I am truly delighted to present an awesome interview with multi-talented Tom Provost. Tom is a screenwriter, script doctor, blogger and writing teacher who also directs, produces and edits feature films and successful TV shows, and occasionally still acts. Phew! He has been nominated for an Edgar Allen Poe Award, and won Best Director at Maelstrom International Fantastic Film Fest and at HD Fest. I have heard him speak and he is both entertaining and informative.
Thank you for taking the time to offer your golden advice to folks new to the biz, and not so new.
What was your very first job in the business, and how did it come about?
I’m tempted to write that my first job in the entertainment business was waiting tables because for most of us in Los Angeles, such a job is indeed about the business. And I waited tables over ten years. But specifically regarding entertainment, my first paying gig was as an actor. I pursued acting full time the first 10 or so years I was in LA, right out of college. 6 years after moving to LA, I finally booked my first SA paying gig on a show called Cop Files. I had a semi-decent agent at the time who picked me up after seeing a play I starred in at a small theatre. The job came about through an audition she set up. Cop Files was a show from the creators of the wildly popular Cops, one of the first reality shows where the cameras followed real cops on the job. Cop Files, instead of being the real thing, was recreations. The part I played was a cop who saw a car drive into a lake. I dove into the lake, swam down to the car, found a man in a wheelchair trapped inside and saved him. The fact I’d been a lifeguard for 10 years was certainly a factor to booking the job as I can swim like a fish. But it was a paying gig, 2 nights of shooting until dawn with a big crew, and I did a ton of stunt work. It was an absolute blast.
What was your second?
The second was a small recurring part on the most expensive TV show ever filmed to that time, a huge bomb called SeaQuest. I did all my episodes before it even aired so while we were filming, there was a ton of ‘buzz’ about the show. The audition for the job came from a friend working on the production. I played an officer on the submarine and again was able to do some stunt work. I had my own trailer and the show filmed on the backlot of Universal Studios. For a few weeks I drove through the Universal Studios gates as a working actor, ran around the backlot (including the sets of Hill Valley from Back To The Future) and was in heaven. The show aired and tanked and many of us were let go. It still is one of my favorite experiences in the business.
Starting out, what was the best advice you were given?
It’s that old but great Winston Churchill quote, Never give up. “Last Man Standing” has been my interpretation of that advice. I’ve seen many people come to LA, try their hand at the business (in every arena) and for various reasons leave. Many leave for very good reasons! There is no reason to beat your head against a wall forever if you are miserable. Go do something else! That said, if you stay and work hard, I believe you will eventually find your way. While there are a few people who start making a living very young, most people in this business work hard for a long time before they start making a living in their chosen arena. If you worry less about being famous and more about doing a great job, at whatever you are doing, and slowly build a network of talented people around you over many years, you will eventually find consistent work in the industry. It may not be your initial dream/goal but if you are open to new possibilities and discovering various approaches to the business, it will come. I started out wanting to be a famous actor. While I still act on occasion and still love it, I’ve ended up having a successful career juggling screenwriting, directing, film and TV editing, and teaching. There is no way right out of college could I have envisioned the place I am now but I love it and am thankful for it.
What was the worst advice?
“If you come to LA and are not making a living in your chosen field after 5 years, go home.” I’ve heard similar comments from people over the years and each person picks a different number of years… a number that conveniently is one year longer than it took for them to make a living. Some of the most talented people in our business did not start having financial success at their chosen profession until later in life. To make people feel insecure about their individual path is a terrible, terrible thing. We all have different paths in this business. For some it comes quickly. For others it can take a while. For anyone who is working to denigrate those on a different, perhaps slower path, is beyond the pale.
Do you have any advice you would share with someone new wanting to start their career in film/TV?
Dive in hard.
Don’t wait for permission from someone else.
First, foremost and always work on your skill so that when the opportunity arrives, you’re ready and can perform.
Work every job like it is the most important job in the world, even if it is getting coffee for people… you never know who you will meet, who is watching, where even the most random job might lead. Crap jobs are dead ends for people when they are approached as a crap job. The people who approach a crap job like it is the best job in the world? Those people rise.
Be the first one to arrive and the last one to leave, at least until you prove yourself.
Don’t be a complainer or whiner, even when you are justifiably frustrated; instead, be the person everyone wants to work with again.
I’ll say it again: Be the person everyone wants to work with again.