As the co-founder of 51 Minds Entertainment, the production company that brought the term “celebreality” into the public consciousness, and currently as co-CEO of Endemol Shine North America, Cris Abrego has several impressive titles on his résumé. With the release of his first book, Make It Reality: Create Your Opportunity, Own Your Success, he can now add “author” to the list.
The book, released via the Penguin Publishing Group imprint Celebra today (May 3), serves as part memoir, part motivational treatise. It covers Abrego’s career trajectory, from his entry point into the industry as an assistant sports editor at KMIR in Palm Springs, to his days with The Real World producer Bunim/Murray Productions, forming his own Brass Ring Entertainment with Rick Telles, combining his 51 Pictures shingle with Mark Cronin’s Mindless Entertainment to create 51 Minds, and to his post today heading up North America for Endemol Shine Group with co-CEO Charlie Corwin. It also candidly details the lessons he’s learned in the process.
“A few years back, just before I was to give a commencement speech at my high school in El Monte, CA, I looked around at the kids in the bleachers, and many of them who looked just like me,” says Abrego about the motivation behind writing the book. “I had been in their shoes 25 years earlier – a young Latino kid, growing up just east of downtown Los Angeles with no idea of how to get started on a career path. That’s when I really started thinking about writing something. Even though Hollywood isn’t that far from El Monte, it might as well be on another planet for many of the kids at my Alma Mater.
“I’ve been very fortunate and reality TV has given me many opportunities beyond my wildest dreams,” he adds. “So when the opportunity to write a book was presented to me, I decided to do something that might inspire some of those kids to dream bigger.”
In the following exclusive excerpt from Make It Reality: Create Your Opportunity, Own Your Success, Abrego discusses how storytelling ability needs to be an intrinsic part of any entertainment industry executive’s DNA, and how to cultivate it.
THE STORYTELLER IN YOU
Some people are naturally great storytellers. They understand timing, surprise, suspense, and how to read a room. They know how to hook you and not let you go. They know when to be understated, when to be intense, and when to be over-the-top. The best jokes are stories. The best sales pitches are stories. If you listen to the best salespeople, you don’t even know they are selling you. They’re just telling you a story. Often, whenever you sell anything, you’re really selling yourself. So the story you tell about yourself may be the difference between making the sale or not.
Let’s take the classic job-interview setting. In seeking an entry level-job or looking to change career paths, what story you tell about yourself will no doubt vary depending on who is doing the hiring and what that person is looking for. Even though your résumé should tell a story about your career experience, I will let you know that only 5 percent of interviewees I’ve met get hired based on the résumé. The other 95 percent who get hired are those who can answer the questions that tell me who you are—with examples and story illustrations.
When I conduct an interview, the three storytelling skills I like to see are enthusiasm, engagement, and focus. Enthusiasm as a storyteller and communicator reveals your interests and your passion. If you’re just making small talk, that’s not as compelling as if you’re talking about how much you learned from a tough challenge or why you love coming from a small town.
Enthusiasm — or passion — gives you an aura of confidence and presence. Always start with enthusiasm. Engagement can be twofold. It’s how you listen and adapt to questions being asked of you and how you respond with your own level of curiosity. Engagement also shows your authentic point of you. Focus as a storyteller helps you stay concise while sticking to a theme or message. What you choose to focus on when you talk about yourself also tells a story about your internal motivator — what drives you. Are you more interested in the money, perks and hours, or the opportunity to continue on a path that you care deeply about?
Of course, if you want to know what kind of storytelling I like to hear from candidates for employment in my business, you can always grab my interest when you let me know how you consume stories regularly. How much TV do you watch? What shows do you like? Why? Why do you think they work or not? The best stories tell me about where you grew up, about your background, even about influential storytellers in your upbringing and education. What’s your connection to culture? I’m looking to find out what are the things you believe or don’t believe in terms of the future of television as an art form. Through the course of the interview I’ll look for the value you might bring to our company in terms of reading, writing, and storytelling. And key to your story is to let me know where you look for your dream to take you. What is your ambition? What’s your long game in this business?
The interviews that fall short for me are the sort of shotgun conversations where you come in and are all over the place. In the entertainment industry, shotgun storytelling might go something like this: “My goals? Well, I like directing. I’m good at it. But I’ve written some things, nothing that you’ve probably heard of, although writing is a strength. So is producing. At my last job, I worked closely with a producer, and I would consider producing.”
That person has just come in and named all the jobs in the entertainment business. I’ve also had candidates say things, in order to qualify for a job, that weren’t true about their interests and experience. First of all, the truth usually has a way of rising to the surface. Second, the truth makes for a winning story.
If you are interviewing for a job in research, say, but your dream is to produce documentary features, it’s refreshing for you to be up front about your vision going forward. If you can get excited about doing the job being offered as a means to your future goals, it’s a win/win. Ambition is golden — especially with a work ethic to back it up. When I meet with job candidates who entertain and inspire me with stories about where they come from, where they are today, and where they envision themselves going forward, I can’t help but want to be part of that journey.
Storytelling is powerful not only in selling or communicating to others but also in how you inspire and motivate yourself. The story you tell yourself about the results of your hard work —good or bad — is the one that determines whether you ultimately own your own success. If you blame others or your industry for not giving you a break, that is not ownership. By the same token, if you are successful at something, you can claim it and also be willing to acknowledge the contributions of others.
From Make It Reality: Create Your Opportunity, Own Your Success published by arrangement with Celebra, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2016 by Cris Abrego.