Though we all may wish that Hollywood was as inviting a place as it’s portrayed in the Oscar smash La La Land, the reality is that the movies remain a tough industry to break into. Though success requires 110% effort and is never guaranteed, with enough hard work and tenacity, small successes can translate into big time results. To get a better understanding of the industry at present, Current Artisan chatted with Mike McCallum, a young production wizard with a host of on-set experience under his belt. With plans to become one of the industry’s top movie producers, read on to find Mike’s tips for creating a Hollywood ending to your career in show business.
How did you first get involved with film? When did you decide to begin producing professionally?
Mike McCallum: I’ve always been fascinated with film and art. I saw my first live theatrical musical play when I was 4 years old. It was“Peter Pan Live” and when it finished I cried because I wanted the action to keep going. When I was living in Indonesia, some friends and I would get together and make movies. It was a silly, adventurous kind of thing where it was obviously all for the fun of it. But during that time, I felt like film was my calling. As I grew up, I left behind thoughts of a career in film and decided to major in international business in Toronto. A year later, I discovered that I wasn’t passionate about being a businessman, and took some time off to really pursue what I liked and what I like is entertainment. I managed to get accepted to the University of Oklahoma to study Creative Media Productions, which was fantastic. During my time there I produced some award winning short films.
You’ve lived in six(!) different countries growing up — how has your international background shaped the way you interact with art?
Mike: I think growing up in many parts of the world really humbles you in a lot of ways. It puts things in perspective, and you don’t take anything for granted in terms of cultural norms. When you put this type of thought into film, you get to see things from different points of views. It’s almost as if you can influence your “work” with different cultural touches that you’ve experienced.
You were hand-picked by producers of Netflix shows, to help assist with some of their current productions, including Rob Schneider’s Real Rob — what is the vibe like on set for these types of shows?
Mike: A big part of Rob’s show was filmed at his private home, so it was definitely a kind of set I had not experienced before. Obviously, you had to be extra careful while working inside the house because you didn’t want to break or ruin anything. Everyone was on their toes while shooting in Rob’s house, so there were times when people were on edge, but for the most part the set had a welcoming vibe. It was a fast paced set since we weren’t considered a large crew. Many times people had to do double the work because we lacked the necessary manpower. Since Rob’s place is in a gated residential neighborhood, there were technical audio issues all the time — things leaf blowers , construction next door, and barking dogs kept affecting our audio. I’ll say that it helped that the crew I worked with was awesome. As a production assistant, it is your job to get anything that is required on set including attending to some of the crew’s needs. So I got close to a lot of people from all the different departments.
Who are some producers you look up to? How do you model your vision for projects like them?
Mike: I would have to say J.J. Abrams and Christopher Nolan. They’re mostly recognized as directors, but they’ve also been the producers for many of their best films. What I most look up to about them is their incredible vision for powerful stories. I like the path they chose to develop those monster franchise films they took on. The Star Wars and Batman Trilogy could have been big flukes, but because these individuals have the gift of vision, they made those films what they are today.
All the time I ask myself what would Nolan do with this simple scene? I know that if a scene had very little action to it, he would find a way to make it memorable. Maybe adding more sharp crisp dialogue, or build up and intensify the music. Details like this help me take interest in their films, and I try to apply that as best I can in my work.
What advice do you have for up and coming Hollywood executive types that are looking to get their foot in the door via production assistant gigs?
Mike: My advice would be to put in the work. This industry is definitely not the easiest to get around in, so you have to put the long hours to get noticed. Once that happens, things start falling into place. The more you work, the more connections you make, and that is key in this business. I really did not want to believe the saying “It matters who you know,” but out here it applies. Networking not only gets you more work, but it also takes you one step closer to a dream project, which for me would be working on a big feature film. Keep in mind that you may have to work for free when starting out, but suddenly someone you know will pull you in with them on a bigger project and hopefully a paid one. It is not an easy start, and sometimes you might need to get another part time job to pay bills, but once you get your foot in the door things should start panning out. I should also mention that starting out as a production assistant, you want to have the best attitude you can bring to set. Always be nice to others and do what you are told without putting up a fight. I’ve been told hard work and good attitude will get you a long way, and I believe it.