Hollywood mentors: how to keep ’em

You may want to read the first in this series – Hollywood mentors: how to get ‘em – if you haven’t already. Now we’ll examine the delicate on-going relationship between mentor and mentee. Based on all the industry pros’ advice, the best way to maintain a mentor relationship is to be respectful. It’s that simple.

English: en: Grauman's Chinese Theatre, photog...

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith.

Here are five tips that reinforce the prime directive and demonstrate respect:
1. Listen to your mentor’s advice.
2. Be loyal and discreet.
3. Make the relationship a two-way street.
4. Follow up, thank your mentor, and stay in touch at appropriate intervals.
5. Make your mentor look good.

Listen to your mentor’s advice.

When a mentor takes time to consider your specific problem and offer advice, she is offering you a gift. Listen to the advice and consider it fully. Sometimes Hollywood hopefuls just want to vent about their problems, which is understandable. However, it can be very frustrating for the mentor if the mentee never listens to his advice.

Why should you listen to your mentor’s advice

  1. It shows respect for your mentor and your mentor’s time.
  2. Your mentor genuinely wants to help you and his advice may actually do just that.
  3. You can save yourself a lot of headaches and heartaches if you learn from a more experienced person’s mistakes and triumphs.
  4. Your mentor will become more invested in you and your career if she thinks you’re listening.
  5. Your mentor will think more highly of you.
  6. Your mentor will want to help you more.
  7. Your mentor may think about you even when you aren’t around.

Number four on this list is really important. You want your mentor to be invested in you and your career. You want her to care about and to SHARE in your success. If your mentor is invested in you, you may have a career-long champion.

After considering a mentor’s advice, you may decide to take it verbatim, adapt it to your own sensibilities, or throw it out altogether. Whatever your decision, make sure your mentor feels heard.

Some people, like music video, commercial, and feature director Bailey Kobe, take advice so gracefully that they attract stellar mentors to them. One of Bailey’s mentors was legendary producer and studio executive Gareth Wigan.

Director Bailey Kobe on the set of the “Le Grande Amour” music video. Photo by Carrie Chelsea.

Gareth Wigan may not be a household name, but he is noted for shepherding a risky, struggling film through Fox during the late 1970s. The film was “Star Wars,” and it changed the feature film industry forever. It’s easy to look back at the film and see its genius. However, at the time, many insiders thought it was just another sci-fi b-movie.

…his genuine love of the film meant the world to me.

Upon learning of Mr. Wigan’s death in 2010, George Lucas recalled the first time the producer saw “Star Wars.” “It was just Gareth and Alan Ladd Jr. seeing an early cut of the film,” Mr. Lucas told a reporter for The Wrap.com. “Gareth was so moved that he cried. As a young filmmaker facing a lot of skeptics, his genuine love of the film meant the world to me. He was there for me when I needed him, and I’ll always be grateful.”

Legendary studio executive and producer Gareth Wigan.
Photo courtesy of Lucasfilm.

“Star Wars” was just one of the films Mr. Wigan championed. His keen eye for emerging talent gave him the reputation for intelligence, refined taste, and pragmatism. A leading force in the growth of international cinema, he discovered exciting new voices, including Ang Lee. He imported Lee’s Oscar winning film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” which became the highest grossing foreign language film in US history.

Ziyi Zhang as Jen Yu in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden, Dragon.”
Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Back to our story: Mr. Wigan recognized Bailey’s directing talent early on and encouraged him. However, after graduating from USC’s undergraduate film school, Bailey still felt uncertain about the path to becoming a director. He went to Mr. Wigan for advice. The first thing Mr. Wigan asked was, “What are you afraid of?”

Bailey said he was afraid his own vision would get lost in the gargantuan studio process. Mr. Wigan suggested that Bailey get an MFA from USC’s prestigious Peter Stark Producing Program.

“Gareth said I’d have a much greater perspective, not just about filmmaking and development fundamentals, but also about running large-scale productions while retaining my artistic vision,” Bailey said.

Director Bailey Kobe on the set of “Trading Eights.” Photo by Joe Hauler.

Mr. Wigan listened to Bailey’s needs and concerns, then tailored his advice to support Bailey’s goals. Excellent mentors get to the heart of their mentees’ issues and provide specific suggestions to help them achieve their dreams.

Although it might seem unconventional, Bailey applied to the Stark Program, got in, and completed the rigorous, expensive, two-year program.

Since then, Bailey has launched an international production company, Double Entente Films, with business partner Frederic Imbert. Mind you, most young directors have a difficult enough time getting a production company to even look at a script they want to direct, much less start their own production company with offices in LA and Paris.

Bailey’s business acumen has propelled his career as a director. Under the Double Entente banner, Bailey just finished principal photography on “The Caterpillar’s Kimono” feature starring Ben Savage (“Boy Meets World,” “Party of Five”) and Julie McNiven (“Mad Men,” “Supernatural”). They also have several other projects in development, including “Madame T,” a Madame Tussaud biopic by Oscar-nominated writer Alessandro Camon.

Be loyal and discreet.

Bailey advises Hollywood hopefuls to be loyal to their mentor and discreet with the information he offers: “Don’t gossip and post things shared in confidence – especially situations regarding some celebrity. Sure, we can all show off and tell war stories when you get into show business, but should we?”

Don’t gossip

Often mentors share very personal trials. They share mistakes they or someone they know have made. And they share these tidbits to help you. If you brag about your mentor’s advice and share stories she has shared with you, your mentor will cut you off. She simply cannot trust you with valuable career-boosting information because it could harm her reputation.

“Be loyal and understand reciprocity,” Bailey said. “They are giving you years of experience in a few sentences. Respect that. Plus, offer your mentor what you can.”

Make the mentor-mentee relationship a two-way street.

Joey Chavez, VP of NBC drama development (“Revolution”), echoed Bailey’s sentiment.

“Make sure the mentor-mentee relationship is a two-way street,” Joey said. “If you are much junior to their level, sometimes an outside or objective opinion on a business practice or creative endeavor provides a helpful point of view that your mentor hasn’t considered yet.”

Find simple ways to help your mentor. Perhaps your mentor is having trouble with Twitter and you happen to be a social media whiz. Offer to give him a lesson. Your mentor might need help with a charity function, so volunteer for the event.

Don’t overdo it. You don’t want to be overbearing. You aren’t your mentor’s new best friend, but look for little ways to connect with your mentor and make her life easier.

“Strike the balance between keeping in touch and being a nuisance,” said Joey Chavez. “You never want to overextend the relationship, but dropping off the planet for months at a time and then getting in touch again once you need something from them is not the best way either. Send the occasional email. Keep up with projects they’re shepherding so you can reach out with the perfect ‘congrats’ note or call. Also, don’t just rely on emails. Pick up the phone. Set a lunch once every six months. Make a little effort because suddenly, time will pass before you know it.”


Congratulations chocolate kiss. Photo by Eduardo Equis.

Joey highlights a particularly great way to stay in touch with your mentor: congratulations notes. It’s lovely to get a nice, well-wishing note – without an ask for a job on the new project, film, TV series, etc. It demonstrates that you care about your mentor’s life and career and are excited when good things happen for good people, even if these good things don’t benefit you directly. Selflessly congratulating someone who has selflessly mentored you is just good manners.

“These people take time out of their busy lives to devote to you,” said Jenny Stempel, a TV development executive who helped develop “The Glades.” “The more respect and appreciation you show for their time, the more likely they’ll want to continue to associate with you.”

“Check in with them periodically about your progress, and use that opportunity to ask questions,” Jenny said.

Emails I love to get and your mentor will, too:

  • You just landed an agent or manger and you’re very excited.
  • Your film just got financed.
  • Your film or play just got talent attached.
  • Your film just got accepted into a festival.
  • Your film is premiering.
  • You are shooting your web series and it’s going great.
  • You just published your novel.
  • You just placed in a contest.
  • You just got rights to great source material.
  • You’re mounting your play.

With great news, you may have questions, as Jenny Stempel noted. Your mentor likely will be happy to answer your questions, especially if you use good news as the springboard.

…always follow up with a thank you…

It should go without saying, but always follow up with a thank-you note or email every time your mentor sits down with you or gives you advice.

Make your mentor look good.

If you’ve developed a strong bond with your mentor and she feels confident about your abilities and talent, she might recommend you for a program or job. Treat this gift with the utmost respect.

…do your best to wow them.

“If a mentor has stuck his neck out by securing you an interview, make sure you come prepared to the meeting, look and act professionally, and do your best to wow them,” said Jenny Stempel. “This is not only a reflection on you, but on your mentor as well.”

If you blow the interview…your mentor WILL hear about it.

If you blow the interview, have typos on your application or résumé, are intoxicated, are inappropriately dressed, or represent yourself in any unprofessional way – your mentor WILL hear about it. Your mentor’s colleague will call and say, “WTF?”

If that happens, you can guarantee it’ll be the last time your mentor gives you a recommendation.

Whatever the outcome, if a mentor gave you a recommendation, you should follow up with her and let her know the result. If you didn’t get the job or program slot, it may be a valuable opportunity for you to learn what you need to do in order to advance. It may not be pleasant to hear why you were rejected, but the feedback can help you get the job or the slot the next time you apply.

“One of the most helpful things about having a mentor can be the access to new jobs or opportunities, but don’t make the relationship just about your career’s momentum,” said Joey Chavez. “It can cheapen the relationship and make your mentor feel like you’re just keeping up the relationship to use them.”

If you’re always respectful of your mentor, she will eventually volunteer to help you. You won’t have to ask. But until that time comes, look at the long haul. You hope to have a career for many years. You’re going to need someone to guide you through it all.

Listen, Understand, Act

Take the Scrabble tiles to heart. Photo by Higher Sights.

Again, here are five tips on keeping a mentor:

  1. Listen to your mentor’s advice.
  2. Be loyal and discreet.
  3. Make the relationship a two-way street.
  4. Follow up, thank your mentor, and stay in touch at appropriate intervals.
  5. Make your mentor look good.

If you follow these simple tips, you’ll give your mentor the respect she deserves and you’ll get the advice you need. When the town is draining you dry, your mentor’s support will remind you of your great potential and talent. This alone can fill your glass to the brim.

So how do mentors do this specifically? What makes a mentor great? Stay tuned! My next post will cover the qualities of a great Hollywood mentor with one of the town’s best – TV showrunner Nancy Miller (“Saving Grace,” “Any Day Now”).


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