Education and Transition

7 tips for veterans who want to work in the media and entertainment industry

I’m a Marine veteran who graduated with a degree in English, creative writing. I’ve worked as an editorial intern at a book review company, as an intern for the Writer’s Room with CBS’s “Blue Bloods,” and landed a job at ViacomCBS Veterans Network where I do creative production work and content writing. It was tough to find stability as a creative, but stability comes with being good at what you do. Here are some tips to smooth the transition for those veteran creatives not quite sure where to start.

1. Join VME. Veterans in Media and Entertainment is the premiere association of veteran creatives. They were my first real exposure to other veterans like me. Sign up, send them your redacted DD2-14, and pay whatever nominal flat fee they charge for entry ($25 when I applied.) It will be money well spent. They provide free, virtual and in-person classes, workshops, panels, they post job opportunities, and have their own chat forums full of fellow veterans willing to offer advice, solidarity, or artistic collaboration.

2. Educate yourself on your craft. I don’t care what type of creative you fancy yourself: there is likely a technical skill that goes along with it: Modeling? There is an art to how to pose, which includes understanding what camera lenses do to human proportions. Acting? There are different schools of thought to delve into. Video editing? You might want to learn Adobe Suite, DaVinci Resolve, Avid, or Final Cut. Writer? There is so much to say on the craft of writing that I started my own YouTube channel to try and cover it all. My point is, research and learn the technical and craft skills needed for your pursuit.

3. Know yourself, your why, and get comfortable with it. Understanding your why, and how to articulate it can attract likeminded creatives, and employers will be impressed by that sense of self, clarity, and focus. Having a succinct pitch, and the confidence behind knowing my why is how I got my “Blue Bloods” internship. Some people are going to be haters when you discuss pursuing work as a creative, and that’s fine — but understanding why what you do makes you happy should be your focus.

4. No shame whether a hobbyist or full-time! Don’t buy into gatekeeping. There is nothing wrong with having a “real job” that provides stability, so you can be an artist on the side. There is also nothing wrong with being a full-time artist, as long as you don’t mind a potentially erratic income. Overall, there is no wrong way to be a creative. A therapist going to casting calls on the weekend is still an actor, painting at home after a corporate workday still makes someone an artist, and an unpublished writer who writes every day is still a writer. People can be creatives for monetary gain, personal fulfillment, or anywhere in between.

5. Find a community of peers. You’ll be a better creative when you have peers who understand your craft. They can support you during tough times and offer inspiration and constructive critique. You will learn things from them in the vein of “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Your peers can keep you accountable and grounded in your work. Find and grow a supportive network of creative peers. Mentors have a role to play for sure, but peer networks are just as important in the long run.

6. Network until you’re blue in the face. This is how I got my both my internships and my job: networking. The how-to of good networking is another article on its own, but the gist is to A) strategically find events that interest you, and then show up. Do that a lot: go to a hundred events. It doesn’t matter if 99 are a drag. One event could change your life. Once you’re at these events, B) don’t be transactional. Try to be present in the moment and enjoy the company around you. Good networking is a slow burn, long-term thing. Build and nurture relationships based on mutual respect and good chemistry.

7. Build a portfolio of creative content. Being a professionalized creative means that it doesn’t matter if you have a degree in acting if you can’t (or don’t) act. Degrees can teach you craft, give you community and solidarity, and serve as a commitment device to create a body of work. Even so, at some point you need to take the plunge and engaging in the art you’d like to produce. Just ask yourself “what do I want to do as an artist?” and focus your efforts, whether full time or as a hobbyist, on making that happen.

Whether it takes you one month or 20 years to achieve your goal, you’ll enjoy yourself along the way. If you really understand yourself and your why, it’s not “if you succeed,” but “when you succeed.”

Melanie Corinne is a Marine vet and former Levantine Arabic linguist. She served at Camp Lejeune and deployed to Spain in 2016. She has a degree in English, creative writing from Fordham University and currently works in film and television with ViacomCBS. Connect with her on LinkedIn, or follow her Youtube Channel, The Writers Inn, for craft and industry notes for writers.

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