Sandy Weinberg, the founder of Hollywood’s Veterans Immersion Program, wrote an article for HollywoodJournal.com explaining why he created the program and how our Executive Military Director, Amber Chaib, was instrumental in the process.
Creating a veterans’ community program was not on my “to do” list. But I heard an inner call to action following the 2011 Annual Salute, a Veterans Day event honoring hundreds of veterans graduating at The Los Angeles Film School (LAFS). After inspirational speeches (including my own about how all industry professionals face daunting career transitions), I ate at a swanky dinner table with graduating veterans. Some had a tough time introducing themselves, or talking about themselves, or describing the career they were pursuing or identifying companies they were targeting for work. Interviewing was going to be difficult for these graduates, and they needed direction for approaching the marketplace.
They were clearly outsiders, as I was when I decided to pursue my career as a literary agent. I worked as a salesman, a waiter, a spotwelder, an assembly line worker, and some unmentionable gigs. By default, I became an attorney, but that only qualified me for assistant work. Like many of the veterans, my peers were several years younger. Eating peanut butter or spaghetti almost every night was not nearly as frustrating as trying to find new opportunities.
My feedback from the dinner to the LAFS Executive Military Director, Amber Chaib, became our ongoing conversation, and it eventually expanded into the pitching and interviewing seminars I conducted in 2012. I thought that would be my contribution, but then I began asking Hollywood executives what their companies were doing for veterans. The consistent answer: “We sincerely want to help, but we can’t decide how.”
Entertainment professionals truly appreciate the values veterans bring to the workplace, like loyalty, commitment, persistence and teamwork. But the connection between the entertainment industry and the veterans is under developed. Without doubt, the need for better connectivity became crystal clear when a studio executive explained how their studio was recruiting veterans as “minority hires.” That seems so upside-down. Would Admiral Mullen be considered a “minority hire?” Uh…no.
Having spent many years as an agent, I often help artists break into the business and then build successful careers. Those skills, plus my contacts, made me realize that I could make a good faith effort to help create workplace experiences that would benefit veterans.
So I created V.I.P. (The Veterans Immersion Program), with the mission to help veterans become more marketable for jobs in film, television, gaming and animation. V.I.P. provides guidelines for immersion experiences to both companies and to individuals willing to share their professional experience with veterans attending or graduating from professional programs.
V.I.P. helps facilitate opportunities to observe decision making and work-in-motion, to experience work culture, and to learn professional path building.
In March 2013, V.I.P. launched with a One Day Intensive immersion whereby eight veterans shadowed executives at The Jim Henson Company. Several mentorships were set with top executives at large companies like StereoD and with fantastic, smaller companies like top-shelf Renegade Animation. Then V.I.P. connected with Alcon Entertainment, which enthusiastically began recruiting veterans into their internship program. And I am very excited because V.I.P. is assisting a major studio organize a One Day Intensive, supporting a handful of executives who are using V.I.P. to open the door to bigger veterans programs.
V.I.P. was originally designed to get veterans into departments to observe the creative workplace. When industry leaders began learning about V.I.P., they immediately embraced the vast leadership potential of veterans. Consequently, LAFS met the demand and readily delivered veterans enrolled in their business program to participate in V.I.P. with senior executives.
There have been many great moments of bright light on this journey. I will never forget Peter Schube, the COO of The Jim Henson Company, telling me his company had an “unexpected, incredibly enriching experience” with their One Day Intensive.
My inspiration is mostly fed by the veterans. Nick, who had previously worked in human resources for a missile response system, emailed me that he is having a fantastic studio internship and feels like he is starting to realistically plan the next step of his career path. Another retired veteran, Erica – an aspiring filmmaker – wrote about her inspired meetings with women in senior leadership roles during her One Day Intensive.
During my meeting with leaders from the Dixon Center, they categorized V.I.P. as one of the few programs, among many thousands, that is productively engaging businesses in a single community to share professional experiences with civilians transitioning from the military.
Hollywood is our nation’s epicenter of trending new ideas and realizing their potential. Our businesses have an opportunity to be national leaders in proactively integrating transitioning veterans, and demonstrating how these individuals actually enhance our companies. With over 800,000 veterans transitioning to civilian life, time is short for those civilians who risked their futures so we could have ours, regardless of how we judge our nation’s international policies.
It gives me great hope that, no matter how we choose to help the veterans, they will continue to pay it forward to the veterans behind them. That’s the way they roll…
The very positive response is not surprising, because we all want to help. For more information, please contact me at V.I.P.
About Sandy Weinberg: Sandy Weinberg owns the Summit Talent & Literary Agency representing writers, directors, authors and animators. He is an Adjunct Faculty Instructor at UCLA, and specializes in speaking about career building for creative professionals. He is also the founder of The Veterans Immersion Program (V.I.P.).