Last night two agents sat in on my acting class and gave me quite a shift in perspective.
The past few years have been incredibly difficult for me career-wise. Each year I have made small, steady steps forward; I’ve trained consistently in my craft, I’ve produced work I’m proud of, I joined the union, I have theatrical and commercial agents who hustle for me, and yet I haven’t worked in a long time and I rarely audition. All around me I see men of my age and talent range working and auditioning constantly while the women in this age range, unless they already have a ton of credits, waste away waiting for crumbs.
It’s easy to take this personally and to let it drag me into a pit of despair, as I’ve written about so many times before. While I can’t compare the time I live in now with how it was before, I can understand how it must have felt for women who weren’t allowed to work outside the home. The feeling of being trapped, of desperation, of untapped energy and potential, is almost too much to deal with sometimes. I feel like a zombie in my own life–forced to earn money, forced to go through the motions every day, forced to be happy for everyone else, while none of it makes me come alive in any way.
Part of surviving in Los Angeles for as long as I have is pretending that the odds don’t matter. Yes, we actors know the stats; we know how unrealistic this industry is but we have to believe that we’ll make it anyway. And for me, “making it” doesn’t include great fame or wealth–it just means work. Somehow, though, the crap shoot we’re involved with doesn’t become real until suddenly it does.
We are addicts and junkies. Everyone we know outside of the industry has bought homes, raised families, taken vacations and accumulated nice furniture and retirement accounts. Meanwhile, we’re still living in crappy rentals in the crummy parts of town, we may never have wanted kids but either way we’ve sacrificed them, our furniture is from yard sales, we forego doctors appointments in favor of classes and headshots, we take shit from boys half our age at shit jobs because they let us leave work to audition. But every time we want to quit, every time we think about doing something else…we just can’t. Nothing else exists. As one 62 year-old female artist said to me: You just have to keep going. That’s all there is. If it’s a choice between clay and ice cream, I buy clay. It’s just a certain type of crazy.
So these agents…they were talking about how much the industry has changed over the past several years now that everything has gone digital. They said, for one breakdown of a mid-30’s female guest star, the casting directors will receive 4,600 submissions within the span of a few hours. Oh. It’s so easy to go into the head space of: I’m not good enough, I’m not young enough, I’m not pretty enough, I’m not skinny enough. And that may all be true. However…
The casting directors don’t really care about your headshots, they don’t open your submission to watch your reel and they may not even listen to your agent pitch. They’re scrolling through pages of actors to find a face they recognize. And they’re culling from lists of the 1,000 actors they already know who are trying to get work. So…yeah…as an average white woman in that age range–the odds are definitely not in my favor. And it isn’t personal.
Our class discussed what we can be doing to help ourselves and the agents feel that it all comes down to relationships. But I was sitting there with a light bulb going off over my head, thinking, This is why you create your own work. I’ve created my own work for years and years. My dream roles and peak artistic experiences have arisen almost exclusively from projects I originated or helped to develop. Again, it’s been easy for me think that I’ve had to create my own work because I’m not good enough for anyone else to hire. But that’s not really it. That’s not it at all. And I have to get over the hang-up of needing external validation for my work because it only gets in my way.
Right now I’m developing a dream feature film role for myself and everything about the process has been exciting and wonderful. It’s all coming together at a much more rapid pace than anything else in my life or career. This project has got to be as valuable to me as any little television one-liner I might beat the odds to book. I can’t get daunted by the uncertainty of how it’s going to get financed and I can’t believe that I’m “less than” because I had to cast myself in order to work.
I think about leaving Los Angeles all the time. But where would I go? It could be easier to survive somewhere else and if the odds really are this bleak, and I’m going to be creating my own work anyway, shouldn’t I seriously consider it? However, at this point, I’ve lived in Los Angeles longer than anywhere else in my life and as someone who grew up without a hometown, I guess this has come to mean something to me. I have roots here and maybe that’s just as important to me as staying in the game. It’s an open question that I continue to ponder.
Regardless, my place as an artist in this industry has started to crystallize. Self-generating work is a long, arduous process and it scares a lot of people away. But I just got a taste of the odds again and I gotta say that developing my own work makes me feel more like the casino owner than a desperate actor losing all my quarters at the slots.
15/52 HOSTILE BORDER.
This week’s film was written and co-directed by Kaitlin McLaughlin in partnership with director/cinematographer Michael Dwyer.
Claudia is a young Mexican-American who speaks no Spanish but who is deported back to Mexico after she’s indicted for credit card fraud. There she struggles to connect with her estranged father, a rancher, while forming dangerous alliances with someone who may be able to return her to the States.
McLaughlin and Dwyer conceived this film as a modern western/thriller with a female protagonist. It’s breathtakingly beautiful to look at and the writing is perfectly spare. Living in Los Angeles, I found the film to be incredibly relevant–thinking about what lengths so many people are driven to in order to survive and how one tricky decision can spiral into chaos. I highly recommend this film. It’s taut, thoughtful and understated and I can’t wait to see what else these directors do.
One side note–I rented the film on Amazon which said the running time was nearly three hours. I couldn’t imagine how it could be so long but the film actually comes in at 1:20 and then starts playing again from the beginning. It’s just a glitch so don’t let it scare you off.
14/52 THE INTERN.
Sometimes you just want to crash with a Hollywood studio movie that makes you feel good. Writer/Director Nancy Meyers is a master of such films. I’d avoided THE INTERN for a while, thinking it was going to be cheesy, but it turned out to be utterly delightful and charming. It’s about decent people with good hearts trying to do the right thing. It’s funny, it’s smart and it celebrates who we are at all ages and stages of our lives. Meyers’ track record includes SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE, THE PARENT TRAP, IT’S COMPLICATED, and THE HOLIDAY. This might be my favorite one yet.