Last Friday I went to hear Entertainment Tonight co-anchor Mark Steines speak at his alma mater, the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), here in Cedar Falls, Iowa. His basic message to a couple hundred mostly Electronic Media students was simple;
“Where do you want to go? What do you want to do? It’s as simple as that.”
I might add that it doesn’t hurt to look like Tom Cruise, as Stienes did when he was starting out, and still does today. That played a big part in some opportunities that came his way in the 80s and lead to what has turned into a 15 year stint at Entertainment Tonight.
Yesterday, I drove through Steines’ hometown of Dubuque, Iowa which sits on the Mississippi River. He was an all-state full-back in high school and got a football scholarship to the UNI where he became a tight end. After knee & back injuries, he turned his attention to electronic media and got an internship at the local TV station KWWL in Waterloo, Iowa. His goal was to be a cameraman, but the co-anchors at the time, Ron Steele and Liz Mathis encouraged him to give it a try in front of the camera. They also mentored him along the way. And the rest is history.
To make a long story short he was hired by KWWL and while covering the Republican National Convention in New Orleans in the 80s he was confused as being Tom Cruise and Entertainment Tonight did a story on Steines and that got him some good exposure and lead to three job offers, He took one in Springfield, MO where he was the sports anchor for three years. That eventually lead him to a sports reporter job in Los Angeles at KCAL where he won his first of three Emmys. Being in LA he also studied acting, worked on voice training at the Kalmenson & Kalmenson Voice Over School for Actors, and also studied improv at The Groundlings.
In 1995, seven years after the ET spotlight on him looking like Tom Cruise, he was hired by Entertainment Tonight as an entertainment correspondent and eventually became co-anchor with Mary Hart.
He comes back to Iowa from time to time to speak at UNI as a way of paying back what has turned into a long, fulfilling and prosperous career in an industry where that combination is not easy to find. It helped give clout to his words that he was on his way to London to be on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean 4. Cedar Falls one day, hanging out with Johnny Depp the next day.
Steines talked about the importance of standing out, and how that’s hard to do in Iowa. That the industry is in LA and that’s where many opportunities are—as well as the competition. He spoke about the need to have passion, commitment as well as rock solid skills. He also said that didn’t guarantee success in Los Angeles.
Steines spoke about the changes in the business and if he were coming up today one thing he might try is being a one-man band where you knew how to shoot and edit as well as software like After Effects. Maybe produce a little segment that was of interest to yourself and send to producers and tell them you did everything and that would get attention.
As I’ve said many times on this blog, these are good times to be a jack-of-all-trades. That was not the message preached to me when I was in college. But the majority of 20-somethings I work with today are fearless when it comes to multitasking and performing many production skills.
And lastly, Steines talked about the difficulties of juggling career and family, because when something happens to Britney or a celebrity dies then he has to rush to the set for an update. Steines comes across about as grounded and laid back as you’ll probably find in Los Angeles. He talked about the need to give back and said as much as he loves L.A. he sometimes misses his life back in Iowa. (But don’t look for him to be moving back here any time soon.)