March 9, 2019
SXSW 2019

Busy Philipps Preaches the Power of Hustle

During her SXSW panel yesterday, actor Busy Philipps talked about her career and the drive that's necessary to become a multi-hyphenate.

Most saw her first in the wildly popular TV show Freaks and Geeks, and numerous television roles followed. She is now an actor, writer, producer and director. On top of all that, she is one of the only women in late-night TV with her talk show, Busy Tonight.

“I’ve always been an expander and a pusher,” said Philipps early on in the discussion.

During her SXSW session, Philipps had a freewheeling and hilarious conversation with friend and podcaster Hillary Kerr, starting with what the industry looked like when her career began. She said that there were not many "multi-hyphenates," especially people who were writing things for themselves to star in.

This was particularly true for women in the industry at the time, so Philipps didn't always have opportunities to write, produce and act. She said the business was just set up a certain way until the 2000s, when the Internet was taking off and people started finally creating their own content. She wasn't happy to just accept the limited roles the industry offered, both in front of and behind the camera.

Although generally this was the norm, while she was working on Freaks and Geeks with Judd Apatow and Paul Feig, the atmosphere was more supportive of the 16- through 21-year-olds.

"Those guys in particular were always asking our opinions and just validating our choices and asking us to participate," she said.

They were encouraged to bring ideas and scripts to the showrunners.

"It had never occurred to me that that was something I could do," Philipps said. "That I could sell my own shows. But seeing that, and being so close to it, made it feel like, 'Why not me? Why can't I do that too?'"

The importance of collaboration and creativity on sets, and being open to different ideas, has often been pointed out as one of the key elements in the filmmaking (or television-making) process, and hearing Philipps repeat it as one of the reasons she decided to push herself toward new creative endeavors only solidifies it as one of the best pieces of advice aspiring storytellers should take to heart.

Later, Philipps spoke about how pilot season used to be even more insane than it is now. At the time she was starting out, there were only a few networks scrambling to get their pilots shot, and they would pay very high fees to actors who appeared in them. Now, she said, that's not the case. The playing field is much broader, and oftentimes networks turn to Canadian talent that they can pay less.

Philipps made it clear that this was not a dig on Canada.

It was after a recent failed pilot that Philipps considered giving up.

“I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years, I can’t do this to myself anymore,” she remembered saying.

But then she was stricken with the idea to do a talk show. She went back to Tina Fey (who had been attached to the failed pilot) and pitched the talk show. It came together very quickly, and although now she has to juggle a hectic weekly schedule, family and a hefty social media following, she said she is enjoying herself.

"It’s always insane," she said, "and I like it.”

She also serves as executive producer on the show.

This brief glimpse at Philipp's career is a testament to the power of good, old-fashioned hustle and hard work. She encouraged the audience to try different things and become multi-hyphenates themselves, even after failures. And also, she said, don't be too hard on yourselves.

Busy Tonight airs Monday through Thursday at 11 p.m. on E!


For more, see our ongoing list of coverage of the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.

No Film School's podcast and editorial coverage of the 2019 SXSW Film Festival is sponsored by Blackmagic Design.     

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