In the bustling industry of film and television there exists an endless series of meetings, mixers, and other networking events that seem like a never ending game of ring-around-the-rosie.
Should I take BG work on Tuesday or should I go to a networking event? I think this time I’ll pass up Waldron's email for work on a pilot as an East Village pedestrian. I need to try and meet people that can help make my next film happen. A writer and director who isn’t writing or directing is a pretty miserable creature, which means I have two choices: get to work or perish.
Unfortunately, not every day feels like a “Go get ‘em!” kind of day. That's why I occasionally send myself reassuring text messages and write notes to myself. Above my closet mirror, I taped a postcard of a painting that hangs in the Musée d’Orsay.
On it, I wrote with a Sharpie:
Pretend you’re good at it.
I need to encourage myself. If I don’t I’d probably spend most days hiding from the world underneath my blankets (and I have a lot of blankets) and only venture outside to go to The Strand bookshop once a week because The Strand is like my version of church and I don’t want to mess with the book gods. Just imagine if deceased writers like Oscar Wilde and David Foster Wallace became furies in their afterlife and the reason why so many of us have at least half-a-dozen existential crises before the age of thirty is because Jean-Paul Sartre and Simon de Beauvoir are having a bad day?
Hey! Stop giving me an existential crisis Jean-Paul!
My crisis this week isn’t so special (Can I do anything right? I’m not even good at having crises). It’s just your basic wake-up-in-the-morning-feeling-like-a-failure bullshit.
I was feeling like this when I was on the set of Mr.Robot. The difference was that on Mr. Robot, I was supposed to. I portrayed a down-and-out, nine-to-five kind of fatigued figure in a crowd. I made it into the shot, getting a sad look from Rami Malek (how beautiful is he?) as he goes on one of his internal monologues about hmm, let me guess? The hypocrisy of the world and how we are all just microchips in the greedy money machine.
That was an overnight shoot that we began as soon as the sun went down so it actually felt like the daily grind. The dirty, dingy, dehumanizing grind. We shot two scenes that night. The first scene involved me dressed as a somewhat homeless, homeless person. Don’t ask me what that means exactly, you know you’ve seen those folks sitting in a cardboard box and watching videos on their iPhones. I didn’t have an iPhone but I did have an old chair and some unshelled peanuts. In the scene, a peanut went in and the shell got spit out. Every take, yum peanut, gross shell, ptooey. I think I almost hit Rami once as he walked by. It was good preparation for being a miserable New Yorker in the masses of other miserable New Yorkers.
And, as always, my mind starting running ahead of me and it got me thinking about what we do when we feel like we are lost in a sea of people. How do we keep ourselves motivated? How do we survive the rat race?
Is there a way I could hack my life?
Life Hack (noun) Any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity or efficiency, in all walks of life.
Now, I’m not talking about life hacks like turning tennis balls into key hooks. I’m talking about how to go through this one life we’ve got, not feeling like a total fucking asshole loser. I’m talking about how making what you want to do what you actually do.
Sure, I’ve had the occasional “I want to go to Ireland, I’m gonna buy a plane ticket in the middle of the night!” moment. I can get behind Shia LaBeouf, I get it, BUT, and there’s always a BUT, how do those moments become sustainable, active, life practices every day?
Because, if you're like me, you are going to be all too familiar with the way most mornings usually begin:
I wake up to my alarm. I hit snooze. My alarm goes off again. I hit snooze again. And again. And again. And again.
Hell, I program multiple alarms just to give myself snooze time. If I’m not on set, it takes a lot of snooze hits before I get out of bed. Sad but true. I used to bribe myself with juice. I love juice and if I want juice then I have to get up. Usually this works but who am I kidding? As if I’m adult enough to have more than half a stick of butter, a couple of packets of soy sauce, and one shriveled up old lemon in my fridge. And even if I do have juice, just because I get out of bed doesn’t mean I’ll stay out of bed. It’s a constant battle with myself because in this life, and in film and TV whether you’re an actor, a writer, a director, a designer- anything- there are so many others doing what you want to do, other artists that get great opportunities, high paying projects, and magazine interviews, that it often feels too difficult to be the unrelenting underdog. All I need to make my next film is $250,000 (a lot of money but a very low cost for a feature film) but there are other indie filmmakers that have much higher budgets and a lot easier of a time finding financing than I do. If a filmmakers biggest concern is deciding if they’re going to take TriBeCa’s offer or SXSW’s offer for their film premier, then fuck them.
If only I could program fairness as easily as I program my alarm.
It’s precisely this issue that connects to me to Mr. Robot. Institutionalized credentialism. Having your work be less about talent and more to do with where you went to film school, which grants you received by which organizations, and which festivals you’ve screened at, especially your premier. Now this would all be okay if these credentials were obtained purely based on the quality of work. While some industries might function that way, film and TV do not. It’s about who you know that can get you into these institutions. I’m not saying every film festival operates this way, many do not, but the big ones that could actually get your movie distribution, do. If anyone thinks that films chosen to screen at these festivals are chosen solely based on merit, you are sadly mistaken, mon ami.
It’s more than frustrating and the silly parables about getting your foot in the door and knocking on doors usually leads to broken toes and bleeding knuckles.
What do I need to do to get some attention around here? Hiding under my duvet definitely won’t work.
Help me out here guys. What do you do when you’re feeling loserly?
What does your internal monologue say?