Anyone who wants to succeed in the entertainment industry, must be extremely confident, bold, well-prepared, and not let a single opportunity slip by.
That was the advice that Neil Mandt, a five-time Emmy Award winner, shared with 120 students during a School of Business presentation on Sept. 25 titled, “How to Make it in the Entertainment Business.’’
Mandt’s message was both powerful and, at times, painful.
Before starting his presentation, he asked all the students to file to the front of the auditorium and introduce themselves. While most had great handshakes, he noted that many failed to say their full name or to make eye contact. Few had researched his background or prepared questions.
“Life is a series of tests. If you didn’t say your last name when you introduced yourself, you failed!,’’ he said. “You get only one chance to make a good first impression.’’
“Let me know who you are. Stand out!,’’ he said. “I’m not here to mess around folks. You’ve got one shot. Be prepared to capitalize on the moment. Make sure people remember you.’’
At the conclusion of his hour-long presentation, he said he will hire two UConn interns. They will be selected based on a one-minute video that best describes why they deserve the opportunity.
Breaking into the business at an early age
Mandt got his start in entertainment at age 10. He lived in a suburb of Detroit, thousands of miles from Hollywood, but always knew he wanted to work in the entertainment industry and was drawn to acting, directing, and production.
A company was making a TV movie near his home, so he rode his bike down, asked the crew who was in charge, and told the casting director that he wanted to get into show business.
Six weeks later, he got a call at home offering him the chance to audition for a Buick commercial. But his mother wouldn’t let him miss school. Cunningly, he called an elderly neighbor, from the principal’s landline, and explained that he needed a ride somewhere. He passed the audition and landed the job.
“I got it because I’m a go-getter,’’ he said. Before long he had an agent and landed an ad for Bubble Yum bubblegum.
From there, Mandt’s achievements continued to accelerate. By 16, he had a cable show interviewing rock stars, including REO Speedwagon, Phil Collins, and Paula Abdul.
By age 20, he was a reporter for NBC, the youngest reporter in a Top 10 market. At 26, he was the producer in charge of ABC News’ daily coverage of the O.J. Simpson criminal trial. In the years that followed, he produced 10 movies, 3,000 episodes of television shows, won five Emmy Awards, and became a pioneer in artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and virtual reality content creation.
When he first moved to Hollywood, he lived in his car. Today Mandt owns the building at the end of the same block.
No one can do it all and he urged the students to surround themselves with talent. “Find people who are better than you. Find them, manage them, and motivate them,’’ he says. “Bring the best out of them so you look great.’’
If he made his success sound easy, it wasn’t. He made mistakes, encountered rejection, and took many financial and creative risks.
“Let me start by saying achieving my success was hard, very hard,’’ he says on his website. “It took many years, with incredible struggles and sacrifices that would be too much for most people to deal with.’’
Looking to the future and adapting to change
Recently he spearheaded the creative direction and management of the 2022 broadcast of the Golden Globe Awards; he and his wife Lauren created CrimeDoor, a comprehensive app of true crime; and he developed a tech platform providing risk analytics solutions and licensing opportunities to digital media companies, and raised millions of dollars for his AI company.
When asked about the Writers Guild of America strike, he said he believes the vast majority of those jobs will soon be eliminated in the next few years, because of the advancement of technology.
Those who will find success in entertainment will need to adjust, reinvent, and create brands that are valuable.
He told students that next year, when Apple releases its Vision Pro glasses, which blend digital content with physical space, he believes the invention will be the biggest thing since the creation of the printing press. It will offer personalized ads that will appear on entities, including prominent buildings. For the last six years, Mandt has been talking to business owners about how they can monetize their buildings. Many are ready to go, once the new technology is released.
He advised students not to waste time—their own or that of others—and to always safeguard their reputation.
“Be loud, be daring, do things. Make sure the internet says you’re amazing,’’ he said. Don’t opt for a low-profile existence. Develop videos, use professional headshots, find ways to contribute to top media publications. Learn to self-promote. Know the organizational chart of the company you want to work for. Ask mentors for advice, he said.
“What is the best way to succeed? Who should you be in the office? How should you make your mark?,’’ he said. “Be the person who gets [stuff] done. Pick up a piece of trash in the hallway. Say, ‘Whatever you need boss! I’m there for you.’ Be someone who is trusted and gets stuff done.’’
Greg Reilly, department head in the Boucher Management & Entrepreneurship Department said it was a privilege to have Mandt share his wisdom.
“His extensive experience in Hollywood and his ability to simplify complex intersections of media and cutting-edge technologies provided our students with a unique perspective on navigating the entertainment industry,” he said.
“Neil’s dynamic and engaging presentation style captivated our students at the UConn School of Business. He shared invaluable insights on the twists, turns, and challenges one might face in the entertainment industry, emphasizing that there isn’t a single path or school that can fully prepare you for it,’’ Reilly said.