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Giving Up On Hollywood

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I thought I’d be farther ahead at this point… This is too hard, should I just get a “real” job?… Maybe I wasn’t meant to succeed in this business… Are my goals realistic?… Should I go back home? 

… Is it time to give up on Hollywood?

How many of you have been here?

I’m in Sydney, Australia, currently looking out over the luscious greenery of Camperdown Memorial park. It’s a beautiful day. Warm rays shine down on happy people jogging, picnicking, playing… weird Australian games. Frisbee, maybe? But, in the midst of the fun, these questions swirl.

It’s all clear skies when you’re young. Drive, ambition, optimism are traits I believe we’re all born with. We start out setting course towards whatever our minds can dream up, with no thought of obstacle or failure. Hell, we don’t even know the meaning of the words. For we are at the helm, guiding our ship. We be the Black Beards of our destinies! Argh! Plotting goals on life’s treasure map. Unfortunately, blind optimism doesn’t usually account for the torrential waters lurking in the path of that beloved “X”.

I grew up a true performer, telling tall tales with dramatic flare, willing to take a pratfall just to make someone smile; a born writer who fell head over heels for adjectives and story; A creature with an abundant imagination who wanted the world to see the worlds she saw in her mind.

I was meant to be in entertainment.

Yet, as I stare out over the landscape, it’s not the green of the grass or the yellow glow of the sun I see… it’s a grey haze that’s clouded my world in uncertainty; I’m caught in a thunder storm at sea. So far off my “X”, I can’t even think to remember where exactly I’d gone off course (damn Google Maps).

I was meant to be in entertainment.

So why, for only the second time in my life, did I wonder… Should I plot a new course?

The first time, I was 7. Yes, 7. I’d wanted to work in entertainment since age 6. But encountered my first resistance when I told my traditional Grandfather, after he’d asked that loaded question every adult asks children. You know the one. It uses words like: what, grow up, when, you want be, do?, in some arrangement. Grandpa quickly replied, “Okay, but what are you really gonna do?” Yup, Gramps was my first naysayer. Breaks my heart still.

Impressionable, I thought he must be right and set sail toward different coordinates. I decided to be the youngest novelist ever! But, as fate is not without irony, I found I had too much imagination. By 12, I’d written 15 Chapter 1s for 15 different novels (all murder-mysteries, of course). Not exactly the fast track.

Then, in 7th grade, I took my first Theater Arts class…

I was up on stage playing my role of the Crocodile dutifully- can’t remember the play, something Shakespearean, I’m sure – when I heard the first chuckle. It caught me by surprise. I roared my crocodile roar again… more laughter. It was infectious and it filled my soul. I roared on, louder, twisting my form into this comedic crocodile who took on a life all its own. My heart skipped a beat. I had stumbled upon an ability to bring joy to people. I came about, pointing my ship back in its original direction, not to be swayed again… until now.

I’d been in Los Angeles for 7 years. I started with acting, but was only ever called in to audition for one TV show. Then I moved into screenwriting, then directing, then producing, then editing, then ADing… God, I’d do anything to try and make a living in entertainment. I was always optimistic, never one to admit defeat, just consistently attempting to steer towards less bumpy waters.

Then, 2015 greeted me with a punch to the gut. I ended a long-term relationship (we were engaged). I moved out of the apartment we were living in together, effectively becoming a nomad. And my last two paying jobs finished with no new job in sight.

I cried a lot in these times. I wasn’t speaking with anyone; who would want to speak with a complete failure? I couldn’t even accept my mother’s calls as I felt I must be such a disappointment as a daughter. I’d read an article about overcoming depression, and it stated that people feel depressed because of “… relationship problems, or trouble with their job or home life, or worries about money…” All I could do was laugh. I thought, “ ‘Or?’ What aboutAND’??”

I marinated in my sorrow for longer than usual. It was a long, slow climb from the bottom of that dark hole before I saw even a glimmer of light. But, I found it in the remembrance that happiness takes courage. It means putting things at risk, and not settling for what you’re good at but what you’re passionate about. It means going headlong into many, many battles when you know you may lose (most against yourself). It means venturing into uncharted waters with nothing but ocean in sight, holding the belief that the land you seek lies somewhere in the distance, even if you’re not sure on how far. It means letting go of a dream if it no longer fulfils you. And it all starts with making a decision and actively pursuing.

No one likes a passive protagonist.

So, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and took up my good friend’s offer to come and stay with her and her partner for a while in Sydney. I figured being around those who care for me could lift my heavy heart and traipsing another land may help give me perspective. With that, my nomad-ism was over. As for the end of my relationship, well, that simply takes time.

But, what about my career? Do I give up on Hollywood? A decision has to be made.

As I sit here, against a tree trunk of some sort, allowing the dewiness of the grass to penetrate my pants, I think to ask myself a series of different questions:

What have I accomplished so far?… Did I try everything I could to make it in this business?… Am I ready to give up?… Would I take with me regret?… Did I truly work hard enough?… If I quit, what will I do?… Where will I go?

… Will I be happy?

We will all answer these questions differently. For me, I’ve had some success in this business. But, if I’m honest with myself, I haven’t tried everything and I haven’t worked hard enough. I could rewrite that feature script I’ve been sitting on for 2 years. I could finish post on my web series, shop it around. I could write the pilot based on my web series and the Jenji Kohan-esque one that’s been bouncing around my head for the last 5 years. I could be much more proactive about finding jobs. I could update my acting, directing, and editing reels.

And, most importantly, doing something else wouldn’t make me happy. I was meant to be in entertainment.

I don’t know what the future holds. Maybe I’m destined for a life at sea, always in search of that elusive “X”, my white whale, pillaging where I can to survive. But maybe that’s my journey and I can be content with the adventure of it all.

Maybe, for others, they will discover a different treasure on an uncharted island nearby and live happily there. That’s their journey. And it takes just as much guts to leave Hollywood as it does to stay.

As I glance back out over the park, I notice a small clearing through the fog. A small white-capped peak is barely visible in the distance. I bring her about, resolved in the fact that this treasure hunt isn’t over yet.

I’m not ready to give up on Hollywood.

Are you?

Kat Castaneda

About Kat Castaneda

After four years of service in the Marine Corps, where she booked her first acting job in a commercial, Kat Castaneda moved to NYC in pursuit of an acting career. She booked a few roles, garnered her first lead in a feature, and obtained her SAG card before moving to Los Angeles. Since in LA, Kat has discovered her true calling in creating content. Her talents as a fiction writer helped her transition into screenwriting, having two works produced in two years. She has just completed her first feature script, which, thus far, garnered her a spot in HBO/Nalip’s Latino Writing Lab earlier this year. A true creative spirit, she also started directing, completing her first film, “Regret”, and writing and directing the Indiegogo video for the web series, “Newlywed and Broke” she is currently creating with her Fiance. Stay tuned for this up and coming Latina powerhouse!