"Zombieland" Director's Path to Stardom Demonstrates Basic Career Lessons

In a recent Washington Post article on “Zombieland” director and Washington native Ruben Fleischer (who has “stunned Hollywood by earning nearly $60 million since the opening” of his directorial debut Oct. 2), there are at least four crucial lessons for all young professionals:

1. You don’t need to know what you want to do with your life from day one. Life is a process:

Friends who knew Fleischer growing up in Washington might be surprised to learn that an over-the-top zombie comedy is how the budding filmmaker finally made his mark.

…After majoring in history at Wesleyan University (where he didn’t enroll in the school’s prestigious film program), Fleischer moved to San Francisco, unsure of what he wanted to do with his life. “I ended up doing Web stuff at the very sort of genesis of the Internet,” he explains, “working on Web sites for General Motors and Microsoft. In 1998, I got a job in L.A. doing some Web stuff, but the company, like most start-ups, quickly folded and I was stuck needing a job.”

2.  Reflect on your situation at each step of your career path. If you’re hating or just tolerating something, move on as soon as you can, but if you’re loving it, and doing good work, there is reason for you to persevere. (And once you love something, always be on the look out for potential mentors.)

He landed [a job] as a production assistant on “Dawson’s Creek,” where he scored a priceless mentorship, working as writer Mike White’s assistant. White later got Fleischer a gig as director Miguel Arteta’s assistant on the 2000 movie “Chuck & Buck” (Fleischer also worked with Arteta on 2002’s “The Good Girl”). It was while watching indie good-guys White and Arteta as they worked, Fleischer recalls, that he “first considered being a director myself.”

3.  Don’t get stuck in a role. Make yourself useful in multiple ways. Keep learning all you can learn from everyone you can learn from:

Arteta remembers Fleischer’s attitude on “Chuck & Buck.” “He was very observant and very committed to making the movie happen, and always absorbing things like a sponge,” he says. “By the time we did the second film, he was really acting as an ambassador for me with all the departments. His learning curve was spectacular.”

4.   If you love something, to quote Nike, “Just do it.” Show your commitment, and live your dream, by doing, not waiting:

Arteta credits Fleischer’s indefatigable work ethic for his newfound success. “A lot of people who want to make movies ask me, ‘What can I do to be a director? Will you read my script?’ ” he says. “They always want somebody else to do something for them. My advice — and no one’s ever taken my advice other than Ruben — is if you want to be a director, direct a movie. Cut it, finish it, and do one every month. You can get your own camera, get your friends to be in it, make a video about your dog and put some music to it. If you come back at the end of the year with 12 films, I promise you, people will be hiring you. Because you are a director. You’ve done it.”

Fleischer, Arteta notes, did come back a year later with 12 films, “and one of them was a video about his dog. A really awesome video about his Dalmatian. And a half a year later, he was getting paid to do music videos and commercials.”

For the full story on Fleischer, click here.