How you handle failure and stagnation in Hollywood says a lot about you. And other people are always listening.
You've been there. I've been there. We've all been there. That project we chased, the one we did on spec, our passion assignment falls apart. Or the pitch we prepared for goes south. The agent who wrote you the passionate letter about why they wanted to represent you stops calling. The latest draft of your screenplay gets passes from everyone.
And then, when you're at the lowest of lows, that person you can't stand. That writer or director with no talent who gets paid too much, books something. It's in the news. It's on your social feed. Your Mom sends it to you and asks why you didn't try to get that job.
Failure is at the heart of the culture of being a Hollywood creative. You're going to hear the words "No, not for us," more than you're going to hear "You're hired." And that will ultimately weigh on you.
Those feelings will turn your stomach, piss you off, and frustrate the hell out of you.
You will get bitter.
But you don't have to stay that way. Remember, I'm the guy with the happiness post. I love sappy movies and stories. So today, we're going to go on an emotional journey together to talk about...
"How can you keep from being bitter in Hollywood?"
I posted this question on Twitter a few days ago, and I got a lot of comments and DMs. Some people had a ton of helpful advice. Others told me to kill myself, which seems par for the course on the internet these days. But let's not get off track here. Hollywood is a hard place where often you need to assess what matters in your life and to take stock of coping mechanisms when things don't go your way.
Getting bitter is easy.
We see it all the time now. From the Ghostbusters backlash to Last Jedi hate to just people in your inner circle or group threads trashing someone else. Sure, sometimes it's warranted. But if you let your bitterness grow, you might find yourself alone. And even schadenfreude can't keep you warm at night.
So what's the main way I've found to battle bitterness?
I'm not talking about the TV show, though if that works for you, nice. One of the most popular responses to my tweet was how important friendships are to creative people.
If you invest in your friends and their successes, it can make you feel more fulfilled. As your network succeeds, it can also lead to more opportunities down the road. My last three paying gigs all came from friends who got promoted and knew they could depend on me and my writing to make them look good.
They're also the people who buy me Village pizza and tell me the sky isn't falling when things get tough. By building a network, you can also revel in the glow when you see your friend's projects come to the big screen. There's nothing like being in the theater and WHOOPING as loud as you can when their name flashes.
Go hard for other people, and they'll go hard for you.
Thank includes throwing back a few too...
Yeah, this is not the best way to handle bitterness. But a cold beer helps once in a while. And hell, I've been known to chase a single malt now and then. I once had a million dollar deal fall apart. There's not enough Jameson in Ireland to fix that. But a small glass can help. Especially if you talk about it with the friends mentioned above.
While I can't advocate the drinking in Leaving Las Vegas or The Borstal Boy, I can tell you that in the right environment, sometimes you need a drink. Sometimes that lubricant is all you need to find your smile again and to push forward on what's coming next.
I'm not a hippie, but I started meditating a few years ago, and it changed my life. I'm a big fan of Thich Nhat Hanh and his guided meditations. Mostly because I have never been great at clearing my mind, but when I am feeling the insane burden of stress and anger, it's easy to listen to someone take me on a more peaceful journey.
Bitterness is just anger at yourself directed toward the world. Yeah, TRUTH BOMB. So when I feel like life wound up and kicked me in the nuts, I put on the Zen music and take a seat. In fifteen minutes I can usually turn around the way I feel. Or at least try to get back on track.
I love the Scriptnotes podcast because they always give practical advice. And while most of the stuff I have talked about here is ethereal, you can go to therapy and release this stuff. A licensed therapist will give you way better advice than this blog post. John August and Craig Mazin talked about therapy in Scriptnotes #99, and I found it incredibly useful.
In a post-Sopranos world, therapy sort of has a weird knock. But mental health is as important as physical health. There are lots of affordable options for those seeking therapy.
Get A Dog!
I'm here to tell you the best thing I ever did when I was sad was get a dog. Even though he's way more expensive than I anticipated, he's always there to listen, to take on long walks, to lick my face, and drain my bank account. I love him more than I anticipated, and he's easily the most empathetic creature on the planet. Dogs don't ask for anything but walks and love.
Most people can handle that.
Sometimes it's nice just to have something that only wants your affection and won't ask about why your movie didn't pan out, why that actor has taken 11 months to read your screenplay, and why your archnemesis just got a Netflix series.
Whatever the case dogs are there for you. Cats probably are too, but I'm a dog guy.
Pray and be Spiritual!
Take Some Responsibility!
Here's the truth, you can find ways to be calm and to avoid the feeling, but at some point, you need to look bitterness in the face and acknowledge it. Things go sideways here. They have a habit of not working out. Even Spielberg has a beef with Netflix. But at the end of the day when you get a pass, or someone else gets a project, ask yourself what you could have done better.
Did you go to the right producer?
Was the script done carefully and emotionally?
Was it your best work?
Also, buckle down and work on something else. This business is mostly luck, and talent arrives a lot farther down the list. You have to be willing to deal with the ups and the downs. Hollywood shouldn't be the thing that defines you or your whole life.
Those headings above? They reflect building out your world. The bigger your world, the harder it will be to knock you down. It's all about balance.
Summing up how not to be bitter in Hollywood
Find a good music playlist. Find a good book. Find surfing, Jesus, or Jesus surfing. Therapy is incredible for some people. Do anything you can to throw out the positive vibes. And when it gets really bad, have a drink? But only if it's healthy drinking. Don't drive either. Just like maybe a wine or beer to relax? Look, nothing above here is going to work for everyone. There's a reason the alcoholic writer is a stereotype.
Bitterness is the expression of an unhealthy relationship with the work and the city. Find a healthy way to cope, and come back hard with the next thing.
Hollywood doesn't owe anyone work, but it makes it harder to get a job in this town if you exude negative vibes.
So get out there and get creating.
Or pet your dog.
Got a way to cope? Put it in the comments.
I want the No Film School community to thrive!