I’ve been at this show biz thing for a while and don’t know whether to stay the course or shift gears while I’m young and can go into another field. The ups and downs are killing me, mostly the downs actually. Do you have any advice about how to create a long-term career?
Signed, Dying on the Vine
Dear Ripe Fruit,
I know, I know! First of all, it’s not just you. Whether you’re an actor, writer, director, producer – no matter what, the first thing you must assess is if the work you do is essential to LIVE. What I mean is that our industry is so tough, so difficult to traverse, that unless you are compelled, driven, sick with the need to do what you do – you really should do something else, because your life will be tough every single day. As you get older, it will not get easier, in fact – it will get harder.
I was recently interviewed in a documentary about women directors, in which Lexi Alexander says that her advice to young female filmmakers is to “run the other way”. After 30 years traversing this mountain called Hollywood I heartily concur. It’s more difficult than most people will tell you, especially if you’re a woman! If you have other skills, talents, ways to make a living – now might be a great time to jump into another field.
The other thing you need to do is to be honest with yourself about how you stack up when you look at the competition. Honesty is so hard. How many of us have watched Simon Cowell tell a singer on “American Idol” that he/she is pitchy, lyric-challenged, and a lack-luster performer and the singer seems shocked to hear this, then throws a hissy-fit? Denial is not your friend. Only stay the course if you are in the clutches of a disease that forces you to toil in the land of make-believe OR you are remarkably good and uniquely talented.
But even those with talent may not have the stuff it takes to live with feast or famine. You must also be able to survive, even thrive, in good times and bad. Having funds is a big help, but so is having a support system of family, friends and a creative community that shares your experiences. Your personal fortitude, well-being, stamina and positive mental health are all significant contributors.
The good news is that making art, telling stories, living the creative life is the richest, most-fulfilling job one can have. The key is to make your life the work of art, to make every gesture, every relationship, each environment and experience imbued with your personal stamp of magic. This is a hard thing to do when you’re broke or continually rejected – but this is the true challenge.
On a final note, I want to urge many of you to find work within in the industry. There are many people who can find fulfillment in service of making theater of film rather than to be the artists themselves. If you struggle with many of the issues discussed above, why not consider finding a job and building a career within a pre-established, financially secure service industry? In that way, you can work in the arts, supporting what you love and believe in, but not experience the rocky, unpredictable roller coaster of a life in the arts.
In any case, I wish you the very best of luck.