SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — “Make product, then put it out there and then hustle.”
Tom Musca, the writer and producer of the 1988 drama, “Stand and Deliver,” imparted that bit of wisdom onto a crowd of film students attending the “From Film Student to Filmmaker” panel discussion at the Gutstein Gallery.
Wednesday’s event was part of the 2019 SCAD Savannah Film Festival.
Moderated by Bill Borden, the producer of “Kung Fu Hustle” and “High School Musical,” the panel was made up of speakers who have all previously worked with Borden at some point in their careers.
Along with Musca, actor Josh Whitehouse of British period drama series “Poldark”; actress Julia Lester of the Disney+ show “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series”; and choreographer, producer and director Shawn Ku shared stories of how they got their starts in the film and television industry.
Ku, a first-generation Asian-American, told the audience he initially planned on finishing medical school — what his parents wanted him to do.
“It was kind of the last thing I wanted to do, and it took a while for me to get the balls to tell them that I didn’t want to do it,” Ku said.
He found his path after dancing on Broadway, then directing and working in theater for a number of years, which led him into scriptwriting and eventually film school.
Lester came from a family of actors.
“I grew up with a love for theater and acting because it’s in my blood,” she said.
Her parents got her into acting when she was “basically born,” and she’s been pursuing the career path ever since.
“There’s nothing on this planet that speaks to me the way that performing does,” Lester said.
Whitehouse has been acting for about eight years, he told the crowd, and he initially moved to London to be a musician when he got scouted for a modeling job with U.K. clothing company, Jack Wills.
Through the director of the modeling shoot, he eventually landed a leading role in the British historical film, “Northern Soul.”
“As soon as the film came out, it made quite a big splash, and I got some wonderful agents out of it,” Whitehouse said.
Advice for film students
The panelists shared what they’ve learned about the business with film students looking to get their careers started.
“The most important thing, if you ask me, is to create product,” Musca said. “That’s what being in an environment like film school allows you to do, and you have people willing to work on your films, and it’s a reciprocal nature; it’s rare to have that.”
He also encouraged students to figure out who they are, what they want to do and not to shy away from wearing more than one hat in the film business.
Whitehouse shared with the crowd something he says he always has to tell himself, otherwise, it would be tough to deal with the amount of rejection that comes with an acting career.
“I tend to always just believe I’m doing this as a hobby, and therefore, it’s a passion and it’s something that I love doing, I’m not doing it expecting to get a job,” he said.
“Because if you sit there going, ‘Ahh, I didn’t get anything, I must be terrible,’ no, there’s just a million people trying to get all of these jobs all the time,” Whitehouse said of the possibility of getting rejected.
One student asked the panel how they would manage to balance their time among a variety of different interests.
Lester recommended creating products that cater to all of one’s needs.
“So if you’re writing a film that you’re also going to star in and that you’re also going to direct, do that,” she said, also advising finding the right group of people who are also interested in multiple areas of the film industry.
Adding to that, Ku suggested that students be frank with themselves about how good they really are at all the different roles they’re juggling.
“Sometimes, you can spread yourself too thin, and try to be a cinematographer and shoot, write, direct and star, and all you’re doing is half-assing every single thing,” Ku said.
“This is a time to be optimistic, but you also have to be realistic,” he advised.