Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Panic Button

The other morning, I ran into a friend of mine at the gym, who (I can attest) is a hardworking agent who truly busts his ass for his clients. As we huffed and puffed on the treadmill, we talked about how slow the business had been lately. Much to my surprise, he told me that Breakdown Services (the company that disseminates all the information about what roles are currently casting in film and television), had recently informed all the agencies that they would not be charging for their services for the next few weeks. The reason for this was that there were virtually no jobs to publicize. This sent a chill through me. A great many of us operate on the assumption that there is actual work out there somewhere; shiny pearls of employment that might pay our bills and provide us with nifty things like health insurance. The idea that the magic job well might have (at least temporarily) dried up was a scary thought. God knows, I’d been stoking my own artistic fires with the assumption that things were about to improve any day now.

Sobering honesty seems to be “the new black” here in Hollywood. A few weeks ago, a viral letter landed in the inboxes of almost every actor in town. Supposedly written by a CAA agent to his clients; it outlined the grim employment prospects for non-celebrity actors for the next year or so. Some of it wasn’t exactly news. With production down, there were fewer roles available. Fewer roles meant that famous actors were suddenly willing to do smaller, less prestigious jobs in films and TV shows just to stay in the public eye. The mysterious agent-writer didn’t seem to think there would be much light in the tunnel until 2010. As I read it, I began to wonder if my landlord would be willing to wait that long.

Deciding to do a casual survey, I found mixed opinions on the subject. As expected, my better-known friends have indeed been reasonably busy, but so have a few of my well-established character actor buddies. However, the majority of my rank-and-file comrades have been sitting by the phone. A lot. The frustration is not just within the acting community. Everybody’s feeling it. I ran into a writer friend of mine at a wedding reception the other night and he echoed what I’ve been hearing from a lot of other scribes. Despite his best efforts (and this guy is no slouch) several of his projects have made the long climb up the studio ladder, only to be shot down as they neared the top.

I don’t honestly think our current situation can any longer be blamed on last year’s writer’s strike – or on any fears about a possible SAG strike (since there clearly isn’t going to be one). The creative minds of Hollywood have not stopped churning out new scripts and pitches. The marketplace (the creative economy of Hollywood) just seems a bit frozen with indecision. Nobody wants to make a costly mistake.

The possibility of a serious employment drought isn’t pretty. This business is anxiety producing enough in the best of times. Speaking for myself, it conjures up images of disconnected telephones and sheriff’s deputies carrying my sofa out the front door. I know that’s a little dramatic, but (in theory) that’s what they pay me for – to dream up worst case scenarios.

Panic sucks and I don’t advise it. I’ve been on the receiving end of such calls; when a friend dials up to casually let me know that they are “available” for work (if I happen to hear of anything). I always try to lend a sympathetic ear, but what I secretly want to reply is “Guess what? Everybody’s ‘available’ for work.” If the grim predictions are in fact true, then it will no doubt be a stressful year for a lot of people. That said, I also predict a sudden burst of unprecedented creativity. We are a highly resourceful tribe of people and sometimes a little humility is good for us. It can inspire us to innovation.

Not that anybody asked me, but my advice is to make sure your basic needs are taken care of; then forge ahead with whatever your heart is telling you to do artistically. The tides will turn back. Given the state of the world, people (now more than ever) could use a little distraction. Try to remember that artists have a certain responsibility to keep it together and offer some kind of sane and entertaining reflection of the lives that people are living. So before you renew that Xanax prescription, put your mind to creating a little something today. Inspire yourself. Plant some seeds. Give ‘em some water and be patient. Things happen.

Copyright 2008 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at

1 comment:

DC Douglas said...

Excellent post! And sage advice - truly. ... I guess I'm one of your "rank and file" actor friends...? Jesus, how pathetic am I? I can deal with unemployment just as long as people "perceive" me as working! [Insert one of those famous quotes.]