The Wild West: The Hustler
One of the first characterizations I remember hearing again and again when describing someone in the independent film business was a ‘hustler.’ Now, there are a lot of meanings one can attribute to that word. From my perspective, it meant someone who was selling something without real value. But what becomes clear when you’re making your living in the independent film business, is that everyone is hustling to find a way to put all the necessary pieces together to bring a project to life.
Because this is mainly a business of self-employment, hustling is the one reality that makes everyone equal. I know screenwriters of great success, who’ve been trying to direct their first project for ten years. Studios have no need to take the chance on a first time director, so the writer is forced to start the process of getting that script, which he could sell and step away from, funded and into production himself. He starts his hustle.
Conversely, I know studio executives who’ve left the multi-million dollar world of big movies to pursue their love of film, unencumbered by the studio system. Yet, at the end of the day, they are in the same position as the first time producer. They must hustle to find and put all the right pieces together.
Calling someone a hustler in this business is like saying that he likes the weather in LA. It’s a given. No one rises to any level of success without hustling, whether the project is of artistic or commercial merit. However, it’s the person, his projects, and his ethics that decide if he’ll have a sustainable level of success over the course of many projects.
Because there are no companies that hire a writer, director, actor or producer for a set salary and a defined number of hours per week of work, each project is it’s own unique and unrepeatable adventure. You must learn to be responsible for presenting something you believe in to the marketplace and finding a way to convince people of your instinct.
The hardest part of this process is being able to put all your efforts into multiple projects at one time, and then detach from the outcome. When one hasn’t done this (and I’ve been there many times myself), you start to see the outcome of every meeting in a way that feeds your hope but not your reality. The last thing one wants to hear is that someone of potential help doesn’t believe in a project that you’ve put your life into for many months or years. Therefore, it’s much easier to hear every gentle, ‘no’ as a very possible, ‘yes.’ Put enough of these together and you’ve convinced yourself (and friends and family) of a delusion masking itself as your reality.
Consequently, you never really know who is telling you the truth, or who has convinced themselves of a truth that he’s selling to you. It’s too alluring to hook your wagon to a star, and trust that it’s not going to be a falling one. But reality (and I’ve learned this lesson the hard way) dictates that you must put your efforts into believing what you tangibly see, experience and do for yourself. A minimal amount of Internet research tends to quickly cut through a lot of the spin. Yet it’s amazing how many people don’t really want to find the truth of a ‘too good to be true’ potential. It’s not then surprising why so little due diligence goes into verifying information until very late into the process. There seems to be a pride in saying that one important element fell through at the eleventh hour, rather than admitting that it was completely bogus from the beginning.