The Cost

Craig-filmingI’ll admit, when I’m at a social event and someone asks, “What do you do for a living?” I enjoy giving my answer. Because it’s one of the most unexpected and cool answers: “I make movies.” But there are a lot of strange reactions after that. The longer I have a conversation with anyone outside of the business, the more I realize that people with “regular jobs” or steady careers don’t really understand a creature like me. They can’t really wrap their mind around the tumultuous, high-risk, gypsy life that I and my family have had to navigate. For such a sexy career title, it’s one of the least sexy lives you can lead. And if I can drill a little deeper, I think people who love to create as a hobby are VERY different than people who create as a career. Lots of us are creative. Lots of us dabble in the arts. But to someone in real estate, retail sales or finance, I seem like someone raised by wolves. At least that’s the impression that I get.

Anyone who works a 9 to 5 job is baffled by the life of someone in the arts. And rightly so — it’s an industry that doesn’t make a lot of sense on paper. Most of it involves high risk gambles over long periods of time. The investments made are investments in time, effort and focus, not dollars. Those investments are not built on any stats, but on instinct and subjective ideas. And the sacrifices required to make any popular art form are not comfortable or convenient. My family has had to move several times in the past five years, God bless them. Sometimes we have to plan our vacations around when my project will start or end… or finally get funding. The shifting sands of my life have forced those I love to be very flexible, to live or go to school somewhere they didn’t plan on. I will always be grateful for that. Some days I work 18 hours, or I fly to Vancouver with one day’s notice. Other days I just do a lot of laundry and stare at my laptop in pajamas. And to many people, that seems… ridiculous. How can that be a “job?”

I’ll admit, sometimes I become jealous of those with consistent, financially stable careers. There are careers where a certain amount of training, certification and longevity are predictably rewarded. There is no “feast and famine,” only steady growth and a controllable outcome. The details of my crazy day-to-day existence can be downright laughable. But I want to ask those consistent, stable people, “Did you like Free Guy?” Because that was a script that got rejected for years, a movie that was delayed a year due to the pandemic, and starring a guy who failed at being a leading man for about ten years.

Do you love Harry Potter? Because that empire of content all came from a book written by a single mom at a coffee shop while she was deep in debt. It was misunderstood and rejected by most of the major publishers.

Do you like Queen? U2? You like listening to Radiohead or Lady Gaga on the way to work? Well those artists all lived like circus people to make that music. They slept in their cars, they leveraged all their savings, they were ostracized by family, they suffered failures for a long time to generate the art you enjoy on your Spotify playlist. Many of them sweated the details for years in their garage, with nobody cheering them on or understanding what they were trying to do. I’ll always remember my brother telling me about a documentary that followed Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. In it, he’s getting up at 5 am every morning to drive 30 minutes across the freezing English countryside to a little cottage studio, every morning, over and over, to get the next album right. Nothing sexy about that. And this was after he’d become a world famous rockstar.Thom Yorke BTS

I’ll also never forget a recent photo of Steven Spielberg on a set, lying on the ground with a lens, trying to find his shot. The man is a timeless icon and 75 YEARS OLD, but he is still making the early call time, sweating the details, lying on the ground. His years of risk have been paid back 1000 times, but he still wants to pay the cost of what the next piece of art requires.Spielberg BTSThe artists we love became iconic at a cost. They were driven by an itch they couldn’t scratch — something intangible that demanded foolish risks. That is not easy for everyone to understand. And it’s a cost that is hard to quantify, or put into words. If you’re an artist and driven to create, I can’t tell you how long it’s going to take. I can’t tell you if what you’re making will be successful. And contrary to what any producer may tell you, there is no way to predict the box office or return on investment, no matter how big or micro the budget is. Creatives are in the business of mining intangibles, unearthing strange and unpredictable stuff that rides on the emotional reactions of strangers. The cost is long and hard and unpredictable.

That’s why you’ve got to love it. You’ve got to be so driven by your creative vision that you can SEE it as reality. Most of the time, no one else will see it but you. You may experience failure over and over and people in those stable jobs will say, “It’s not worth it, I told you so.” And then they’ll go listen to another song by Radiohead.

The painful truth is that great art comes from great suffering. And in the film business, even attaining some kind of modest success is a “long game.” It is not for the meek. But that is the cost.

I write this not to scare young creatives, but to prepare them. Gird your loins! Armor up! And take a break if you need to. Learn your craft as a hobby before throwing your life savings at it. Those around you may never understand the cost. But if YOU do, and you still love it, you should keep going.

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