I’ve never been a particularly patient person. I came from a family of slow-moving people who seemed to think that life was something that just unfolded on its own terms and our job was merely to roll with the punches. Even as a kid, I hated that philosophy and became determined to force a little excitement into my life. I suppose that willfulness is what initially attracted me to show business. From where I was sitting (far, far from the action) I got the impression entertainment was a fast-moving lifestyle where talented people (like myself!) bounced from one glamorous project to the next.
In my early years, I tried hard to be patient. It was kind of fun to fantasize about my big break. However, my willingness to wait for fame and fortune was firmly rooted in the idea that I wouldn’t be waiting for long. Once the powers-that-be got wind of what brilliant dynamo I was, my dance card would be filled until death. It wasn’t until I was well into my 30’s that I became aware of “The Waiting Room” – the rarely talked-about place where we creative types spend quite a lot of our time.
Recently, I was asked to teach a workshop at AFTRA on the fine art of auditioning. As I looked out at the crowd, I saw a remarkable cross-section of faces; young, old, optimistic, beaten-down; plus a few folks who appeared to have been recently lobotomized. In an effort to address the often anxiety-producing subject of auditioning, I jauntily reminded the crowd that auditions were actually just an opportunity to act -- something we all liked to do! When that didn’t get quite response I’d hoped for, I stuck my neck out a little further and tried to point out why it was important to seize any opportunity to act -- even if it was only for a few minutes in a casting director’s office -- Because most of our careers are not spent acting. They are spent trying to act; hoping to act; waiting to act. I got a few nods from the crowd, but mostly what I saw were glossy stares. Apparently, nobody likes to hear the truth. Not even at a free AFTRA seminar.
Downtime is the toughest part of working in the entertainment business. It can eat away at our confidence; make us feel unwanted, unloved, untalented and unworthy. And sometimes it can lead to some really bad behavior. The healthiest members of our community learn to make peace with The Waiting Room. No matter what we do with our time, some part of us continues to hover impatiently; hoping for our name to be called; our script to be read; our project to be greenlit.
Oddly enough, even if you are employed with some consistency, it doesn’t mean the “waiting” is over. Throughout my 20’s I worked quite a bit as an actor. I was what was known as a “juvenile character type.” I know this because that was what the label said on the filing cabinet where my agent stored my photos. Three or four times a year, I’d cram my laundry into a duffle bag and hop a train to some grimy east coast city where I’d spend a couple of months doing a low-paying theatre gig. The jobs were fun, but not exactly inspiring. I began to wonder how exactly some big deal New York director was going to pluck me from a production of “You Can’t Take It With You” in Buffalo and put me on Broadway. Then one day, my phone rang. A young star had dropped out of an off-Broadway festival of one-act comedies and a “juvenile character type” was quickly needed to replace him. The part fit me like a glove. The festival wound up being reviewed in the New York Times and the critic assigned to it was kind enough to call me “funny and engaging.” Adding to the excitement, the review featured a picture of me in which I actually looked “funny and engaging.” I thought my ship had come in! And in a certain sense it did. Little did I know however, that I was about to be sent back to The Waiting Room – where I paced the floor for another two years before the next decent role came my way.
When I relocated to Hollywood to become a screenwriter, I again thought the wait was over. A wacky script I’d written called “Sacred Estates” was blasting down doors for me all over town. It seemed like all of Hollywood was shouting en masse “Where the hell have you been?!” It was hugely exciting! Finally, I was in the enviable position of creating jobs instead of waiting for them! At last, the chains were off my ankles. I was going to make movies! Since that time, I’ve written a great many screenplays and been paid well for my time. To date, only one of those scripts has ever been made.
I have one project that I sold on a pitch in 2002. In the last eight years, there have been four directors and two movie stars attached. It has gone into turn-around three times and has been announced in the trades at least twice as being “in production.” At one point, an actual production office existed with people sitting at desks – that is before the studio pulled the plug at the last second. Two years ago, I was summoned back to rewrite it as a musical, because musicals were back “in.” For a while, things were looking good. Then as I watched the dreary box office numbers roll in for Rob Marshall’s adaptation of the musical “Nine,” I began to wonder if my project was again headed back to The Waiting Room.
Creative people were born to create. Not fulfilling that instinct can be deadly. I constantly badger my students to stay engaged in some form of creative expression at all costs. And I try to practice what I preach. The last thing you want is to be slumped in your chair, sodden with self-pity when the door opens and your name is called. We are gamblers. And gamblers live on faith. A few weeks ago, I asked my new manager if he thought that particular, now 8 year-old movie would ever see the light of day. My manager is a smart guy; a true Hollywood veteran with an almost legendary reputation of moving scripts and writers through the studio maze. “Yes,” he answered, “I think it will eventually get made.” “Why?” I asked. “Because it’s too good an idea. And too many people have almost made it.” Bewildered, I asked what, if anything, I could do to further its cause. “Nothing,” he answered. “You just have to wait and see what happens.”
Copyright 2010 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
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