I got an email this week in which these words appeared:
“I love acting so much, I’d PAY to do it!”
And it’s not the first time I’ve been on the receiving end of this sentiment.
THIS is how we end up in situations like all the ones that are now coming to light: people in positions of power in Hollywood taking full advantage of the ability to express their inherent predatory nature because there are more than a handful of creatives in the world who would sell their soul just for the chance to act.
By the way?
This is also why I’ve taught self-producing from the very beginning. It’s why even before there was a “new media agreement,” I was teaching actors how to Taft-Hartley themselves. It’s why I weathered pushback from this industry’s dinosaurs who said no good could come of teaching actors how to create their own content. (“They need to stay focused on ACTING,” they would say. Sure… where there is very little power on its own.)
But even when we do have power, we give a lot of it away sometimes.
I remember one of the first times I chose NOT to give away power — and it was challenging — to someone I perceived to have a lot of power over me in this business.
I was 23, new to Los Angeles, rockin’ my hot little 23-year-old bod with those oh-so-perky boobies and just the right waist-to-hip ratio to celebrate being officially hourglass and a casting director asked me — after I’d just acted my ass off in front of him — “Why are you so fat?”
Now, that stung. But what it didn’t do was spin me off into an eating disorder (I’d conquered that bit of nonsense as a teenager), cause me to declare Hollywood a hostile environment (this was one guy’s opinion), or doubt myself in any way (I’m a #BigOl5). What it did instead was tell me that this guy was only ever going to see me as the plump best friend and that’s how I should submit to him, were I ever to bother submitting on a project he’s casting. (It also told me he was a bit of a dick.)
I wrote about the experience in my show bible. I knew this was how this guy saw me. And I didn’t give away my power as an actor, as a curvy girl, or as a human being. I sure as shit didn’t start calculating what I could do to bargain my way into him changing how he felt about me or finding me more castable or seeing me as more talented. Because what he said had nothing to do with my talent.
And really, it had nothing to do with my size either. It had everything to do with power.
I was confident, young, new to town, and not shakin’ in my boots over the opportunity to read for him, this casting legend who’d certainly heard from MANY people over the years things like, “I’d kill for this role,” “I’d do anything to be cast,” or, “I’d PAY to act.”
(I know he had heard this many times from many people because *I* have heard it many times from many people and I cast a fraction of the things he cast.)
Powerful people are actually of two different breeds.
- Powerful people who sit fully in their “enoughness” and who lead from a healthy place, doing good things and owning up when they’re wrong, never looking to others to define their power.
- Powerful people who secretly feel they’re not enough and who lead from an unhealthy place, doing cruel things to feel bigger than they are, never admitting responsibility for things that go wrong, and constantly seeing their power through the lens of how others perceive them.
It’s that last group of folks that make up the predators that are attracted to Hollywood due to its massive quantities of eager, doe-eyed, “Please cast me; I’ll PAY to be a part of this” aspiring actors. (Of course, they’re not just attracted to Hollywood. Some prefer the White House.)
When we lead with need, we become prey. Whether it’s someone who engages in inappropriate sexual advances, who crosses the line in body shaming, or who tells us we’ll never work (as if they have a crystal ball for that), we are prey when we for one minute believe someone else has the power to get us somewhere we believe we can’t get on our own.
We can always get there on our own; it may just take a little longer.
Thing is, when we’re in a position like the one I was in at 23, we don’t say, “Hey! Fuck off, asshole! I’m NOT fat and I’m definitely not here to get a physical from you so how’s about you lemmeknow if you have any notes on my acting, since that’s why we’re in this room together today,” because we don’t want to be labeled as difficult, we don’t want to be seen as uncastable, and ultimately these jaggoffs do have something we want.
So we smile and tuck the information away — or, worse, we let it get inside us somewhere and it begins to diminish OUR state of “enoughness” — and we move on about our lives.
And when people say they’re shocked at all the news coming out of Hollywood lately, those of us who’ve been through so much of what those who are finally
speaking out being heard are describing think to ourselves, “Yup. That’s true,” because there’s nothing shocking about what’s finally being heard.
Those who say it’s shocking that there’s so MUCH of it simply didn’t spend enough time anywhere near that cool kids’ table I mentioned earlier this week.
But here’s the thing: This stuff comes out of a culture in which artists are made to feel small and the suits are in charge. It’s all a part of why we’ve always taught self-producing *and* incorporating. It shouldn’t only be those who grew up in power who know how to stay there. And the reason we’re so transparent about everything we learn about this business is because there’s POWER in seeing how the sausage is made. We’ve always said we create more change from the inside than we do from raging at the machine from outside.
So, as you’re asking yourself what you can do, first, you can believe people when they share what’s happened to them. We can all make them feel heard possibly for the first time in their lives about the power play that was used upon them. We can remind them that they’re survivors of what they’ve endured, not victims.
Next, we can clean up our language. The marvelous Merkel schooled me on this — something that I, as someone who has been raped, already KNOW but got sloppy about — these are not “sex scandals.” They are abuses, they are power plays, they are crimes… as the word sex connotes consent. Further as to what we can do, we can never again say we’d kill for a role, do anything to work in this business, or PAY to act.
We have gifts to share with the world and there is no one with more power to get our work out into the world than OURSELVES.
Every time we put someone else in the driver’s seat of our career, we have handed over keys we should really consider keeping a tight grasp on. At the very least, let’s know when we’re dealing with a driver we’d prefer pull over and let us walk a while instead. (For a spectacular take on this, check out the aforementioned marvelous Merkel’s blog post here.)
What can you do right now to embrace — and respect — your own power in this business?
Where can you step up and do for yourself what you’ve been desperately hoping someone else would come in and do for you?
How can you stay in your own driver’s seat and then ask folks to hop in for the ride YOU have decided to map out and take?
Comments are open below and I’d love to hear from you.
Y’all, we build this business with our every choice, every day.
No better time than right damn now to show ’em what the new Hollywood looks like.
Those who are turned on by what we’re building? They’re badasses who don’t need to engage in Hollywood power plays to feel like badasses. They feel that way from jump. They’re ninja like that.
REMINDER! We’re going live on Facebook at 2:30pm PDT (oh, please technology be our friend with this cool split-screen and screen share action we’re trying for the first time) with special guest copy goddess Merel Kriegsman in a Web Copy 101 demo featuring some of YOUR sites as examples of what works and what you might be able to do better! Woo HOO! Tune in right here! (Yes, I’ll put the replay up at my YouTube channel in case you miss it. You’re subscribed, right?)
Stay gorgeous, gorgeous.