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Thursday, May 21, 2009


A fellow wrote me to ask whether he should take a certain free week-long workshop; the downside was losing a week of salary, and he's broke.

One of the marks of someone who's going to make it in the biz is the willingness to make sacrifices. I wrote him back to ask if a month or two of Kraft Dinner would clear up his finances. There are going to be times when you need to be painfully frugal in order to be able to afford to take certain breaks. For example, the mailroom jobs at major agencies pay ridiculously little.

Of course it's easier if Daddy's subsidizing, and you're up against people who are being subsidized. But if you're living on whole wheat peanut butter sandwiches (cheap as KD but a lot healthier), you will have a motivator they won't have. While they're out partying, you'll be at home staring at the TV, analyzing the act breaks, and thinking how the hell do I get promoted out of the mailroom so I can afford cucumbers?.

As Terry Rossio says, "it is a rare man who succeeds in the face of comfort."

This is, by the way, the real reason why Hollywood seems to be ageist. It's not, really, but in your twenties it's easier to work all day and all night, and live in a crappy room in an apartment with four other people. When you have kids, not so much.

When you have money, live frugally anyway. Store up your money so you can afford to seize your opportunities. I turned down a job interning on one of the very first digital editing systems, because they refused to pay anything. I'm not sure the other things I did with the time would have been more useful in the long run. (In my defense, I wasn't really interested in editing as a career.)

Right now I'm at a relative lull. Oh, I'm writing a pilot and I have a lot of irons in the fire, but the money isn't flowing in like last year. Fortunately I've got a few years in the bank. Otherwise I'd be looking at writing animation scripts that would do nothing for my brand, or teaching lots of seminars, or who knows what.

There are items you need to look successful. Everyone seems to have an iPhone these days. In LA, there's a point in your career past which you can't afford to drive a beater any more. (Hint: a vintage Mustang is cheaper than a Lexus.) And unless you're really broke, grabbing the check is usually a swell move.

But most of us spend 10% or 20% of our money on things we don't really, really, truly need. Starbucks. Dinner out. Drinks out. Movies on the weekend. (Many theatres have one cheap night, and often the first show is free. You have to see movies, but you don't have to see them Saturday.) Not paying your credit card off in full. Bite the bullet on those things a bit. The time will come when you'll feel really smart about it.

5 Comments:

You may have mentioned it before but can you talk a bit about Animation Scripts, particularly original concepts? I keep hearing they are one of the best ways to break in, especially in Canada

By Blogger sean, at 4:56 PM  

I think this is great advice for everyone, but especially for artists.

Hey, drive a Prius and drive the car of the stars (and laugh when gas prices double).

By Blogger David, at 3:56 PM  

This is another example of where it helps to live in LA. I've never paid for classes or lessons or anything because there are so many people to learn from and so many free screenings and whatnot in town.

I've paid for books and screenplays, but now I don't even do that anymore.

I should add that being female also helps you get free stuff.

By Blogger Emily Blake, at 1:43 PM  

Ever hear the phrase, "It's not what you know, it's who knows you?"
You just might meet somebody who knows somebody who can use you at the workshop. At work you won't.

By Blogger blogward, at 7:27 AM  

I totally agree with this post. I left drama school (terrifyingly!) ten years ago, and film school around seven, and out of both groups of alumni, those who are starting to get somewhere (or have gone off into the stratosphere and I only see them on cinema screens these days) are the ones who consistently worked their arses off and sacrificed pretty much everything to follow the old dream.

It may not be entirely fair but them's the breaks - you can have all the talent in the world, but if you are in any way half-hearted - or, frankly, sensible - about pursuing writing, directing, acting, whatever - you won't get there. I guess there are exceptions to every rule, but they are few and far between.

By Blogger Claire, at 7:46 AM  

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