Notes on Happiness from a Film Professional
Most people in my industry are not happy people.
By DANIEL TOBIN
I’m not a seasoned entertainment industry veteran. I haven’t won any Oscars. I haven’t written an international blockbuster or jumpstarted a new franchise. And, sure, I enjoyed Breaking Bad (2008–13) as much as everyone else on the planet.
That said, I have had relative success in entertainment and production on a smaller level — the level that 98% of the people in this industry can relate to. I’ve spent the past 5 years climbing up the ladder of the entertainment world, from production assistant to a producer at a major television network. In those 5 years I’ve encountered a multitude of personalities (read: egos).
I’ve had multiple A-list actors blow up at me, gotten chewed out by more executives than I can count, and have been thrown under the bus by many I considered peers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining — I’m merely listing the means by which I developed the “wisdom” I’m about to impart.
The following isn’t some sort of manifesto railing against the entertainment industry, where I tell you to run for the hills because showbiz is a sham. I, too, came into this business as starry eyed and impressionable as any kid who grew up with Steven Spielberg movies (the really good ones, I mean). There is a beautiful artistic side to this line of work that I think anyone is more than capable of exploring.
However, I will tell you this…
The vast majority of people I come across — from executives, to actors, to agents — are not happy people.
And this reality is something of which every young, aspiring entertainment professional should take note.
I’ve met people with more money than third world countries — people with vacation homes, luxury cars, and every Apple gadget known to mankind (and sometimes those not yet known to mankind). But for the most part, their personal lives are a mess, existences filled with anxiety and discontent. Much of my time in film has been spent studying the moves of divorcees, negligent parents, and quick-tempered addicts.
To be happy with your life in entertainment is absolutely possible, but it takes a certain philosophy that has nothing to do with money or fame. So, if anyone in this industry aspires to be successful and happy, take note.
The drive to enter into film or media tends to coincide with an all-or-nothing, balls-to-the-walls state of mind, where we donate every iota of ourselves to our work. We do this for two reasons: first, because we’re incredibly passionate, and second, because we know there’s too much competition in this industry to give less than 100% percent.
The problem is, this state of mind keeps us active and persistent every single minute we are conscious. We pour over trade magazines at ungodly hours of the night, we wake up mid-REM cycle and frantically search for an email we forgot to answer. Our smartphones are grafted onto us like Tony Stark’s chest piece.
I’m not advising anyone to turn off the pep and motivation that brought her or him here in the first place. I’m just saying that young entertainment professionals need to learn how to “turn off.”
The happiest people I’ve come across in my (admittedly short) career have all been able to do exactly that. They don’t sleep by their phones. They don’t check their emails before bed, in the middle of the night, or both. They leave their anxiety at the door. Every night, they actually take the time to shut down. When the workday is over, they are truly off the grid.
Some meditate, some read, and some simply enjoy their [family/partner/dog/almost never a cat]’s company. Whatever means they use, they are present in that moment.
And trust me, I know… It’s fucking hard.
I have all the neuroses of Woody Allen with only a fraction of the talent. We view every misstep as the cratering of our career. But if we cannot learn to “turn off” in our entry-level years, how on earth are we expected to do it when we’re responsible for millions of dollars?
Private time calms the nerves and slows down time. In an industry dominated by now, now, now, solitude reminds us that our careers are composed of years, not emails.
If we don’t take those moments to ourselves, we risk skewing our reflections on the past for the worse. Those memories pile up and eventually turn into egos, into bad decisions, into discontent. I know because I’ve seen it in every corner of this industry so far.
So go out and buy an alarm clock or a book on meditation. Get a scented candle or a bonsai tree if you need to. Whatever it is, start learning to turn yourself off when you go home at night. Because one day, when you’re in charge of millions of dollars, you’ll be very happy you did.
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