The first time Steven Spielberg applied at USC he was rejected. An admissions officer ruled that his ‘C’ average was too low for admittance into the School of Cinematic Arts. That happens. But it didn’t stop there. He tried again and was rejected. Even after the third and final attempt his effort fell short. And so California State at Long Beach has the distinct honor of counting Spielberg among its alumni. In 1975 his movie “Jaws” grossed $60 million the first month of its release. Not bad for a ‘C’ student. Oh, and by the way, on May 6, 1994, Steven Spielberg received an honorary doctorate. You guessed it. The honor was bestowed by the University of Southern California.
Being rejected by USC wasn’t a major failure. It simply gave Spielberg more time to become a filmmaker — probably a much better filmmaker than he would have been wearing the shackles of academia. But the point I want to illustrate is that the movie business is fraught with failure. I know more out-of-work actors, screenwriters, crew persons, directors, designers, and such, than I know who are working.
Several actors I know are receiving food stamps and drawing unemployment benefits. Others are working in fast foods establishments, retail stores, and coffee shops. Yet they refuse to give up. When asked about their line of work, they inevitably reply, “I’m an actor” (or whatever their aspiration might be). I have a writer friend who has never seen a script make it beyond the submission stage, but he keeps business cards in his wallet that introduce him as a screenwriter.
Every year some 43 thousand ‘spec’ scripts are registered with the WGA. Of these about 150 are sold to production companies. Out of the 150 around 7 or 8 make it to the screen. So what keeps them coming? The lure of becoming a millionaire? According to a CNN report the California lottery has produced more millionaires in the past 10 years than has screenwriting.
In general, the odds are stacked against anyone hoping to break into the movie business. But one thing is certain. No screenplay will every become a movie that has not been completed, rewritten over and over and tirelessly shopped around to potential buyers. There is, and always will be, a market for good screenplays and jobs for good actors, work for talented crew members, openings for studio staff and jobs down the line for directors who relentless pursues her craft.
Now back to my friends who are literally starving artists. The one common thread that runs through each and every one of them is simply a love for the movie business. Some of my acquaintances are living in poverty. But get them together and talk about making movies and they will light up like children in a toy store. Most of them will work for practically nothing just for the experience. Unfortunately low-budget moviemakers like myself must rely on their willingness to do so in order to get our movies made. I always promise, however, that I will do everything in my power to showcase their work and assure them that proper credits will be given in all the right places.
Additionally, as long as the Lord blesses me with a little income, no out-of-work aspiring actor, writer, or other moviemaking hopeful, will pay for a meal when we meet to talk about the trade. You’d be surprised how one struggling for the opportunity to fulfill their dreams needs and appreciates a good meal. The pic to the left captures a few loyal and dedicated rising filmmakers who sacrificed much in joining me for a recent production. I assured them that as my company succeeds, they will succeed with me. Their sacrifices will not be forgotten.
The other day I told a man, who I hope to make the subject of a docudrama, that I have had far more failures than successes. I wanted to be honest with him up front so as not to promise anything I can’t deliver. He didn’t bat an eye. At our end of the spectrum everyone has had more failures than successes. We’ve grown to expect that. I’ve learned to respect those that are honest enough not to disown their misfires. But here’s the deal:
Forget those 10 steps to cinematic success books. You know what they are. You’re writing your own “How to” book. Every day you’re living out a future page of your best seller. Every day is a new day in your pilgrimage toward the show biz promised land. If one can avoid dragging the baggage of yesterday into this present day, the odds for succeeding are greatly enhanced. Stop sleeping with your setback. She’s a malevolent mistress. Get up in the morning and pursue your craft as a screenwriter, actor, cinematographer, director, producer, editor, or whatever. You may put bread on the table stocking merchandise at Wal-Mart, but you are a writer or filmmaker, not a stocker.
Writers have the advantage of needing nothing more than pencil and pad, or if you’re above the poverty line, maybe a typewriter or computer. One can write at anytime and anyplace. Let me inject that most serious writers don’t sit in Starbucks sipping cappuccino while tapping away at the Macbook and making regular contributions about their status to Facebook. Real aspiring, hungry writers have probably sold their Macbook and bought a cheap off-brand laptop with just enough memory to run a freebie scriptwriting app.
For actors and other movie tradespersons the day may consist of job hunting, online searches, networking and, above all, study and practice. I know one young actor who practices his craft while waiting tables at a local seafood restaurant. He daily transforms an otherwise mundane workplace into a sound stage. Working with local theater groups, enrolling in relevant classes at community colleges, reading, and watching (and analyzing) movies all serve to push one in the right direction. Ten dollars a month for a Netflix subscription is money well spent.
The point I’m making is that one’s life is greatly enhanced when you arise in the morning as a writer, or actor, or animator, rather than a failure. The Grand Architect built night and day into the system so as to give his creatures the opportunity to begin again each morning.
The most successful writer in the history of the Cosmos said it this way:
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm 30:5, KJV)