“Save your money when you do work.” There have been so many times when I was doing very well and working non-stop, raking in money. Then something would happen when no work would come in for a long time (a strike, production shut down, a gig would fall through, etc.) and you would have no steady source of income. Being a freelancer means you take the work as it comes. But you also have to save your money for when you are not working. Don’t go crazy and buy that Benz just yet. Live a few steps below your means.
As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Neil D’ Monte, a Director, Producer, Artist and Musician that is best known for his work on JURASSIC WORLD, BATMAN V. SUPERMAN, & MIDNIGHT SUN. Recently, he directed the award-winning short film JINGLE TRAILS which is now streaming on AMAZON PRIME. Neil is a producer with ROBOTS OF AWESOME on the SONY PICTURES lot as well as a sought-after storyboard artist. His work can be seen in the nominated film PALM SPRINGS starring ADAM SAMBERG and CRISTIN MILIOTI as well as the forthcoming UNBREAKABLE BOY with ZACHARY LEVI, RAMBO: LAST BLOOD, the new Aston Martin digital campaign for James Bond’ 007: NO TIME TO DIE as well as THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD 2. He attends COMIC CON every year promoting his comic CLAN OF THE VEIN. In his off-time Neil is a drummer that has played at major music festivals including LOLLAPALLOZA, COACHELLA & SXSW with such bands as SATELLITE PARTY and SMASHING PUMPKINS as well as a session drummer for PORNO FOR PYROS
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
You are very welcome and thank YOU for having me! I grew up in the city of Chicago on the North Side, a few blocks west of Foster Beach in the Andersonville Area. Life was pretty fun. Always surrounded by loving family and friends, we played in the streets, rode our BMX’s full speed all over town, had neighborhood get-togethers and we were active with our parish, St. Ita’s. And my family always got together at night to watch TV shows and movies together.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I loved watching movies growing up. And my Dad and I made horrifically bad Star Wars movies with my toys using his Super 8 camera. I was always acting the fool and hamming it up in front of the camera. My family got me into theater where I did a number of plays and that really fueled my passion to work in the film industry. After moving out to So Cal to attend USC, I really started actively pursuing it after I graduated.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Recently, I became the Head of Development and a Producer with Robots of Awesome/Sony Pictures. It was a fluke, really. I invited a friend of mine to an event two years ago to meet an acquaintance of mine from Blumhouse in the hopes of them working together. One did not show up but my friend from Sony brought one of the higher-ups along and we all talked and got along. They were surprised that I had a lot of friends in the business and asked to have a meeting with me. I went down to Sony, shared some ideas on how we could work together and a few weeks later, got a contract in my email saying I was approved to finance films under their banner. I had to read it several times before realizing what happened.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Oh yeah! Let me preface this by saying that I think a LOT of us have made some really “immature” mistakes when we first got started. I was hired by a director to storyboard a feature horror film. My friend who got me the job was hired to do the SPFX Makeup on the film. He referred me. So, my friend and I had breakfast with the director in West Hollywood a few weeks before prep. The meeting was going well so I decided that now would be a good time to pass along my headshot and resume as well as a friend of mine to be considered for casting. The director was a little more than caught off guard and I saw my friend’s eyes rolling. Not realizing what I did wrong, I just kept my mouth shut until we dispersed. On the way back, my friend and I shared a car and he told me that what I did was something “newbies” do. His exact words? “If you are hired to do an art job, only talk about that. Don’t pass along your headshot — and worse — your friend’s headshots in the hopes of being hired as actors. Very unprofessional!” From that point, I learned to not do things like that as I came off being desperate and overstepping my bounds.
So to anyone reading this,…don’t do that!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
We have a feature film coming up, an action/MMA fighting movie, which will be filming in March. Locations will be in Trinidad and in Saskatchewan. This will be the first feature I will be involved in as a producer and as the Executive in Charge of Production. Until we start prep, I am writing a thriller and supervising/consulting on a WWII supernatural thriller with my writing partner and another writer — both of which are original ideas I came up with out of college. And, with a little luck, hoping to direct both soon after. And of course, I am finishing up our Clan of the Vein graphic novel which I will work on with partner Neo Edmund in developing as a smaller budgeted film. Been keeping VERY busy during the pandemic!
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
I think that diversity is VERY IMPORTANT AND SIGNIFICANT in film and television! Without a doubt! Three reasons why diversity should be represented in film and television? Education, education and education!!!! I think we need to explore and incorporate everyone’s backgrounds into ours because it helps us learn from one another — and it is more “real”! When we come to embrace this and embrace others as equals, we grow as a society. We are all one.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1) “Save your money when you do work.” There have been so many times when I was doing very well and working non-stop, raking in money. Then something would happen when no work would come in for a long time (a strike, production shut down, a gig would fall through, etc.) and you would have no steady source of income. Being a freelancer means you take the work as it comes. But you also have to save your money for when you are not working. Don’t go crazy and buy that Benz just yet. Live a few steps below your means.
2) “Invest in yourself:” Thinking of taking a month long vacation traveling the world while you have a break? DON’T! Your talent is your instrument. Better keep it finely honed! There is someone out there waiting for you to quit and to go back home so they can take your place out here. Someone with more talent than you and someone with more drive than you. Take that extra money and take classes, learn a new skill. Maybe make sure that you are up to date with your headshots. When you have extra money and downtime, yes take a few days off and have some fun — you earned it! But having your website up to date with your current reel and pics gives you a better chance of getting seen and potentially hired.
3) “Stay in touch with everyone”. This town is big but also small. The longer you spend in the industry, the more you will keep running into people whom you worked with. If you show up on time, do good work and don’t talk shit about one another, your name WILL get passed around from person to person. Referrals are the best form of flattery! If you make a connection and a good friend, take the time to nurture it. Meet for coffee or lunch, meet to go for a hike or make a call to have a fun conversation on the phone. People tend to refer one another for gigs with whom they spend time. They also tend to refer friends who take the time to hang out with them, because they stay fresh in their heads. Get numbers, business cards and emails. Follow one another on social media. But make the effort to stay in touch and get some face time in. Don’t do it for connections! Do it if it feels genuine. Friendships go a LONG way! Trust me!
4) “Shut the fuck up and listen.” Rule of thumb? If you are at a party and meet someone who name drops and talks a lot, politely nod and walk away. It is the man/woman in the back at the bar dressed down and smoking a non-filter Pall Mall whom you should be talking to. Going out to parties is fun and you do meet people with common interests that way. But your resume speaks for itself. Do short films, student films, build your reel and your brand. See what makes you stand out and capitalize on that. And LISTEN! If you talk non-stop, brag or worse,…do the “humble bragging”, you are not listening to what others are offering you in terms of advice for your success. No one likes someone who yaps all the time like a jet engine and who doesn’t let another person speak. Listen to others!
5) “Show up and show up early.” I cannot stress this last piece of advice enough! I have gotten many a job just by being reliable and showing up on time. There are a lot of flaky people here. But a lot of them have more talent and ambition than you do. Sometimes, if you return and email/text/call right away, you can wind up getting the gig or landing the role just because you happened to be there when they needed you. By being on time or really, being early for a meeting or an audition, you set a precedent. People do notice this! I got most of my work by being available and being reliable. Sure, there are others who can outdraw, outdrum, out-direct and outact me. But because I have a good reputation of being a hard worker and someone who has yet to miss a deadline, I get the calls.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Working out and journaling is a great way to avoid burnout. And of course, taking a few days off here and there to do a quick getaway is also great. Road trips, overnight camping and something as simple as diving into a good book help ease stress.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Since I am clearly ‘stuck in the 80’s’, I’d love to see a bunch of us dancing in the streets together as one…much like in Lionel Richie’s video for “All Night Long”. Wouldn’t that be just about the most fun we could have?
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Yes. SPFX Makeup Artist Dean Jones is not only a good friend, but the one friend who got me into the business and who really showed me the ropes. He introduced me to director Steve Miner (also now a good friend) on the set of Day of the Dead. Steve hired me to do the storyboards for that film. From that point onward, I started working on bigger budgeted flicks.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I think you all must know that I am a HUGE fan of the band Rush. Neil Peart, the band’s drummer and lyricist, has a great line that I hold dear from the song ‘Prime Mover’: “From the point of ignition to the final drive, the point of a journey is not to arrive.”. We all are here for the journey. Getting from point a to point b is really the fun part! All of the experiences — from the jobs I have had to the people I have met along the way, have shaped me into who I am today. And I can only grow from this point on.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Steven Spielberg. I admire how he thinks and how he makes the most beautiful films that not only entertain us but films that also encourage us to think.
How can our readers follow you online?
Your readers can find me online at the following links:
1) Twitter: Twitter.com/neildmonte
2) Facebook at Facebook.com/neil.dmonte
3) Instagram: @clanofthevein
Thank you again for the fun interview!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!