Mentor Spotlight: M. Miller Davis
M. Miller Davis, c’09 earned a bachelor’s degree from KU in psychology. A career that began with writing for the University Daily Kansan now has Davis as a full-time freelancer in TV and film writing.
Connect with Davis on KU Mentoring+.
How did you end up in your career?
I actually didn’t major in film. While pursuing my psychology degree in my junior year, I took a class with former film professor Chuck Berg (RIP). In that class, I was fortunate enough to receive encouragement that set me on my current path, which started with writing movie reviews for the Daily Kansan!
However, going from unpaid newspaper reviews to being a professional writer without a day job took quite a while. For many years I was a PA, a Writer’s Assistant, working on commercials, even writing for shows or punching up movies, and I still had to have a day job to pay the rent. I crashed in glittering high-rises and lived in 2-bedroom communes with a guitarist living in a tent in the living room (he had bed bugs). I went to movie premieres and made terrible (but fun!) short films with my friends. I crushed low-level interviews and then squandered great opportunities because I didn’t recognize them.
But, in the end, it’s all part of my story.
It took many starts and stops. Times where I questioned myself. Had to pivot what I was doing or reexamine who I thought I was. Times where I trusted the wrong people or dismissed the right ones. But along the way, I learned to (mostly) enjoy the process, not just the result!
Who was or is a mentor for you, and how did they help you?
I have had many mentors in my life. Some gave me sage advice. Others offered opportunities to excel. Some showed me the way NOT to move forward and kept me from burning my hand on the stove for myself.
The entertainment industry is intentionally very insular. As a soon-to-be or recent graduate, you are on the edge of a vast jungle. You can see the top of the temple that is Hollywood superstardom, but you have no idea how to get from where you are to the temple without being eaten by jaguars.
A good mentor helps you navigate that jungle while not necessarily clearing the path for you. Find someone willing to help gut-check opportunities, explain professional expectations, maybe read a script or two. Basically, point you in the right direction. But make no mistake, whether you have a bulldozer of nepotism or just a machete of self-reliance, you still have to cut through the jungle on your own.
What advice do you have for current college students or young alumni?
Meet people. Get good. Be a fun hang.
Meet People – In Hollywood, the truism “It’s all about who you know” is tossed around for a reason. So get to know lots of people. Make friends. Find a community of people doing what you wanna do and do stuff with them. Take classes. Go to shows. Ask questions. You aren’t gonna become friends with Spielberg. But you might become friends with the next Spielberg.
Get Good – Stop worrying about getting agents or selling that first script. Focus on getting good. Write tons of scripts. Understand how the business works. If you have a professional community and focus on being the best you can be, those other things will come in their proper time.
Be a Fun Hang – Making movies/TV is intense and time-consuming. You’ll spend much more time with the people in the writer’s room or on-set than you do with your own family. So asking “is this person chill?” is often just as important as “is this person talented?” in most bosses’ hiring criteria. Sure, some people are the worst and still get hired. But there’s no longevity in being a ladder-climbing jerk. It’s a small town, and word gets out. Be humble, fun, and kind. You’ll find yourself surrounded by the same.
P.S. Learn about money and find a good therapist. If you don’t do those, you’re sunk in any career.