple of days each week. I also would like to get credit in the film.” To them, these things don’t cost any money. But if money is a concern to them, these are the things you can leverage.

[08:27] One of the key things about negotiating is to know the pain point for them. If I go into the project and they’re concerned about delivering it in 5 days, I know that time is the pain point in this case, but money probably isn’t. I can then say, “I can do this in 5 days, but it will cost $10K.” They will probably say okay because you’re removing this pain point. If money is a concern, you can negotiate working only 3 days per week, for example. There are ways to get around things. I knew someone who worked on a movie and he bought all these super computers that they were using on the project, at the end. Because they had no use for them, they said, “It’s fine.” Everything is up for grabs. Everything is negotiable. It’s just about your being creative and figuring out what that is.


[09:50] When it comes to where you are in the beginning of your career, it’s important to think about what’s holding back. We’re so deep in our trenches, firing out our reel, that’s all we’re doing. The problem is: everyone is doing the same thing. Because of that you’re never going to stand out. You’re playing the lottery. Your reel has to either be better than everyone else’s, or have more experience, or be the most memorable person. I’m not telling you this to freak you out. It’s about doing something different from everyone else; figuring out the side door. In other words, while everyone is just sending out reels, why don’t you go network with these people? If they know who you are, you’re going to get the gig. (One of my friends went to work for J.J. Abrams and a week later, he got laid off. I told him, “Dude! What happened?” “They hired one of his buddies instead.” Of course, they’re going to hire someone they know because they know what that person is capable of. Hiring is guessing — firing is knowing!)

[11:06] This is just something to think about:

  • What are you obstacles?
  • What are ways to work around them?

That means that getting your foot in the door is the momentum you need. What are you obstacles and how do you get around them? That means seeking those opportunities. Now, that doesn’t mean that you can say, “I am looking for work, hire me for free.” For me, that would be a red flag. Hiring someone to work for free may not be the best for me. It’s about figuring out how much experience that person has. Are they going to be asking a lot of questions and taking up my time? That’s not an attractive thing for me. But I could be interested to hear, “I’m applying for a roto position here. I went back and did some roto on some projects you’ve already done. I can showcase to you what I can do.” This way, you’re removing the gamble out of it. Hiring you wouldn’t be a gamble anymore. Sometimes, it’s about front loading the work. I’m willing to look at the big picture.


[13:33] I am hoping this makes sense. I feel that a lot of us are still stuck at the starting point. You have to start thinking differently. Sending out your reel is just not enough. Working for free isn’t a bad thing when you have nothing else going on. Just figure out how to make it have more leverage for you. I was talking to someone about a studio in India hitting me up on LinkedIn. I’m hoping they will eventually figure out how many of these I get and to think about how to stand out. Think about empathy. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, to figure out how to go against the grain. If one of these places would say, “We notice you do some sci fi stuff. If you’re interested, we can show you what we can do for you: We’ll model some assets and let you know what we would normally charge.” That way, you’re building a relationship with the person. Just think big picture and figure out what you can do differently from everybody else.

Thanks for listening! I hope you got a lot from this. It’s 2020 and I’ve got a lot of Episodes coming up.

Please share this Episode with others. I would appreciate that so much!

I will be back next week. Until then —

Rock on!


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