"When an actor comes to me and wants to discuss his character, I say, 'It's in the script.' If he says, 'But what's my motivation?,' I say, 'Your salary.'"—Alfred Hitchcock
My friend Andrea has a beautiful daughter named Erin, and when Erin was a little girl, she had aspirations of becoming a movie star. I remember asking her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She had it all figured out. She didn't just say she wanted to be an actress. She wanted to be a movie star with one home in Beverly Hills and one home in Paris. Nice dream for a little girl. Fortunately for her, Erin's grown-up ambitions are a bit more pragmatic.
When I start a new class each summer, I ask each of my students what they want to do in this business. Many tell me they want to make movies with moving moral messages, and through this art form, convey stories that will touch the human spirit and shape the consciousness of a generation. Some want to work on projects that will benefit children, others want to make politically charged documentaries and still others want to help bring back the type of classic films that were made in the 30s and 40s. Some want to become movie moguls and there are always one or two who aspire to become household names. All very lofty ambitions, but such dreams must be balanced with a healthy dose of practicality when you're just starting out and have to worry about making the rent each month.
Sure, once you've reached a serious level of success in this industry, you can pretty much write your own ticket and choose (or create) your own projects, but few of us have that luxury. With a modest amount of success, you can afford to be somewhat choosy about which projects you opt to become involved with. But for most of us, the noble cause is in earning a decent living for ourselves and our families. That's why throughout my career, I'll occasionally work on a show I'd rather not list on my resume.
You may choose not to work on something you find morally offensive or turn down a project with someone you find objectionable to work for, but short of that, be practical. Unless you've got people lined up at your door with job offers in hand, take the ones that will pay you fairly, and work with people you won't mind spending a great deal of time with. As your career grows, so will your choices.
The trick is to keep pursuing your dream, but be realistic about it. Dreams do come true, fortunes are made (as are very comfortable livings), success and notoriety are possible and artistic freedom is conceivable. But to improve your chances of surviving the journey, be sure to:
• make a Teflon coat part of your permanent wardrobe,
• make wise choices knowing full well that the business isn't fair,
• find a way to get past the disappointment and depression,
• be willing to alter your course a bit when faced with an immovable brick wall,
• be bold and willing to take risks, but be willing to revert to Plan B when necessary,
• avoid comparing yourself to others,
• get as much in writing as possible,
• know that no matter how discouraged you get, it will get better if you don't give up.
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