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A Common Hollywood Misconception: The “Overnight Success”

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I’ll start off by admitting that I haven’t been all that “into” the major awards shows since I moved to Hollywood. While that attitude probably started off as a little bit of Bitter Actress Syndrome (a condition I think many of us are self-diagnosed with in our early-to-mid-20’s) it has evolved into a sense of being more about the work than the hype. I honestly find it a little frustrating to watch the Oscars, which so often seems to really miss the point of filmmaking in the first place.

I mean, just this year a petition was required just to convince the showrunners to air awards like Cinematography and Editing during the live show. If Cinematography and Editing aren’t an important part of the filmmaking process to the Oscars… I’m not entirely sure they know how movies are made. These choices also promote the idea that celebrity is king, and that art is about fancy dresses and golden statues. All of this seems to enable the narrative of a common misconception in Hollywood: the overnight success. I find that not only frustrating but damaging to people who dream of being successful in this industry.

That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised at Lady Gaga’s acceptance speech for best song. Arguably the most “famous” person at the awards this year, she used her speech to point out that working in entertainment, that having a dream and a passion, is hard work.

“Thank you so much. And if you are at home, and you’re sitting on your couch and you’re watching this right now, all I have to say is that this is hard work. I’ve worked hard for a long time, and it’s not about, you know…it’s not about winning. But what it’s about is not giving up. If you have a dream, fight for it. There’s a discipline for passion. And it’s not about how many times you get rejected or you fall down or you’re beaten up. It’s about how many times you stand up and are brave and you keep on going.”  

– Lady Gaga accepting the award for Best Song at the 2019 Oscars

That’s the kind of speech that young aspiring actors and filmmakers who spent the evening watching these awards while imagining their own someday acceptance speech (we’ve all done it) really need to hear.

The "Overnight Success"As I was sitting down to write this piece for Ms. in the Biz, a tweet about what I would call a “hate group” that was apparently created when Gaga was a student at NYU Tisch popped up on my feed (pictured here.) This struck me for a couple of reasons:

  1. Ugh, gross.
  2. I was a student at NYU Tisch during the same period that Stefani (aka Gaga) was. There was a lot of this sort of Mean Girls stuff between women in that program, frankly. But that’s for another piece another time.
  3. I’d imagine that Gaga’s fairly quick and quite meteoric rise to fame has made a lot of people both known and unknown to her feel very resentful towards her success.

It’s interesting to think about a pre-Gaga Gaga seeing that someone (that she likely knew or was in class with during college) made this group about her. It puts her acceptance speech last month in context, too. It’s so easy to see people both in and out of your life achieving success or fame and feel that they somehow are “just lucky” or that they are “not deserving” of that success. Go to almost any Starbucks in Hollywood and you can find someone ranting about a famous person whose fame makes them feel insecure.

What so often goes unnoticed, though, is the reality that having a career in entertainment (and in almost any industry) is based on hard work. The hard work is the part that you have control over, too! The faster you can take to heart the idea that “there’s a discipline for passion,” the more productive and happier you’ll be.

Take the energy you might use to start a hate group, to criticize another’s success, or time spent thinking about all the perceived barriers in the way of your path to success… and use that time to put in the real work.

To close, some advice for developing discipline and positivity around your entertainment career:

  • Make your own opportunities. Whether it’s writing a project, shooting a film, or just doing something creative.
  • Find a community of people who will support you and support those people.
  • Develop an attitude of “when my community wins, I win.” This is a great way to learn to stop comparing your success to others and start being a positive force in the lives of people around you rather than a “hater.”
  • Look at the hard work you put in as a gift: it’s your ability to control your own destiny.
Laura Hunter Drago

About Laura Hunter Drago

Laura Hunter Drago is a producer, writer, and actress living in Los Angeles, California. When she’s not making art, she works in marketing & web design. Laura is a proud SAG-AFTRA member and guest speaker at the SAG Conservatory, is the assistant editor-in-chief of Ms. in the Biz, and is the co-founder of New Girl Pictures. She also likes baking, obsessing over Olympic ice dancers, and having long conversations with her dog Buffy. She dislikes being bored. Most recently, Laura is finishing up post-production on her first feature, To The New Girl and hosting a podcast about women in the entertainment industry called Creative Herstories.