Our SLICE Board Members have all been working in the themed entertainment industry for their entire careers. When asked “How do you break into the themed entertainment industry?”, here are their responses:
Attraction Designer & Art Director
1. Be personable. People like to work with people that they like. Talent is great. Talent, ability to draw will take you a long way, but if you are a jerk, if you make people uneasy, you won’t continue to get work.
2. Study what has gone before. Look at the great design artists from Disney. Study them. There are new young concept artists for themes like Potter. Take them in. Then make it your own.
3. You don’t need to start with the big three….Disney, Universal, SeaWorld. There are lots of small independent theme park design groups right here in Orlando.
Bottom line is, if you have some talent and if people LIKE you, you’ll start to get work. Keep at it. Don’t give up.
Art Director & Illustrator
1. There’s a difference between Show Business and the Entertainment Industry. There is no American Idol for what we do. You won’t simply “break in.” You have to start at the bottom, work hard, and find a fit. If you’re lucky, you’ll meet someone who will help you.
2. My best advice is to try to go to work at an entertainment or theme park company on any level possible and learn the ropes. If you’re good at something, they will most likely notice. Tony Baxter started at Disney working at Disneyland in rides. He would work on attraction ideas in his spare time and submit them to his bosses. Pretty soon, he got noticed.
3. Seek advice from someone who will tell you the truth about your work. Even if it hurts.
The people whom I worked with when I was younger were happy to point out my mistakes. They were excellent at it. I see a lot of portfolios and for some, I wonder why no one ever told them their work is not that good.
4. Finally, attend every industry event you can find and network hard. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to people. Make friends, real friends and socialize. Use social media, become familiar with every firm that would use the type of work you want to do and ask to be interviewed.
5. Make it your business to know who the “Rock Stars” are in the industry you want to “break into”. Research their stories and try to discover what makes them so good.
6. Develop long-lasting relationships. I’m in this business today because of the people I’ve met along the way. Maintain a good reputation for being easy to work with and reliable.
7. Be humble, modest and hard working. No one wants to hear over and over how good you are. Most likely, they heard you the first time.
My own experience is a little unorthodox. I was working as a performer and volunteered to write a pre-show for the Indiana Jones Stunt Show at MGM Studios. Through that, I was invited to participate in brainstorming sessions for Disney Entertainment and Disney Events Productions. My real break came through cold calls to theme park producers. Yes, cold calls. As luck would have it, Paramount Parks was desperate to find a writer for an attraction and they took a chance on me. The moral of that little story is…be persistent. Explore every avenue you can imagine and be BOLD.
However, that’s an unusual circumstance.
1. My best advice is to attend networking events for SLICE and TEA whenever possible.
2. Make friends with as many people in the industry as you can, and foster those friendships. Stay in touch on a regular basis, but keep it light and friendly – avoid directly asking for work. A friend is more likely to recommend you for a project than a business acquaintance.
Attractions & Graphic Designer
My experience with being a Designer in the industry, and running SLICE Creative Network gives me a unique insight into how most freelancers are moving in and out of the industry, and what works and what doesn’t. Here’s my advice:
1. Move to Orlando. Most companies want to hire locals first. If you live elsewhere, 90% of Orlando-based employers lose interest in you. Companies want someone who they can call at a moment’s notice to come and join them for meetings, or just to feel like you can be communicated with easily during a project.
2. Once you’re in Orlando, meeting people is absolutely integral. Go to any and all Mixers or industry events possible.
3. Market yourself clearly and concisely. When someone asks “what do you do?”, you must be able to say 1 or 2 specialties. THAT’S IT. If you say you do multiple specialties, people will glaze over and they’ll never think of you again. If you are CLEAR: “I am a Graphic Designer” (example), people will remember you. Once you get them on your website, they can discover all the other wonderful things you do, if that applies to you. Don’t be “the everything” person. It’ll get you nowhere fast.
4. Don’t be a stuck up artist. Companies are hiring you to carry out their visions, not yours. Of course, you’re able to enhance their visions and add your own personal touches which allows you to be creative, but remember that THEY know what’s best for their products and companies, so remember to choose your battles if you must, and always carry out your projects and meetings with class, integrity and respect.
5. Become knowledgeable in our business: aka GO TO THEME PARKS and other attractions! The more you see and know and FEEL about attractions, the more experience you will have in understanding what really goes into creating the best theme parks in the world and how to create a variety of emotional experiences for guests. Because designing is about evoking emotions from people.