A few months ago I did a podcast called The Other 50%- Women in Hollywood, hosted by Julie Harris Walker. As you can probably guess, it was on the subject of being a woman in the entertainment industry (and relentless self promotion). Near the end of the podcast, Julie asked “what’s your big dream?”
“Honestly, just to be able to support myself with my art.” I told her. “Whether that’s in the independent sphere, creating my own production company and running it like that, or getting to be a staff writer or a showrunner on a TV show. I want to be able to not have a day job, to not have to worry about side hustles and freelancing and stuff like that. To be able to say ‘I am a professional filmmaker’ and be able to live a simple existence.”
After a pause, she responded “You can dream bigger.”
I’ve been thinking about this exchange a lot recently. In the podcast I joked “is that not bigger?” because at the moment, it feels insurmountable. Last weekend I discovered $45 in my checking account while applying for a job that would pay me $20 to read a few sentences on camera. Thankfully I had savings for this exact purpose, and thankfully my job at Stareable is slightly more stable now, but it scared me a lot.
I have not been shy these past few months about what a rough time I’m having recently, and part of that has been me rethinking every decision I’ve ever made. It’s easy to make jokes in college and grad school about how I’m gonna be famous any day now, about how if I work hard I’ll make it in the art world. But the likelihood of that is so, so slim and there’s no way for me to determine whether I’m actually on the right path or not, because there IS no right path. It’s not like becoming a lawyer- there aren’t necessary steps (college, LSAT, law school, BAR, the rest of your life). You just kinda…. do a bunch of things and hope something eventually connects.
Daydreaming about fame and fortune is easy, but actually making that happen is hard, and it’s scary, and it seems insane, especially when I have to decide what ply of toilet paper I can afford to buy this week. I love my work at Stareable, and I loved my job at MTV, but sometimes I have to remind myself that I have two writing degrees and all I’ve ever wanted to do was tell stories. Five year old me didn’t dream about moderating a forum or casting a Southern Belle fashionista who currently lives in New York City. Five year old me dreamed of characters I wanted to hang out with, eight year old me learned about metaphors and how stories can mean more than one thing, thirteen year old me wrote a 35,000 word novel in a year, seventeen year old me only applied to colleges with strong creative writing programs, and twenty-two year old me moved across the country, away from everything and everyone I’ve ever known, with no plan except an acceptance letter to a graduate school that would teach me how to write for TV.
I’ve had tons of jobs, part and full time, over the past few years, and I’ve liked some of them quite a lot, and I’m incredibly lucky to have not had to work in the food and retail industries for long. But at the same time, every single one of them, at the end of the day, is not what I want to make a career out of. I write scripts while I’m waiting for emails, I film web series and movies on the weekends, I send query letters to agents, I consider moving to LA every other damn day, and I dream of the moment when my night and weekend work- which I spend equally as much time on as my “day jobs”- are my day jobs.
I’m 25 years old. I feel old as fuck when I talk to my four-time web series creator pal Jules who’s starting college in the fall, and I feel young and vibrant when I remember the eleven years separating me and my pal Pablo who just created his first web series last year. Plenty of people were successful at ages far below my own, and plenty of people found their place in the world many years later, but I’m impatient, so the fact that I’m not already vacationing with Mindy Kaling is a constant thorn in my side. Dream bigger? I’m staring down the barrel of my empty bank account and a new job where SEO trumps stylistic comma choices. I just wanted to tell stories.
But ok. Dream bigger. Big dreams. What does that look like?
I want to work in a writer’s room for Amy Sherman-Palladino, Mindy Kaling, and Bill Lawrence. Eventually, I want to be the showrunner of my own show, probably about superheroes or zombies or ghosts. I also want to own my own indie production company, where I write, direct, and produce my own web series and short films with my friends without a network dictating every other word, and help produce their content as well. If that part of the business takes off, I’ll leave traditional TV behind forever, but I’m perfectly happy doing both.
I want to build a life where my success means the success of the people I love and respect. I want to give my actors a platform to experiment and show their chops, I want my writer friends to write without worrying about budget, I want my camera, sound, and tech friends to get to consistently work on supportive, well-run sets, and I want to make a living from it. I used to hate group projects, as most of you can probably sympathize with. But when I started filmmaking, a funny thing happened- I realized it wasn’t people I hated, or working in groups. It was working with people I didn’t choose who I didn’t respect and who didn’t respect me back.
I don’t know if that’s big enough, but today it feels like Everest, so today it’ll have to do.