WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT?
One of the more interesting things that happened when I first started out in the entertainment industry: I met attorneys, teachers, accountants – even one former doctor – all who gave up their careers, years of training, comfortable paychecks and network of peers in order to work as a go-fer, making coffee for production executives. These were people well past their post-schooling years, and many of them had families. They abandoned the lives they had built in exchange for a chance – not a certainty, but a chance – to become part of the world of make believe.
It’s hard to imagine any other industry that would entice someone into such a life shift. It’s not just Hollywood, either. Nashville is full of wannabe country singers. And the prime time TV schedule is filled with hopefuls who want to give up their current life so they can sing or dance their way to stardom.
With that kind of serious intent on the part of so many would-be performers, writers and directors, it’s easy to see why the odds of success are so long. But gaining a foothold in the entertainment industry isn’t impossible, it’s just really, really difficult. With the right mindset and a will of iron, success is not only possible, you can improve your odds dramatically. You can create your own luck in showbiz, but it requires a reality-based view – of the industry and of yourself.
WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
It’s a question worth asking, especially if you expect someone else to take a risk by hiring you. If you’re an actor, you must find a way to see yourself objectively. It is assumed that you will take acting lessons, and network like the devil, that’s the minimum requirement for any serious thespian. But if you see yourself in sweeping, romantic terms only to find that casting directors envision you more as the nerdy type, one of you needs to change – and it ain’t the casting director.
Same with writing. Many screenwriters think they’re funny – but if they receive notes on their script that point out the materials’ lack of humor, they chalk it up to the reader’s inability to ‘get’ it. Or even worse, some writers declare passionately that, once their script’s dialogue is played by a real actor, the comedy will come to life! That view can charitably described as delusional. The writer has just managed to not only waste the time and effort that went into the script itself, but has also blown the contact made in the person of the script reader. If writers do this with sufficient frequency, the only people left who would be willing to read their scripts will be relatives or paid script analysts.
Another point worth mentioning: Hollywood has a reputation of being filled with parties, glamorous premieres, sexy starlets and lots of drugs. Well, here’s a bubble-burster: most people who are actually *working* in the industry are usually asleep by the time Conan O’Brien comes on TV. Why? Because they’ve been awake since 6 a.m. and are either on the set or in an office all day. Executives deal with hundreds of details, they’ve got people coming at them with budget problems, personnel issues, and many of these issues revolve around the expenditure of millions of other peoples’ dollars.
Actors deal with script revisions, often delivered at the last minute. They stand around, waiting, while sets are lit and prepped, and then they are expected to be in the moment and emotionally prepared within seconds. And then they are expected to do that again and again, for hour after hour.
Writers get into the business because they love to write – obviously. But typing all day long on a dark and chilly sound stage doesn’t conjure up romantic images of Hemingway in his villa. It’s a privilege to be there – but just the same, it’s challenging.
When you’re working on a movie or a TV show, you spend up to twelve hours a day with your coworkers, frequently under difficult circumstances. That means you must do your best to be someone worth hanging around with for twelve hours. People who can’t play well with others don’t thrive in this kind of environment. Nobody wants to be weighed down by someone’s drama or mean spirit, or whining.
Another challenge: showbiz attracts some of the worst personality types you can imagine. In my experience, actors have it the worst. When they’re first starting out, they are preyed upon by hustlers who take advantage of their hopes and youthful inexperience. Sample scam: as a young actor, I once answered an advertisement in an acting newspaper, Drama Logue, for auditions being held in an office on Hollywood Boulevard. I arrived and found the hallway packed with hundreds of actors of all shapes and sizes, both male and female. It seemed that the ‘producers’ were auditioning many kinds of actors, and for no role in particular. That seemed odd, but when you’re ambitious and you smell an opportunity, you don’t ask too many questions.
I stood on line for over an hour and finally made it into the office, where I handed over my 8 X 10 glossy photo with my resume. The gentleman behind the desk thanked me and asked if I had brought any videotape on myself. I hadn’t – neither had any of the other actors. He said no worries, I should simply go down to the second floor where I could perform a monologue and the camera person would record me.
Great! A chance to really sink my teeth into an audition! I went to the second floor and found actors yelling at someone. It turns out that the second floor camera man would, indeed, videotape the actors – but only after the actors paid a fee of twenty five dollars.
Ouch. So the entire thing – the audition, the oily smiles, the second floor camera – it was all a scam. Some of the actors *still* wouldn’t see it as anything other than a chance to audition, and they handed over their money to the con artists. The rest of us left – a little wiser but stung nonetheless.
The point is, in showbiz you must be open and willing to let others know the most sincere, artistic part of yourself – but then you have to find a way to protect yourself against unscrupulous users. And you’ll never know ahead of time if you’re dealing with a decent potential colleague or a venal grifter. Taking that risk is an act that can harden your heart, and it’s also a moment of personal courage that’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t walked in those shoes.