Thursday, March 25, 2010

It Doesn't Hurt to Ask. I Hope.

I remember years ago watching a country music awards show with my family and my mom rolled her eyes when one of the winners said something along the lines of "I want to thank my fans who I love dearly because without them I wouldn't be able to do this." I probably questioned the sincerity of the statement, too, this being before I saw at close hand how personally tied up an artist's livelihood can be to his or her fans' support.

When J and I were on the road with Y'all, I loved our fans deeply, sincerely, because, well, without them we couldn't have been doing what we did. Their love and support of our work was the engine that make it go. (Whether or not it made it go a little longer than it should have is a question for another day....)

Not only did our fans provide cash flow for our living expenses by coming to see our shows, buying our CDs and books and T-shirts and whatever else we could come up with to sell, they often fed and sheltered us. I don't know what else to feel but love and gratitude for people who took care of our basic needs, regardless of whether I knew them personally or not.

I still don't feel comfortable asking for money, but I don't want to stop making art, so I've made some kind of uneasy peace with it. I know the constant pleading can be a turnoff. I'm sure we lost fans like public radio stations lose listeners during pledge drives, but sustaining a career as an artist can be a giant money-eating monster, and in order to keep making art you have to keep feeding the monster.

I'll be very frank. I've had a hell of a time trying to figure out how to make a living the last few years, post-Y'all. I've had some great successes recently. A real career high for me has been my show, Lizzie Borden's critically-acclaimed run in New York last fall. That has been and continues to be a huge thrill for me, huge, but it's a success I can't measure in dollars and cents. Literally.

And it's been 5 years since I made Life in a Box, what I consider to be my biggest artistic achievement. The film did well, premiered in the San Francisco Int'l Film Festival (a fact which I'm very proud of) got great audience response during its festival run in 2005-7, and continues to accumulate admirers. But it hasn't made a dime and I'm still paying the credit card bills.

And I'm broke. I've been applying for every teaching job I can and trying to get work as a substitute and very rapidly running out of money. Lately, one thing does not seem to lead to another, and I wonder how I will ever get back on my feet. I hope I don't sound over-dramatic, but things are a little scary lately.

In my more confident moments, I don't care if I never get back on my feet again as long as I can continue to be creative. I want to make another movie. I'm tired of waiting. I've been writing screenplays, songs, essays, blogging like crazy. I'm doing the most complex and thoughtful writing of my life now. My best work is ahead of me. Broke and desperate or not, I need to be producing work.

I've written a short screenplay that I think is the ideal project for me now -- it's a simple, provocative story that I can shoot and edit without a lot of fuss, on a very small scale. But the only way I'm going to be able to do it is if I can get a short reprieve from the wolf at the door. A few thousand dollars will let me take a break from looking for a day job so I can finish writing, do some preproduction, shoot and edit the film. This is a tiny project, a 10-minute film. Probably a two-day shoot and maybe a couple weeks of editing. The speck of a budget also provides small stipends for a crew of one or two, two actors, and lunch on shooting days. I just need a couple months of being a full-time artist and then I'll go back to being broke and desperate.

If you appreciate my work and have $10 bucks or more to throw my way, now's the time.

2 comments:

Mike M. said...

Don't you know my friend..that I've already pledged you a bit of cash..hope it works out.

How was the trip..pictures looked awesome..

chavisory said...

Let me get my paycheck this week, and then the $10 is coming your way! : )

(I've been getting a lot of work at Juilliard lately, which has been a total, literal godsend and the pay is pretty good, but my department pays bi-weekly instead of weekly, with an additional week of delay for every pay period, which is a big cash flow problem...)

I've been relatively lucky, in the stage management world, that one thing has tended to lead to the next, but it was still sort of a shock to my very naive sense of how the world works to learn first hand that even an immense artistic success doesn't usually translate into cash. I still have to attempt to explain this to my family on a regular basis. When I got my Equity card for Lizzie, my sister said "So you're moving out of that crappy apartment, right?"

Uh, no.

(Emily)