Monday, June 14, 2010

As Luck Would Have It

My best friend, Tom is a real estate agent. Although real estate and show business are vastly different industries, we are in agreement that both share one universal (though maddening) truth: Any idiot can be successful if they happen to be standing in the right place at the right time.

The subject of luck is something that gets talked about a lot in show business circles. We love it. We dream about it. We worship it. And we do all sorts of nutty things to try to lure it into our corner. The latest craze in L.A. has been “visioning,” where those looking for a break, spend valuable time imagining themselves being hit by a tsunami of success. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with imagining what it would be like to be hugely successful if that helps you build self-confidence, but luck in show business is largely earned.

The most legendary story of luck is attributed to Shirley MacLaine. A struggling chorus girl / understudy, she had just given notice that she was leaving the show, when she got the call that the leading lady had sprained her ankle and would not be able to perform that night. Shirley was under-rehearsed and nervous about going on, but had little choice but to bluff her way through. At one point, she had to do a dance number where she tossed her hat into the air and then caught it. She missed the hat and as she went chasing it across the stage, audibly muttered, “Shit!” which brought the house down. Shirley kept plugging and demonstrated to the audience a quality that would serve her well throughout her career – her willingness to be vulnerable and to put on a good show, no matter what. As luck would have it, a talent scout from one of the studios was seated in the audience. And the rest, as they say, is history.

When I look at my own less glamorous history in the business, I’m struck by how many times luck has played a part in the proceedings. I was once in a general meeting with a producer and for some odd reason, I wound up mentioning that I was from Kentucky. Two years later, his associate (who had also been in that meeting) was working for another company and called me up because her bosses were looking for a writer with some knowledge of Appalachia. That gig turned into the single most lucrative writing job I’ve ever had. I met my current agent at a mixer – a mixer that I almost didn’t go to because frankly I hate mixers. I recently booked an acting job because I happened to post a funny comment on Facebook. Ten minutes later, I received an email from a film producer who'd seen the comment, inquiring about my “availability.”

As much as we'd all like to crack the genetic code of luck, it can't be done. Although, I now do my best to go to more mixers, I can tell you that 99% of them lead to nothing except one more vodka tonic. In my experience, luck is attracted to a moving target; meaning you’re more likely to run into it if you’re out there pursuing your goals. Staying “out there” is the name of the game. And not everything that looks like luck, actually is. Every time I think, “This is it! This is the big one that’s going to change everything” – it never is. Almost every piece of luck I’ve had has come from some small, oddball occurrence; some totally unpredictable conversation or encounter that then led to an opportunity.

Over the past few years, a number of highly regarded institutions have done studies on luck and they’ve all pretty much come to the same conclusion. Luck is a numbers game and it favors the open-minded. Unfortunately, creative people are an impatient bunch and most of us want to get on the super highway to success and gun it. The problem with that approach is you may well speed past the very exit you were looking for. While the obsessed and inflexible types usually experience a lot of exhaustion and frustration, those who come at their goals with a sense of fun and adventure, tend to be more observant and seem to spot small opportunities everywhere.

It’s also good to keep in mind that a detour is not necessarily bad news. Those side streets frequently offer quirky, unique chances to show off your talent, gain experience and meet people who can become allies and or even employers somewhere down the line. For years, I refused to make any "lateral" moves. Every time I got a job, my attention was firmly focused making sure my next gig was a "better" job. I fell for the biggest fallacy in the business - that anyone's career path makes sense.

My luck improved vastly once I got back to what had attracted me to the business to begin with - simply working creatively with people who had entertaining, fun ideas. It's turned out to be an excellent policy that's served me well. Consistency is a good idea, but forcing your will on the universe is not. Creative people who actually enjoy the act of creating something are enormously attractive to the industry. In the words of a writer who never made a dime in Hollywood (a guy named Bill Shakespeare): “Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered.”

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

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David Avallone said...

Excellent blog, as always. It reminds me of one of my favorite lines from an unjustly ignored film... "A plan is just a list of things that aren't going to happen." (Chris Macquarrie, The Way of the Gun)

Action Breeds Action! said...

Thanks David. I enjoyed this one today. It gave me peace. And that's much needed in this climate.