Written by Melissa Center.
You know the phrase, “Hurry up and wait?” If you work in show business, you know the pain that accompanies having big talent, big ambitions, and big dreams.
Whether you are an actor, writer, or filmmaker, the "bizness of show" can strip years from your life as you wait for other people to say yes to your dreams.
Thankfully, the tides have turned, and you no longer have to depend on the system to finance, create, and distribute your work. Of course, many of us want the backing of Hollywood — to be “in the room where it happens,” and that’s awesome!
Regardless, you still need to prove yourself, pave your own way, and stay on course until Hollywood or Broadway or whoever catches up to you. Here’s how!
1. Feel it in your bones
There are plenty of great, clever, imaginative stories out there. Do you have to tell yours? I have found that once I know in my entire being that I not only want to tell my story, but that I have to… not only am I unstoppable, but the powers that be all somehow conspire to help me.
For my debut feature, I was 1000% committed to making it happen even though, in my mind, I felt like an imposter. I knew I had to raise money tomake it happen so I launched a crowdsourcing campaign. I said to myself — whether I raise $5,000 or $50,000, I’m making this movie!
As a result of my commitment, I not only achieved my initial production goal, but in the process of my outreach, connected with two angel investors who ensured my film would be finished and distributed.
For my solo play, nothing could stop me, not even a pandemic! The original plan was to bring my show to Edinburgh International Fringe Festival, the biggest theater festival in the world. Cut to… COVID-19. No more theater.
But I had to make this show happen. So I pivoted and managed to raise funds to livestream and film the play instead. I raised 155% of my crowdsourcing goal at the height of the pandemic, raised $2,000 in ticket sales to donate to artist relief, and successfully livestreamed the play (one night only) to a theater-hungry audience of 800 people!
2. Enlist support
No one achieves success, big or little, on their own. When I set out to make my projects, I had experience when it came to “self-producing,” but on a smaller scale. I knew I needed to surround myself with people who had strengths where I had weaknesses.
For my feature, I knew the story I wanted to tell, but when it came to writing, I struggled with structure. I wanted this film to be an ensemble story that would highlight the extraordinary talents of my colleagues. I also wanted to be highly collaborative. I gathered a group of friends, pitched them my story, and asked who wanted to be a part of it. Everyone said yes, and West Liang, who I ultimately asked to direct the film, offered to help me write it. What ensued was a wonderful and organic collaboration as West helped me bring my vision to life.
For Marrying Jake Gyllenhaal, I knew fundraising was going to be a hurdle. Though I had raised funds for three other projects, this was the first time I set out to raise $20,000 for a project that featured no other actors but me. I knew I had to approach this raise with more of a system, so I enlisted Justin Giddings AKA “The Kickstarter Guy” as a consultant.
This was hands down the best decision I could have made. Through Justin’s system, I raised $31,158! The icing on the cake? I not only got to produce my play, but Justin invited me to work with him! Now I get to support fellow artists in funding their projects. Win, win, win.
'All I Want'Credit: Melissa Center
3. Say yes to setbacks
Bumps in the road are inevitable when it comes to any/all plans, let alone any/all creative plans. Sometimes those setbacks end up becoming your biggest wins!
When West and I were attempting to schedule an extremely ambitious 10-day shoot for a feature film with a large ensemble cast, we had no room for errors. Unfortunately, life happens. Several of our actors had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts and/or unforeseen life events (babies).
We tried our damnedest to work around our actors — after all, the roles were written for them! However, even with my iron will, we couldn’t bend time and space. West made some calls to actors he’d worked with in the past, and we ended up finding incredible replacements to fill the holes in our cast. The icing on the cake? We were able to create a more well-rounded and diverse cast, something I’m still thankful for to this day.
As mentioned above, I was supposed to bring my play to Edinburgh and perform it live, in the flesh. The universe had way different plans for me! I could have shelved the project. I could have settled for a reading on Zoom. Instead, I used the moment as an opportunity to be bold. Though I don’t yet know what the exact future is for Marrying Jake Gyllenhaal, I do know that I have the capacity to reach way more people with my story than I would have had originally.
'Marrying Jake Gyllenhaal'
What are you waiting for?
Commit. Enlist support. Roll with the punches. The creative path is not for the faint-hearted, but as Audrey Hepburn so wisely once said, “Nothing is impossible. The word itself says 'I’m possible.'"
Now go make your movie!
Melissa Center is an actor, storyteller, and creative consultant. As an actor she has worked on stages in Chicago, NYC, LA and on tour. She most recently debuted her solo show Melissa Center is…Marrying Jake Gyllenhaal live from The Pico, LA, and appeared on NBC’s This is Us. She co-wrote, produced, and stars in the feature film All I Want. She wrote, co-directed, produced, and stars in the award-winning narrative short R.V about the threat to women’s reproductive rights. R.V continues to screen across the country, in addition to reaching half a million people online (and counting). As a sought-after coach she has worked with both actors and business professionals through Southwestern School of Law, The SAG Conservatory, AMDA, through her company Whole Self Systems, and in partnership with Justing Giddings. Check her out at www.melissacenter.com and enlist her support at https://melissacenter.com/help-me-tell-my-story.