By Noelle Sharp
MAKING ART WORK: Advice for artists, from artists is a series that taps into the knowledge and experience of seasoned creatives from our community and beyond for the benefit of our students. We had the pleasure of speaking with Alejandro Melendez, Director of Development, Unscripted and Featured Documentaries, for this episode of MAKING ART WORK.
What do you wish you had known when you were in school about working as a professional artist?
This is an interesting question, because what I know now all comes from experience on set and in the office. In class you learn a lot about theory and techniques which is great to know. However, depending on the track you want to follow most of what you learn in class will serve as great dinner conversations about the composition and structure of Citizen Cane, it will not get you a job. If you want to surpass this question and know what you want while in school I would highly suggest getting multiple internships in various positions throughout the industry in which you are wanting to pursue. This way it will help jumpstart your career and you will have a network of contacts built out to help secure your first job out of college. You never know who will be your best asset or connection to a job. I did a dual major and attended one of my marketing professors after class lectures with a guest from the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. After the lecture another student and myself approached the guest, she asked for charity tickets for an event, to which he replied “thats weird, usually people ask me for a job” then I stepped in and said, “I’m the guy thats going to ask you for a job” without even knowing me he gave a recommendation to the West Coast Page Program at NBC. That was my first job out in LA. His recommendation was very helpful and it also worked in my favor that I had 4 internships throughout the entertainment industry prior to the Page Program, but then again so did everybody else that made it into the program and that gave a very helpful competitive edge. I know everybody will have an idea of what they want to do as an artist but keep in mind there is no set path for all the careers that exist in the entertainment industry aside from finance, business affairs, being an agent, and a couple others. On the creative side you have to find your way, if you want to be a writer then write, a director then direct and build your reel, etc. Nothing will come to you, you have to go after it. For all of you wanting to be a creative development executive/Producer read everything and find interesting ways and people who can tell stories. Also, learn to use an office phone (transferring calls, connecting calls, and phone etiquette). I know this sounds ridiculous but having this skill will put you ahead of a lot of people trying to get a job at a studio, network, or working for a high profile director or producer. Everybody starts from the bottom and works their way up. Unless, you are born into it but that's a whole other story.
How do you find balance between creating your own art and using your creative talents for other projects (jobs, collaborations, etc.)?
As a development executive I meet with producers and talent who come in and pitch ideas for our company to partner up on and take out to networks. The key to success in these meetings aside from the idea is seeing what type of collaborators they would be. if we feel like the idea is great but the collaboration would be too toxic we will pass on a project. It's very important to be able to work with multiple people who you can work creatively together with and avoid egos and arguments. Aside, from using your talents at work you should always have a side hustle, whether it's writing a script, producing content outside (free and clear) of your job, etc., because as I mentioned before there is no set path to success in this industry. Sometimes you have to carve it out for yourself. It will eat into your weekends and you will have late nights but in the end you will also have a product you can show.
What’s the most useful advice you were given?
The best advice I have recieved from other executives when I first came out to LA was “live within your means, and once you make more money live beneath your means, because all of this can go away in a matter of seconds”. This is true production companies can fold at any given moment. Another pending writers strike can affect multiple jobs, so be smart. Another great piece of advice was “take every job you can get from the lowest job to the highest, because one day when you are giving notes or going over a budget you should be able to speak creatively and intelligently about everything that is happening on set, to the point where you can even step in and do someones job”. And my last note would be, be nice to everyone because someday that intern could be your boss