Speculations on Openings, Closings, and Thresholds in International Public Media
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Blog written by Patricia R. Zimmermann, professor of cinema, photography and media arts at Ithaca College and codirector of the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival
Prologue: Meet Billy Hall
Billy Hall’s deep insights, generous passions and scalding honesty filled the corner collaborative room in the Park School of Communications on October 11, 2010. It was a special honor and pleasure for me to interview Hall for this session. Why? Because he was my student in cinema studies classes in the early 1980s.
I might add, on a more personal note, he was also a hard student to forget. First, he was one of the most academically engaged students, open to everything. He never shut his mind to any idea or film. He was intellectually voracious. He found theory FUN. Imagine that!
Second, he was the only African American student in the Cinema Department (and maybe the school of communications) at the time.
Hall is now the VP of programming for TNT and TBS. He schedules for the networks, places all original programming, and manages the programming department budget. About 50 faculty and students participated in his an informal, audience driven, no-holds-barred interactive seminar called “Candid Talk about Navigating an Entertainment Industry Career after IC.”
Hall has enjoyed a wide-ranging career since graduating from the cinema department at IC in 1984. He’s worked for the Fox Movie Channel, Health and Sciences Network, Lifetime Television, Walt Disney Studios, Disney Channel and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences prior to his VP stint at TNT.
As I interviewed him about his career, I took a lot of notes (old habits die hard—I was a journalist before I went to graduate school for my PhD in communications theory). He deconstructed the glamour of the media industries. He shared the sobering and often difficult realities that minorities and women sometimes encounter but are often never discussed in any public way.
I realized that as the interviewer, I’d need to sum up and bring some resolution to this 90 minutes of non stop, tell-it-like-it-is, wisdom. So here it is:
Billy Hall’s Entertainment Industry Survival Kit
1.Learn another language. The entertainment industry is GLOBAL.
2.Study liberal arts. You will need it more than you think. Enroll in film/media/new media history, criticism and theory courses.
3.Do an internship. Do another internship.
4.Stay in touch with everyone you meet. Be a grown up about this.
5.Study overseas. Most entertainment companies are global, most nonprofits deal with international issues. Having some experience overseas will help you in more ways than you can know when you are first applying for that visa.
6.Know about different cultures, both in the United States, but most importantly, overseas. Repeat: study overseas.
7.Americans are marketable overseas. You know things. You know your culture. Don’t be afraid to take a job beyond the comfort zones of the USA
8.Youth is a brand. Mobilize your brand. People will want to know what you know. Did I hear Lady Gaga?
9.Sometime in your career, you will be forced to make a big decision in a very hard situation that may be about your race, your ethnicity, your gender, your class, your accent, things you never thought of before. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. No mistake sticks.
10.Join organizations in your field. Network. Network. Network. Learn about what is happening in media.
11.A career in media (as opposed to a JOB) has its ups and downs: it spikes high and sinks low, and is not a steady line of ascent. Assume that you will have periods when you are unemployed. That’s the business, whether profit or nonprofit.
12.Maintain a large network of friends and colleagues. They will get you through the lows.
13.A career is not a straight trajectory to better and better jobs and more and more fame. It’s an adventure that continually changes direction. Be ready to change!
14.Know that right now, with the global economic recession, it is a very very bad time economically to be trying to get into these industries, whether at the corporate level or at the entrepreneurial level. Remember, you have 40 years to work. Things will happen.
15. When you retire after your great career with its highs, its lows, its unemployment and its successes, be sure to leave the industry with your soul intact. Integrity is probably the MOST important hands-on skill of all.