Growing up, my dad tirelessly warned me away from working in the arts, an industry where someone else’s opinion can determine your success. He urged me to go into industries where education and experience call the shots when it comes to pay grade and possibilities. “Doctor or lawyer,” he’d say when we talked about college. Doctors don’t get turned down for the job because HR “went another direction,” or because the hospital director didn’t think they were bankable.
We work in a subjective industry as to what’s Good, what’s Art, what’s Entertaining. We rely desperately on the good opinion of others for funding, for reviews, for survival. Feeling that your dreams are at the mercy of others is a vulnerable place. I remember a role I desperately wanted in high school, and the tears that followed not being cast. I felt utterly unwanted, a failure. There was one prizewinner, and I was not it.
Often we are tempted to put our total self-worth in the hands of a single opportunity. Approaching our lives that way – especially with acting, directing, and writing – is an invitation to burn out quickly. one casting director at one audition, or one film festival out of thousands. Instead, we must realize we are surrounded by opportunities. We need only to find our audience.
In an industry fueled by that elusive currency of “buzz,” have a little faith.
Belief in Yourself Is A Currency
My acting coach Steven Anderson says in Hollywood, power is currency. So if you and I are “just” actors or short film producers, how do we get any? One way is, by taking a stand.
Decide where your boundaries are, what you are willing to compromise, what you want to be known for – and then stand there. Don’t be swayed by every blowhard who would like to fill your sails with opinions of you who you should be or what you should do. Don’t play the game on their terms. Taking a stand creates respect and authority. Steven uses Nelson Mandela as an example. Even in prison, he took a stand – and that stand was powerful.
Power that does not originate from within can be taken away like a thief takes a coat. It has to come from inside. You must believe in your bones that everything will work out the way it is meant to, that “there is a divine plan of goodness for me and my work,” as Julia Cameron says.
For me, the key to my power is ridiculously simple and terrifically difficult: do the work.
Whether an actor, filmmaker, or underwater basket weaver, work at it. Strive to be the best. Never stop learning and growing. Take classes, experiment, play. Stop procrastinating with that script idea you have and start doing the work.
Preparation and knowledge will fuel your belief in yourself. Knowing you have done the work is the foundation of your peace of mind. Now, when I walk into an audition, I am proud of my process and excited to show them my work. That’s far more powerful – and healthy – than going into an audition with the motivation to get the job. That line of thinking almost never works, whether you’re an actor or a director pitching a script.
Rejection is like a little withdrawal from your emotional bank account. When that happens, spend the currency of your power to restore the balance. Affirm your path, your work, and your dedication. Reach out to your carefully curated inner circle whose honesty guides you. Know who you are. Seek inspiration from your own heart. And keep working.
When To Be A Student, When To Take A Stand
Taking a stand isn’t the same as iron-plating your heart. It’s about knowing yourself. Part of that is learning to know when to trust your instincts, and when to be open to change.
I call this knowing when to be a student. We never have everything figured out – and if you think you do, chances are you are a jackass. The most interesting people are the ones who are continually curious about the world and seek to be lifelong students, learning and improving.
Admitting you need more help or more training is a breakthrough that can be scary but will propel you to the next level. Conversely, if you change your path every time someone who seems powerful tells you to, you’ll be as directionless as a kid playing Marco Polo when all the other players have left the field.
This takes trial and error, but learning to trust your inner voice grows with experience. Submitting my first short, Connect To, to festivals has been such an experience. I was used to rejection as an actor, but now getting rejected by casting directors and festivals was a double whammy. I had a few hard weeks where it seemed like the bad news kept coming. In a low point, I watched the film Official Rejection and gloried in my war wounds. I realized that not getting into a certain festival isn’t a true indication of quality. I went back and watched my short, talked to some close friends, and had the realization that my film is good. It’s solid. It’s a great little piece, and I needed to stand by it.
The film just needed to find its audience. Less than a week later, we were accepted into Dances With Films in L.A. and I had the public confirmation of what I’d already found internally.
Be open to all feedback, but sort through it to find what sets off your inner tuning fork. Always be a student. But know when to keep your stand.
Stay Loose, Run Fast
I’m fond of saying that the Year of the Rabbit belongs to the nimble. I love the image it conjures. Adaptable. Flexible. Turn on a dime and restrategize. Firefighters say, “Adapt and overcome,” and this phrase has found a home in my every day lingo.
Nimble describes we indie filmmakers. The obstacles that would stop ordinary people must be seen as fuel for our creative problem solving. You hear these great war stories– the freak thunderstorm, locations falling hrough the day beforehand, an investor pulling out. These obstacles make us great in the process of overcoming them. These are not signs from God to give up; these are signs from God to be nimble and find the right path.
If you’ve been beating on a certain door without it opening, take a break and try a different one. The results may surprise you.
“When you feel that nothing is happening, it’s because things are moving elsewhere, preparing the way.”
I posted this as a Facebook update in response to my frustration with a dry spell, and to reassure myself that it was only temporary. To my surprise, many friends who I envisioned had rich and busy lives commented that it was exactly what they needed to hear. Other people felt the same way I did– at the mercy of the gatekeepers. Waiting is often the hardest part. Waiting to hear back from a film festival. From an audition. From your agent. From that meeting that could make or break you.
Sometimes dedication is the most important key to generating your own power. When I’m passed over for a role I covet, I pick myself back up and quietly remind myself that I’m hungry and gritty. I often feel that my hunger is my greatest strength, like a fiery engine in my gut. I’ll never stop acting, auditioning, and making films. I’m too hungry to take no for an answer. I’m in it for the long haul. I’m not going anywhere, and I’ll be ready to show them my work when they’re ready to see it. I will find my audience.
When you feel like nothing is happening, thousands of things are happening. The machinations of the universe are falling into place. Other people need to make their decisions, which can then affect a secondary wave of actions. The gears turn, locking into place. Sparks fire. Soon…
Just keep faith.
Wonder Russell is an actor, the Minister of Culture for @RunicGames, Falcor guardian, organic & vintage enthusiast, and proud Seattleite. She produced and acts in “Connect To” (2011) and is the writer/producer and actor in her current project, “The Summer Home.” Connect To has been accepted into the Seattle True Independent Film Festival, Dances With Films Festival, and The Park City Film Music Festival….so far.