How to Get Your Start in Hollywood: 10 Tips from a Creative Executive
Joey Dizon is a creative executive at AGBO, Joe and Anthony Russo's film company. Dizon’s resume includes some of the biggest blockbusters of all time like Avengers: Endgame, Ant-Man, and Iron Man 3. As a veteran of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's safe to say that he understands a thing or two about big-budget action and adventure films. His experience crafting stories, world-building, and developing intellectual property is something we can all learn from, especially any new screenwriters trying to break into the industry.
Dizon is also a juror for the ScreenCraft Action & Adventure Screenplay Competition.
Dizon recently had a conversation with ScreenCraft’s Emily Dell over Zoom to share his experiences working on some of the biggest (and best) films in recent years and his advice for what it takes to get your start (and stay) in Hollywood. Here are the biggest tips and recommendations from an industry insider for how screenwriters can get their start in Hollywood.
How to get your start in Hollywood: 10 tips to launch your screenwriting career
1. Pay attention to the physical process of production
Dizon started where most young filmmakers do — as a production assistant. The first film he worked on was Adam Sandler’s You Don’t Mess with the Zohan in the production office. His days were filled with things like making coffee, copies, and running back and forth to set. But he learned that a lot of creativity comes with working in the production office.
“Sometimes there are limitations when it comes to physical production that creates limitations in the script,” said Dizon. “You have to have a nice, cohesive, organic marriage to make anything happen. That’s how filmmaking works. Learning the physical production process first was insanely valuable to my journey of where I am today.”
2. Stay humble and learn everything you can
Dizon says instead of acting like a know-it-all, everyone working in film should be flexible and open to learning even if it means learning something you’re currently not interested in. “There’s a culture to filmmaking. Learn all the little details to understand the bigger stuff and how it informs the creative and the entire process.”
Dizon's advice is especially important when you think about how the industry has changed over the past few years (and months!). People who can adapt will last for decades not just a few projects.
3. A strong work ethic comes through at any age
Many people working in film started as production assistants right out of college. But that doesn’t mean someone in their 40s can't also get started in the business, according to Dizon. Anyone who’s smart and hardworking will be appreciated on set or in the production office regardless of their age. His advice for late-bloomers in the entertainment industry?
“Have a good attitude. We’re all making a movie, we’re all on the same team.”
Remember that sometimes, more life-experience can be incredibly beneficial in unexpected ways.
4. Collaboration is everything
Dizon credits a lot of the phenomenal success of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame to the directors (the Russo Brothers) and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. But, he says, for a film to be successful, every single person must collaborate with each other.
“There’s not just one genius who’s coming up with all this – it really is a collaborative process. That's one of the most valuable things I learned working on those movies. It is a lot of minds coming together to pull it all off.” When you put ego aside, says Dizon, you can be open to other people’s ideas. “It could be the person bringing the coffee that has that really great idea, for all we know,” he says.
And "pull it off" they did. Dizon recalls that watching the collaboration of everyone on the last two Avengers movies was “astonishing."
5. The best characters are relatable
Dizon says that a great character goes much deeper than what’s on the surface. “If there’s a trope, dig deeper into that trope. Find the complexity and emotional weight. Deliver a character that people can emotionally hook into.” His example — Jurassic Park.
“It’s not the big dinosaurs,” he says, “it’s the characters you are most likely invested in. It could be whatever baggage they might have and you’re like, ‘I totally get that!’ or it’s the love story, you want it to last. That’s the stuff that is really important for people to think about coming into building their characters. If you watch The Avengers or Extraction, there’s some baggage there — emotional weight and we can relate.”
6. Don't be afraid to reinvent your characters
Working on Marvel movies means that Dizon constantly needs to reinvent familiar characters to fit new storytelling structures.
“We like to consider ourselves an IP incubator,” said Dizon. “We take whatever we found most compelling about the IP, that we creatively and emotionally connect with. For instance with Battle of the Planets, we’ll look at all the creative elements and try to reinvent it.”
(The Russo Brothers announced in 2019 they plan to develop the concept from the 1978 TV show, Battle of the Planets, for the big screen).
7. Character always comes first
Dizon said that all genre stories must have compelling characters with whom people can connect emotionally. “Without that emotion, it’s hard to tell a great genre story.” Dizon uses the recent Netflix film Extraction as an example. He came on board as the filmmakers were wrapping up filming and thinking about shooting additional scenes to make sure the journey of the main characters was coming across.
“The Extraction film has a cast of characters who are a bit more flawed, a bit more complicated. They are wavering in their moral compass at times. We needed to dig deep for audiences to empathize or sympathize with these complicated characters. It’s a whole movie where people are killing each other. It’s big action. It was a matter of discussing with the team which scenes to incorporate to get all that really good emotional stuff across, and how to accomplish it on a production level,” he said. “That was all part of the process. Being able to mine the narrative was a big challenge in order to come out with the product that we got which turned out to be pretty great.”
8. Good action scenes need emotional weight behind them
For an action scene to be successful, the character must have something to fight for, or someone to get back to, like a loved one. “The only way for that action scene to have that impact and for an audience member to be afraid that person is going to get killed, is to have that emotional weight behind it. If you’re writing an action scene, double back and ask, ‘Do I have enough ahead of it for this to make sense and for me to be emotionally invested in it?’ Be very clear what’s at stake."
9. Studios (like AGBO) seek out writers with a knack for genre storytelling
Dizon says that because they are in the “game of world-building, universe building, and multiplatform storytelling [AGBO] generally likes to work with writers who have those sensibilities of building universes."
Dizon also adds, that it helps "if a writer has a good sense of genre and how to make sure the character and emotion is there within the genre. Whether it’s horror or some of these bigger IP things, those are generally the kind of writers we like to work with. They tend to have those sensibilities that mesh with the Russos and with Markus and McFeely [writers of The Avengers] because once we work with them, and we’re in that room with them, it’s a collaborative approach.”
10. Script submissions to AGBO generally come from agents and managers
Like most production companies, AGBO doesn’t accept unsolicited material. If you don’t have representation, Dizon suggests entering screenwriting competitions to get a manager. Dizon's final advice for screenwriters trying to break into the industry:
“Keep writing and try to get yourself noticed.”
"I have several friends who benefited from submitting to competitions and getting representation that way," Joey is quick to point out. "One of my friends was even a Finalist in the Screencraft’s Action/Thriller competition. He earned representation from it, and is a working writer now!"
How to get your start in Hollywood
Learn more about how you can get noticed by entering the ScreenCraft Action & Adventure Screenwriting Competition where Joey Dizon is one of the esteemed industry jurors. Sign up for our newsletter for more AMAs, events, and competition updates and announcements so you can take the next step in your screenwriting career.