Every once in a while, people in my business need a little pep talk. Over the past few years, I’ve given a fair amount of them via a mentoring program that I helped found a few years ago. Every few months, I seem to find myself seated across from some very talented young writer who feels like they are never going to catch a break and are looking for a little guidance.
I’m flattered to be asked. Mostly because it casts the illusion that I know what the hell I’m talking about. These sessions are relatively easy for me since the young people I’m seated across from, although very talented, are still somewhat unformed as artists. Anything could happen. But at this stage of the game, they have very little experience and don’t yet underrstand that your career shapes you and not the other way around. My pitch is always the same: Keep your eyes and ears open. And keep plugging. Eventually opportunity knocks and the adventure begins.
The more challenging pep talks are the ones that we “more established” people occasionally need to have with each other. I’ve recently been helping a friend of mine get a little perspective on a particularly challenging writing assignment. Believe it or not, the major task has not been so much giving him notes on his script as much as reminding him how talented he is and what excellent instincts he’s been blessed with. These things are surprisingly easy to forget.
Recently, I called a talent manager to recommend a young actor that I think could have a very good career ahead of her. During the conversation, the manager told me that she wasn’t interested in repping any “developmental talent” at this time. Then, quite surprisingly , she began to grill me about my own acting career. Had I had been seen for this movie? That guest shot? Thus and such pilot? When I answered “no,” to every question, she became sort of incensed. Out of the blue, she offered (demanded) to manage me.
A cloud of confusion swept over me. Here was an established, hard-working manager with good clients, who was asking to rep me. Without thinking, I blurted out, “Why the hell would you want to represent an unpopular middle-aged character actor?” There was a short, shocked silence on the other end of the line. “Is that how you see yourself?” the manager replied. I began to wonder if perhaps I was in need of a little attitude adjustment.
As luck would have it, I was scheduled to have dinner the next night with a good friend who writes for a highly successful TV show. He and I have known each other for a very long time. Over the years, we’ve seen each other through various career highs and lows, health scares, broken marriages and a easily a dozen other major life decisions. When he noticed that I kept deflecting his questions about how I was doing, he pinned me to the wall. I confessed that I was beginning to wonder if I might be suffering from a slight case of battle fatigue. Even seated opposite one of my oldest friends, I still didn’t feel like I had the right to complain.
After all, it wasn’t like I hadn’t booked any work in the last two years. I just hadn’t booked a ton of it. In fact, it seemed like the universe was conspiring to give me the absolute, bare minimum of employment needed to keep a roof over my head and my union dues paid. I had gotten oddly used to walking this tightrope month-by-month. Luxuries like sampling that new hot restaurant that everybody’s talking about, had sort of fallen by the wayside. The truth was that working in Hollywood had not been quite so glamorous lately.
Even as the words came out of my mouth, I felt like a whiner. Everybody knows the business is full of ups-and-downs and that even in the best of times, we have second thoughts and regrets. I knew my friend was a much better writer than the show he was working on, but he also has two small kids and a mortgage. When I told him about my experience with the manager, he stared flatly at me over his wine glass. “Let me get this straight,” he said. “You’ve got someone who’s established, hard-working, with good clients, who's offering to help you… And you said no?”
The next day, I took a quick inventory of all that I had going on in my professional life. I then thought about how much more I could handle. I then asked myself how much more I wanted. Then I picked up the phone. I now have a new manager who I adore. In the three weeks we’ve been working together, she’s been endlessly optimistic and energetic in her approach. On my end, I’ve done my best to pick up my pace, stay focused and remember that unlike my young protégées, I do have a track record that has not gone completely unnoticed.
Although the business is not always good to me, it’s always good for me; reminding me of the biggest lesson of all: To love the life you’ve chosen and press forward with some faith. Although you might not be in the spotlight this week, that doesn’t mean you’re invisible. Patience + perserverance = payoff.
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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