“I have an interview with Seth goddamn Meyers next week!”
That sentence makes me want to jump off a building – because I’m not the one who said it. A friend said it six months ago and I can still hear the chirp in her voice on the word “goddamn”.
“Seth goddAMN Meyers!”
That sound keeps me up at night.
This friend and I have always had an interesting, competitive – sometimes bordering on toxic – relationship. We are equally driven with totally opposing taste: she cries every time she watches Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; I’d die for 1917. She comes from a wealthy family who seems more than willing to fund her every whimsical project and degree; my mom is living in her car for the next few weeks because “I love saving money!” (That’s a real quote.)
We are different. And she is absolutely sky-rocketing into fame space right now. And it makes me want to die.
Art, theatre, screenwriting: it’s all a competitive echo chamber of turtlenecks clamoring over each other for five seconds in the sun. One of my (many) criticisms of art school was the largely judgmental and overly competitive environment it created: if someone's short film was more popular - that is, if more angry people dressed all in black bitterly discussed its possible and various meanings over an after-class smoke - it not only meant that your film sucked, but that you yourself were a complete waste of space who should just drop out already. When I went out for the sixth grade play “The Bachelor King” twelve years ago, I was told: "This is very hard. Most people don’t make it. Do your best; expect nothing, and you might survive."
And that was more or less the message my college professors sent me and my colleagues off into the world with – that and a lot of three-ringed binders.
Chance, Luck, are at the center of the artist’s universe. Intangible yet always present, inextricable from your success or lack thereof. Life is strange in part because the entertainment industry makes it that way; it is entirely unpredictable, dependent on who you know and what they think of you – not just the quality of your work as may be the case elsewhere. Screenplay B gets produced because so-and-so went to school with Jeff Daniels back in the day, and that-guy-with-the-hat owes me a favor and I have some money saved up so let's just make the damn thing. Screenplay C gets made because you found the producer’s e-mail address on LinkedIn and caught her on a good day.
So it seems natural enough to deflate at the words “I got an interview with Seth Meyers”. There are only so many people on his writing staff, only so many shows getting picked up by Netflix, so much money and luck to circulate. How long will it take for some of it to find its winding way yo you? A year? Two? Eleventeeseven? How long are you willing to wait? By next summer, you could be selling beef in Alaska because you fell too far behind and now you’re a runaway loser that your family doesn’t talk about. "Most people don’t make it, kid."
But that’s not *exactly* true, is it?
There are more opportunities available to us, the Artists, now than there ever has been: more channels, theaters, production companies, streaming services, music venues - not all of them million dollar promises, sure, but they are places to start. You started pursuing this job for the love, right? So do it for the love, not the lottery.
A more accurate graduation send-off would be: “There are an infinite number of ways to make this your job, and everyone is going to do it differently. Life is throwing cupcakes at walls and seeing what sticks. Also invest in good underwear - trust it makes all the difference.”
Success is not homogeneous: it is diverse, ambiguous, deeply personal.
My friend’s path to success is shorter than mine. She has more resources – more cupcakes to throw at walls. I have a few more years of teaching improv to infants and waiting tables in dive bars. It doesn’t make my work any less fantastic (because it really is), and it doesn’t mean I will never get to a place where I’m not paying for my dinner in five dollar tips.
If anything, her early success is more likely to lead to my own. If she stumbles upon a project called 1918 that’s seeking a very enthusiastic history nerd screenwriter lady, she has my number. Her victory is not my loss.
I might get that tattooed on my forehead.
Your victory is not my loss, and my production is not your unemployment: we are all, slowly, shifting towards the shore together. No one has ever succeeded alone. It takes a village.
And one of our villagers just landed a job at Late Night with Seth Meyers.