Profit & Loss on the Studio Lot

city lights2

If you sign up for the Hollywood life, there’s a good chance that you’re committing yourself to a freelance existence.

True, some of you will take studio jobs or work in the back office of a network where traditional corporate structures apply; but if you want to be an actor, writer, crew member, or someone who represents them, it’s a journeyman’s lifestyle that you’re asking for. That means taking responsibility for all the things you’re used to having spoon-fed to you by your employer: your health insurance, your tax filings, your 401(k), etc.; and it means taking ownership of marketing yourself as your own small business.

In short, you need to be the sales department, the HR team, and the accounting staff all in one. And when each fiscal year ends, you should have a sober reckoning, one where you itemize your personal profit and loss. This shouldn’t just be a financial conversation, it should also include your emotional progress because Hollywood will isolate you from the world you knew before and if you aren’t careful, it can undercut the person you thought you were.

With that in mind, here is a universal profit and loss report, one that anyone in this business could agree to:

Profit:

  • I work inside the world’s imagine.
  • My job appeals to me creatively and emotionally.
  • On bad days, there’s always sunshine.
  • On all days, there is the feeling of freedom – just drive north on the Pacific Coast Highway.
  • My tough job gives me even better friends.
  • I’m exposed to every type of person on earth.
  • People here value health.
  • It’s possible to succeed overnight.
  • I am a more interesting person for doing this.
  • My home city doubles as a world-class resort.
  • I’m having fun.

Loss:

  • Entertainment is subjective. It’s impossible to know where you stand.
  • There is no job security, ever.
  • Everyone wants to live in paradise, so it’s overcrowded.
  • California seems impossibly far from home.
  • I miss most of my friends’ weddings.
  • People here are every color but they’re mostly just rich kids.
  • Competition is so intense that success can seem unattainable.
  • Being poor is terrible.
  • Healthy people are pleasant but their lectures on fad diets aren’t.
  • Jobs, people, and values in Hollywood are all transient things.

So what’s the verdict? How does it figure? I don’t really know. The truth is that entertainment is an inherently subjective business and because of that, it requires a different kind of mental toughness; not the kind that’s built for the slow grind up the corporate ladder so much as the kind that can survive long winters and capitalize on passing opportunity. Risk is the black beast behind it all and if you can’t live in its long shadow, then this is not the race for you.

Here’s the only thing I can tell you for sure. If you can answer these three questions in one sentence or less, you’ve got a chance:

Who are you?

Where are you going?

What is that you can do that others can’t?

If you’ve got answers for those, you’re in the race; and if you don’t, hope is not lost. Just understand the competition you’re up against and the degree of specificity your future demands. Decide who you are, and even if that person is fiction, become him anyway. Stick to the story – one sentence or less – because no one wants to hear your rambling tale of self-discovery. You must be certain of yourself and you need to act deliberately.

I’d be lying if I told you this was an easy game to play. It isn’t. But it’s exciting in a way that makes everything else seem dull by comparison. Whether or not you succeed here is a question of talent and luck just like any place else; but whether or not you survive is a question of your ability to enjoy the small things along the way.

So hit the beach this weekend. Learn to surf. Go to a comedy show. Drive up Mulholland tonight and look at the city from above. Can you count the lights? Can you draw energy from the chaos? Or does it make you feel lonely to just be you – one set of headlights, headed west on the freeway ten lanes across?

You’re part of something much bigger than all of us, a business that builds skyscrapers out of imaginations and puts foundations beneath ideas. Know its callousness but allow yourself to see the good in it too. Above all else, stay close to the thrill of chasing the dream itself.

If you can find the profit there, you can stomach the loss come Monday.

Alex Keeney

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