“Why did X get that job?! X barely has any credits! X is nothing more than a glorified shopper! Who did X have to **ck to get that job?! Producers are all the same – they just want to bend you over a log and **ck you. It’s all about money. If someone else – less talented, naturally – will do it for less money, they will get the job! And editors? Don’t get me started. They don’t give a sh*t about our work. We get so screwed in the editing room! Ladder?! I’m not climbing a ladder to pull costumes!! When was the last time you saw Irene Sharaff on a ladder?!! I’m too old for this sh*t. I do all of this work, and for what?!” Ahhhh, the bitter costume designer. Years ago, I used to think this was amusing, a bewildering bit of old-school, curmudgeonly charm. It took me a while, but now I realize that this kind of bitterness is a true cancer in our midst.
** NB: I am not singling out anyone in this article – these observations are based on twenty years of experience in the film industry, and are meant to be as generic and non-specific as they can possibly be **
Bitterness is not limited to costume designers, for sure, and it’s not limited to the costume department or even to the entertainment industry. Disappointment and resentment can build in all of us, no matter where we are or what we do. If left unchecked, bitterness can destroy careers and ruin relationships. Bitterness feeds on itself, and the more bitter you are, the more bitter you become – it colors everything you see.
So why is it so pervasive in Hollywood? The film industry is built on dreams. People starting in this business invariably have lofty goals, high expectations, that, when (for whatever reason) they are not met, prove devastating. In the eyes of a bitter person, a successful person has only prevailed by clawing their way up a mountain of everyone else’s broken dreams and crushed aspirations; a successful person has somehow defeated everyone else. For a bitter person, another person’s success is their personal failure. Bitter people have a remarkable memory for every rejection, backhanded compliment and slight they’ve ever received, in excruciating detail. In the “glass half-full/half-empty” debate, their answer is, “stupid **cking glass!”
Let’s face it – ours is not a warm and fuzzy business. We face rejection regularly. I can attest that (over the course of my career) for every three job interviews I went on, I probably only booked one job. I have a foot-high pile of sketches and presentations in my closet for jobs I never booked. All of us in this industry share this experience of rejection. If you don’t have a thick skin, you’ll never last in Hollywood. The rejection process is a persuasive weeding out mechanism. If you can handle rejection – more than tolerating rejection and burying the pain; if you can process the rejection and move on – you will survive.
The tipping point is different for every person. For some, bitterness arrives quickly, at or before age thirty. This is truly sad, and may be attributable to other factors in the person’s life – a sense of unfairness that began in childhood, for example. For others, bitterness arrives with age and experience – the bullsh*t factor becomes so great and so burdensome – it becomes an inevitability. Or is it?
Life is not fair for anyone. Part of the human experience is to face failure, betrayal, and loss. The undeniable truth is: sh*t happens. It’s unavoidable. The proof of our mettle as human beings is in how we deal with these affronts. So, how do you avoid becoming bitter? Or perhaps more importantly, how do you get out of bitterness once you are deeply ensconced in it?
The answers are not simple. First, recognize and make note of oppressive, destructive thought patterns or feelings. Don’t judge yourself; just make a note that you are experiencing the thoughts. Second, re-think those feelings. Ask yourself to look at the situation in a different light. Example:
There is a job that you want very, very much. Even though you have ten years’ experience, you haven’t worked in a long while (thanks, economy), and are running out of money. You know some of the people involved in the project. You submit your resume and cross your fingers. You don’t hear anything back for over a week. Finally, you call. They hired someone else. You ask whom they hired. They tell you that they hired someone’s friend from out of town. You find out that this friend has never done the job before.
This is a legit bullsh*t situation. To hire someone who has never done the job before over someone with ten years’ experience is not fair. Unfortunately, it happens all the time, in every department. It’s called nepotism: the practice of favoritism, based on family or other close relationships. It’s not fair, for sure, but what’s done is done.
So, what do you do? Call your union and complain? By spewing sour grapes, you are likely to alienate people, including those friends you had on the show to begin with. How do you deal with it gracefully? KB’s hint: Let. It. Go.
Now, I am no spiritual healer, priest, rabbi or guru, but I have experienced enough of life’s sh*tstorms to know that the tighter you hold on to something, the harder it will drag you down. Only when you release these burdens can you actually be free and unencumbered. Letting go is a practice, not a one-time act. Anticipating and living with rejection and unfairness will help you to not care as much about it. Investing your soul deeply into something over which you have no control will crush you when rejection and unfairness rear their heads. Let it go. Let it go.
This is not to say that you should trick yourself into not caring about anything, not experiencing any hurt at all. I’m just suggesting that maybe you not take rejection so seriously – don’t let it ruin your day. So these morons (?) hired a first-timer instead of you for the job? They will learn quickly why that might not have been a good idea. If you can be gracious about the rejection, you might even be the person they call when the first-timer flames out and they need a replacement.
Conversely, the first-timer may turn out to be a natural at the job, and their career may take off like a rocket soon thereafter. And here’s where I quote loosely from Going Hollywood:
It may be hard to stay poised when you are silently suppressing a jealous rage that would wipe out half the city. If you really are freaked out, and cannot bring yourself to be graceful, excuse yourself for a day or two. Step back and look objectively at the situation from all sides. Jealousy is a destructive state of being that will do nothing but damage you and your relationships. Find a place in your heart where you can value yourself and move forward. Adjust your attitude.
If someone you know suddenly becomes successful, know that it is possible for you, too. Just because one person wins, doesn’t mean you lose. There is enough wealth and success to go around here. Success is not a finite commodity.
I remember once, when I was about twenty-two, I got an earful of acrid vitriol from an old 705er (that’s union code for costumer) working at a costume house. This rant was so poisonous; it sucked the blood right out of my face. I turned to my friend, who was standing next to me, stunned, and I said, “Please, if I ever get that bitter, would you please, PLEASE TELL ME?!” We need to look after one another to make sure that we all avoid this miserable fate.
Living in a heightened state of resentment, bitterness and indignation is a waste of time. I realize that this business, and life, SUCKS a lot of the time, but you have a say in how you deal with it. You have a choice to become bitter, or to let it go. Check yourself before you wreck yourself, people. Life is too short to be bitter. Feel free to print this out and hang it in your trailer or office as a reminder.