"What you will be in five years depends on two things: the people you meet and the books you read." ~ Twyla Tharp
This quote, specifically the people parth, that inspired the start of 52 Cups of Coffee and of all the people I’ve had coffee with, it seems the most true for Cup 11, Van Redin, in Austin, Texas.
You may have never heard Van Redin’s name, but you’ve certainly seen his work. As a still photographer specializing in the Motion Picture Industry he has worked on over 60 major feature films including: Rushmore, Rudy, Office Space, and Lord of the Rings over the course of a successful 20 year career. See his fantastic work here.
Working as a still photographer, Van takes photos of film scenes and studio shoots, which are used to create press and publicity for the film. This includes movie covers, posters, billboards and still shots used in print and online articles.
I found Van through a mutual friend, B A Kane (or as Van knows her, Betty Ann—her real name; she picked up B A as a nickname in college). B A volunteered to connect us after seeing I was going to the SXSW Interactive Festival via Facebook. Van and B A forged their friendship in 5th grade and they spent their high school years together in rural Texas—long before Hollywood was on his radar.
Van walked into the crowded Starbucks south of the downtown Austin with sunglasses, a relaxed demeanor and authentic Texas drawl. We found coffee and a table and started our conversation. It began with stories about B A and their Texas childhood before shifting to the movie industry—which as it turns out, was never his career plan.
It happened because of a connection:
My first job was at the Capitol for the House of Representatives. I was a photographer so that enabled me to meet a lot of people that helped me out in the long run. I got into the movie business because I knew a girl who was a script supervisor. She had done a bunch of movies and she invited me up to the set to do Tender Mercies’ stuff, hang out on Tender Mercies with Bobby (Robert) Duvall and Sally Field. So, that’s the first movie I ever went out on set, I think, first feature, anyway. And then, met Duvall, and kind of got to be friends with him. I’ve done probably ten picture with him now.
While a lucky break led to his first movie opportunity helped him start his career, it was hard word and persistence that made it a successful one:
I had to go out to L.A. and live there for a couple of years to make it happen. You got to go out to L.A. and call on all the right people and have a lot of persistence to keep calling. Then you do a really good job and you give the people you work with a little gift at the end; let them know that you want to work with them again.
In short, his success came from working hard and treating people right. He stayed in touch with people he worked with and used those connections to generate more job opportunities. When I asked Van the secret to success, his answer was simple and straightforward:
I can say it’s all about meeting people and treating them good. Taking advantage of your opportunities. It’s simple but very true. Most people appreciate that. There’s not much more to it than that.
Although it’s not always easy:
The opportunities aren’t always ideal or fun. When you’re working hard trying to make a name for yourself you come across jobs you don’t necessarily want to do.
A lot of people don’t follow through. They get tired of it all. They think an opportunity is a phony deal, or they have to do something that they don’t want to do. Like, “I am not going to do that.” Oh well, you got to do a lot of things that you don’t want to do sometimes.
(Hear Van, in his own words, talk about what makes a good photographer.)
Like movie actors, he’ll work on projects for months at a time often working long hours and traveling across the country (and sometimes the globe) for shoots. It’s contract work, which means Van’s next gig is never guaranteed, his livelihood is based on his ability to continue to book new jobs.
The connections he has, the connections he fosters, are vital because when people need to fill a job, they first look at the people they already know—the people they enjoyed working with the last time. And because Van treats people right (and produces good work) people want to continue working with him—it is his secret to making it in the movie industry.
Really, it’s the secret to making it in any industry.
52 Cups of Coffee has always been about meeting new people and building connections; yet, very few conversation have directly focused on how building the right connections allow people to build their best lives. That was what I most appreciated about my conversation with Van.
The simple reality is that every person we meet has the opportunity to change us. Every person knows something, someone or some opportunity that could be a lucky break that gets you closer to what you want in life.
So treat the people you meet well.
What you will be in five years depends on it.