Can you tell us something about you that few people know?
“My first television appearance was at the age of 14 as a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show. I wrote a letter to Oprah about having my mother on the show to meet her favorite singer, Luther Vandross. The show contacted us and flew my mom and me to Chicago. We were told Luther couldn’t make it, but that Oprah was touched by my letter and wanted to have us on.
“That wasn’t true though, because she actually did get Luther and he sang a song to my mother on the air! At the show Oprah came up to me and said how nice she thought my letter was, which was a big moment in my life. To be complimented by such an amazing person like her sticks with me to this day. “
Do you have any exciting projects going on right now?
“Currently I’m in production on a horror mini-series titled Tomino’s Hell. The series is being made in partnership with YouTube, Daydream by Google, VRscout, and my production company Crash Site Films.
“This project is particularly special because it’s the first series shot on their brand new VR180 camera. I’ve always loved being on the forefront of new technology in entertainment so to be among the first using the camera in this way is very exciting. Taking my experience in action and drama and combining that with the new capabilities of this incredible technology we’re doing things fans have never seen before. Tomino’s Hell premieres October 1st on YouTube. “
Many people say success correlates with the people you meet in your life. Can you describe two that most impacted your success and why?
“My mentor, Marsha Posner-Williams is the definition of success and leadership. Her resume as a producer speaks for itself, but it doesn’t mention what an incredible person she is.
“When I first met her I was only working as an actor but producing was on my mind. We met as fellow judges for an internship program for the Television Academy and she took me under her wing. I’ve learned so much from her, but one of the first things she taught me was that persistence is key. Because of her help I’ve avoided learning many lessons the hard way, and she helped me bounce back from my setbacks. It’s because of her I can emphatically say everyone should seek to have a good mentor.
“Another huge impact on me was a director named Paris Barclay. I was guest starring on an episode of CSI he was directing and at the time it was the biggest part I had ever landed. Usually directors don’t have a lot of time to meet with the guest cast, but Paris stands out because he made the time. I got to see how an experienced, talented director runs his set. Watching him inspired me to learn directing, which is something I thought about but never took seriously.
“I’ve seen so many bad examples over the years, but the example he set for me that day has never left my mind. Whenever I direct a project I remind myself of how I felt that day and try to recreate that environment for my performers.”
Leaders always seem to find ways to overcome their weaknesses. Can you share one or two examples of how you work outside of your comfort zone to achieve success?
“I’m an extremely hands on person so I’ve never enjoyed delegating. When you’re passionate about something it’s hard to step back and let others handle details, even the small ones.
“As my productions have grown it’s been necessary to bring in more people to handle responsibilities that were normally mine. To make the process easier, I turned regular meetings into dinner meetings. By adding a social element it was no longer something I was dreading, but an opportunity to gather my team and talk about progress. Even if there are notes I have to give someone, meeting this way alerts me to that fact and I can get with them later one on one. This has helped me learn to delegate more and although it’s still a challenge I’m much better at it than I used to be.”
The concept of mind over matter has been around for years. A contemporary description of this is having mental toughness. Can you give us an example (or two) of obstacles you’ve overcome by getting your mind in the right place (some might call this reframing the situation)?
“On one project we filmed at a soundstage run by someone who was (I’m being very nice) less than pleasant. We couldn’t go five minutes without this person finding a reason to be upset. After the third time of being confronted I had a very strong urge to pack up the shoot and find a new location.
“I was seconds away, but I decided to stop and think from this person’s perspective. Her studio was normally rented by individuals making personal videos, not professional production companies. Thinking of it this way inspired me to talk to her about the situation and get more info. By reframing the situation, I was able to repair the strained relationship and we continued the shoot at her studio. Had I not taken a moment to consider her position I would’ve let my anger get the best of me, but taking that extra moment saved the shoot as well as the money we would’ve wasted that day.”
What are your “3 Lessons I Learned from My Most Memorable Failure”?
- “Trust but verify — Always check the quality of someone’s work before you hire them. Sometimes in production you have someone quit at the last moment and you need to hire a replacement right away. Even in those scenarios, always check the quality of their work. I had an emergency need for our sound department. We brought in someone who wasn’t properly vetted, and he completely ruined an entire day’s worth of shooting.
- “Only work with people as dedicated as you are — Starting anything, a production, business, etc., with a partner is always tricky. If you’ve never worked with them before there’s a learning curve to discover each other’s strengths and weaknesses, which can lead to trouble if you don’t know how to navigate these differences. One big source of trouble can be working with someone who isn’t as dedicated as you are. In those situations, you’ll find yourself doing the lion’s share of the work, while your ‘partner’ does nothing. That kind of strain can ruin the partnership and the business.
- “Just because something doesn’t work doesn’t mean it’s bad. ‘When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade’. It’s an old cliché, but it has stuck around for a reason. No matter the industry there will be plans that don’t work, costs that seem out of control, and people who don’t do exactly what you expect. An overwhelming number of people quit at the first sign of struggle, but that’s when things are getting interesting. To be successful we have to learn to adjust and go with the flow. Because something doesn’t happen the way you expect doesn’t mean it won’t ultimately be a benefit or work better in the long run.”
What unfiltered advice can you give aspiring stars regarding how to avoid common mis-fires in starting their career?
“The biggest hinderance to success I’ve seen in this industry is complacency. Instead of constantly working hard to further their careers many people move to L.A. to act out the fantasy life of an actor.
“Instead of attending a workshop, they want to have brunch. Instead of finding out what casting directors are looking for and trying to get an audition they say, ‘That’s my agent’s job!’ Always remember this is YOUR career we’re talking about. You have to constantly work to make opportunities for yourself. Hanging out and trying to feel important will not lead to work.
“Another critical mistake a lot of hopefuls make is they Ignore professional organizations and the resources they possess. Joining the Producers Guild and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has benefitted me tremendously. These organizations offer training, seminars, and have endless resources to keep you competitive. They also serve the purpose of keeping you active in the industry even if you’re not working at the time. It’s important to always have a sense of what’s happening and who’s working on what.”
What is the best lesson you learned from your worst boss?
“I worked on a movie with a director who had no clue what he was doing. He was constantly yelling and screaming, blowing up over nothing. His attitude cast a shadow over the entire production, which was easy to see once the movie was released. I learned from that experience how negativity can kill a production and how critical it is for the director to set the tone on set.”
What is one “efficiency hack” you use consistently in your life to keep your time and mind free to focus on your strengths and passions?
“For me it’s all about starting my day off correctly. The first hour I’m awake is spent warming up for the day. I’m up at 4:30 a.m. to meditate and get to the gym. I never check emails during that first hour either. Whatever is waiting in my inbox, good or bad, has to wait for me to get to it. I believe that technology has improved our lives with the convenience of communication, but it shouldn’t consume us. Just because you can wake up and instantly check your email doesn’t mean you should.”
All actors or musicians have sleepless nights. We have a term we use with our clients called the “2 a.m. moment.” It’s when you’re wide awake and thinking not-so-positive thoughts about your business choices and future. Can you describe a 2 a.m. moment (or moments) you’ve had and how you overcame the challenges?
“I describe being in show business like standing in the middle of a frozen lake: It always feels like you’re one small crack away from drowning. It can be hard to stay positive with a constant fear that things will fall apart.
“I believe conquering self-doubt lies in remembering the victories that came before the 2 a.m. moment. Focus on what you’ve done right, not what you might do wrong. If you have taken a misstep, realize that beating yourself up won’t help correct it.
“Most importantly, trust yourself. If you are truly dedicated and love what you do, then you have to trust that you will make the right choices for your most successful future. “
Nobody likes to fail, and we sure don’t like to admit we failed. Can you describe a moment when you confided your most closely-held business issues/problems to someone close to you, and how the conversation(s) helped you work through the issue?
“The first time I served as a producer on a large set was very exciting, but at the same time I was feeling the weight of having that kind of responsibility. Even with effective planning, being in charge of something with so many moving parts can be daunting. I confided in one of my closest friends who has known me since college. He reminded me of the road I traveled and how, by experience, life prepares us for what’s to come. We can handle what’s in front of us, because of what’s behind us.”
What’s on the drawing board for your next venture?
“I’m producing an action-horror film that deals with zombies and the Vietnam war titled VietZomb.
I’m also writing on two other projects: One is a biography film on the first licensed female physician in Florida (who happens to be my grandmother, Dr. Effie Carrie Hampton) and I’m writing a book titled The Success Formula. It talks about the attitude and circumstances we need to create to be successful.”
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
“I’m part of the small group who doesn’t use social media. The best way to contact me is my website SeanHampton.com.”
Originally published at medium.com