The entertainment industry warps the way we think. Movies encourage us to be single-minded as we pursue our goals. They tell us backup plans are a bad idea because people who have backup plans tend to use them. That’s why you have to go for it, just like Rocky Balboa. It’s an all-or-nothing attitude that doesn’t always serve us well.
I would argue it makes more sense to have a Plan B because in the real world, life doesn’t always go the way we want it to. And when you’ve chosen a career like acting where the odds are stacked against you and talent doesn’t always guarantee success, it’s only logical to have a backup plan.
When I came out to L.A. from Chicago, my goal was to become a successful screenwriter. One of my scripts had been optioned before I left home so I already had an agent when I moved into my first apartment in Mar Vista.
Thanks to that agent, I ended up doing rewrites and polishes on small films for decent money. My friends back home were thrilled, but I found the work exhausting. I called it “the talking monkey” syndrome. You see, producers would hire me to “fix” a perfectly good script by doing something stupid to it, like putting a talking monkey in so the movie would be funnier.
At a certain point, I realized the years were passing and I wasn’t getting any closer to a real writing career. And worse, I wasn’t enjoying the process. It seemed like my whole life was about struggling, trying to pay the bills, and working on projects that had no value.
So I activated Plan B.
As luck would have it, I knew a lot of agents and I always found that part of the business fascinating. So I asked for some help getting an interview. Calls were made and long story short, I landed on a desk at a major talent agency and made my way from there. As I fell in love with this new career path, writing became a distant memory, just like my virginity.
Years later, I found myself itching for some writing action so I came up with the idea for Secret Agent Man. And now, thanks to the good people at Backstage, I get to flex both sides of my brain while making a decent living.
Is writing this column the same as being an Oscar-winning screenwriter? No, of course not, but it scratches that itch quite nicely. (And my editor has never asked me to put a talking monkey in one of these columns.)
So what about you? Do you have a Plan B?
Actors tend to make their careers an all-or-nothing proposition. They believe success is right around the corner. And that might be true. I hope it is. But there’s nothing wrong with having a Plan B.
And it doesn’t have to be something mindless. There are plenty of options in the entertainment industry that might keep you fulfilled. I know several actors who have become successful producers, writers, and yes, even casting directors.
Please understand that I’m not telling you to give up. I’m just urging you to be smart about your life. You only have the one.
I think Charles Grodin put it best. “Reach for it, but don’t fall off the end of the world. I wish you could all get what you want, but there’s nothing as valuable as a useful happy life, and rumor has it there are some people who have achieved that who aren’t actors.”