I recently posted a question on my Facebook page asking my creative friends if they were making any New Year’s resolutions for 2010. I was a little surprised when the majority of them said no and pointedly added that in their opinion, resolutions were just a recipe for disappointment. As a guy who's spent my entire adult life in the entertainment business, I can certainly relate to the disappointment part, but personally, I depend on a certain amount of self-delusion when a new year arrives. Without a little reimagining on my part, I’m not sure I’d have the balls to keep going.
When 2008 came to an end, I remember raising my glass and gleefully bidding “good-fucking-riddance” to the worst year I’d ever had in the business. I reveled in the idea that I’d never have a year that rotten again – that is until I encountered 2008’s ugly twin sister, 2009. Happily, in the last few weeks of this year, a couple of new developments sprung up that have given me some real hope that the new year (and decade) might be a little better. And I’m not alone in that thinking.
As I made my rounds at the usual holiday parties, I found quite a few people who shared my new found optimism. After all, for the first time in three years we will be operating without the threat of any major strikes. Several new cable channels are starting up and as you might have heard, the movie business has been doing rather well lately. So as I prepare to toss out last year's calendar, I’m doing what I always do at this time of the year -- weeding the garden.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that both art and life require some maintenance. Old ideas often need to be uprooted. Game plans and personnel that didn’t work out so well have to be replaced -- no matter how anxiety producing that might be. Chances have to be taken. Long-neglected soil needs to be tilled and watered. And bitterness, which grows quite beautifully in Southern California, has to be replaced with something a little more likely to blossom and bear fruit in the New Year.
Before I go too far with my botanical metaphors, let me get down to brass tacks. I’m starting 2010 with new representation on both the acting and writing fronts and have done my best to reinvigorate my work ethic. After busting my ass to separate myself from the pack, I’m now in the running for two terrific screenwriting gigs. There are still several hoops to be jumped through before these gigs become reality, but I know what got me this far - hard work - so I’m just going to keep plugging -- which brings me to the next thing that needs to be plucked from the garden – imaginary guarantees.
I’m about to start teaching my acting workshop again on January 10th, so I’ve naturally been overrun with the usual flurry of anxious emails from new students trying to figure out (without actually taking the class) whether or not it is right for them. I do my best to address their concerns, but I unfortunately can’t offer these people what they are looking for – some sort of reassurance that studying with me will help jump start their careers. What I want to say to them is that if you're looking for a solid career decision, I'd recommend buying a funeral home or opening a liquor store.
A career in entertainment requires a lot of skills, but believe it or not - the primary one is optimism. And when I say optimism, I don’t mean the airy-fairy metaphysical brand that’s gotten so popular lately. I’m talking about the optimism that comes with knowing that the entertainment industry actually needs you. Any terrific script or eye-popping performance that makes it to the screen exists because somebody wouldn't stop storming that Bastille. These people found a way to stay in the game because they believed in their talent or ideas. I realize that can be hard to do after you've been slapped around and spit on a few times, but without that energetic belief that your number will be called next, you're dead. Simply put, success in show business largely relies on being able to grow a new hymen every so often. In my experience, protecting your optimism is as essential as paying your rent. Ideas which, let’s face it are our stock and trade, rarely survive without some enthusiastic naivete to fertilize them.
Years ago, I read an interview with one of the great show business survivors of all time, the late George Burns. George, whose career was pronounced DOA at least three times during his 80 years in the business, was asked why he took so many gigs (some of them quite small) instead of relaxing during his golden years. He responded that it was essential for him to wake up every morning with something to look forward to. George understood the golden rule of show business: Attitude is everything. This weekend, I watched in amazement as James Cameron created a whole new world and revolutionized the movie-making business in the bargain. And it only took him sixteen years to do it! Now that’s optimism on a grand scale. So if you're running low, borrow a little magic from James and George and have yourself a great new year, Hollywood! Let's make some work for ourselves.
Copyright 2009 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 www.partsandlabor.tv