"Hollywood is a place where a man can get stabbed in the back while climbing a ladder."—William Faulkner
The climb to the top of the proverbial ladder is different for everyone. Some make it faster than others, and many never make it at all.
Having connections definitely helps; so does a savvy understanding of how the game is played, an I'll-do-whatever-it-takes attitude and a lot of hard work. And sometimes the ability to climb that last rung is merely a result of being in the right place at the right time. There are no set rules that guarantee if you do this, you'll achieve that. It doesn't work that way.
Think of the ladder shaped like a pyramid. There's a lot more room at the bottom for those just starting out, and it gets narrower as you make your way up, to where the very top portion narrows to a tiny peak—an icy and slippery one at that. So as you can imagine, there's not much room up there, and there's a lot of pushing and shoving and vying for position going on from all those who haven't made it yet. Some drop off along the way (and get out of the business completely) and others choose to settle into other rewarding, albeit less prestigious, positions and give up the climb. Then there's the area reserved for the industry elite such as Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Ron Howard, David Geffen, Tom Cruise, George Lucas, Oprah Winfrey and other A-list power players who are so permanently embedded, they're like the presidents on Mount Rushmore. But their solid presence on the summit leaves even less room for everyone else. It's tough making it up there, and sometimes even tougher being able to stay. Because it's so slippery, weather conditions are constantly changing and there's so much pushing and shoving going on from the lower rungs—it's not uncommon to slide off or get pushed.
There's a tremendous amount of pressure for those who have had some amount of success to hold on to their positions, because circumstances change every day. A film or two that does poorly at the box office can turn a successful producer, director or actor's career in the opposite direction. I know many people who had extremely successful careers producing high-quality movies for television (also called MOWs, or Movies of the Week), but in the past few years, MOWs have become a dying breed. I've also known prosperous individuals whose entire careers have been tied to one producer, one director or one company; and when something happens to sever those ties, the person is left at loose ends. Trends come and go, administrations change, long-running TV series get canceled, contracts expire, conglomerate mergers create downsizing and age discrimination does exist. Needless to say, "making it," for most of us, is a relative term.
So what happens to those who fall from power? Many brush themselves off and get right back onto the ladder. Some accept lesser positions or move to other aspects of the business. Some give up the industry and take non-industry jobs or start their own businesses. Some move to smaller communities where the cost of living is more reasonable and many of them start or buy businesses. I've known people who start writing or teaching, and many try their hand at independent producing. And there are always those who end up having to sell their homes, cars and toys, because they didn't count on this ever happening to them, and then they waste a lot of time being resentful, blaming others and waiting for the phone to ring. Falling from upon high is only as devastating as you make it, and the best thing you can do is merely get on with your life.
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