Years ago, I made walking-around money by interviewing actors who played minor characters in The Phantom Menace — one of whom gave me an offhand bit of advice I’ve never forgotten.
At one point I spoke with the comedian Scott Capurro, who played half of the two-headed announcer that presides over the Podrace on Tatooine. (He was Beed, the green head.) The other head (Fode, the red one) was played by Greg Proops. Proops got to speak English, while Capurro had to jabber in Huttese. The original plan was to composite the actors’ faces onto a CGI body, so the two men spent hours being fitted with heavy makeup and were filmed in blue body suits. Then the footage got tossed — the alien announcer was entirely CGI in the finished movie, with Proops and Capurro supplying voices only. Which they could have done without latex and glue and cameras and a lot of the fuss and bother.
I don’t know if Capurro was tired of answering the same questions about Star Wars, if my versions of the same questions were particularly stupid ones, or if he was just having a bad day. (Maybe it was all three.) Whatever the case, it was a halting, difficult interview — he pretty clearly didn’t want to talk, and I couldn’t find a way to draw him out.
Well, except at the very end.
What Capurro had gone through struck me as a tedious and frustrating experience for an actor, and I stammered something to that effect.
“That’s showbiz, baby!” he replied, sounding equal parts weary and amused.
It turned out to be a useful line.
I first used it with the reporters I managed at The Wall Street Journal Online, when their carping grew excessive about lovingly crafted stories that were held, or spiked because of some new development, or manhandled by some non-simpatico editor up the chain. Eventually most of them took it to heart, and all I had to do was lift an eyebrow to get them to nod and retreat.
Capurro’s advice has been even more useful as a freelancer, where so much more is out of your control.
Most of the projects I work on run smoothly and are fun, and with luck you’ll be able to say the same. But there will be exceptions. Projects you eagerly await will get rethought and morph into ones you endure. Publishing plans will change and stuff you’ve written will vanish into limbo, possibly never to return. Clients will change their minds at the last minute and make everyone scramble. Projects will run the gauntlet successfully, make it to the web or print or video … and utterly fail to connect with an audience.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an actor or a photographer or a writer: Lots of things can go wrong as an idea evolves into a finished product. Most of those things are nobody’s fault. A few of them pretty clearly are somebody’s fault, but there’s rarely any recourse.
Because that’s showbiz, baby.
You can bitch about it — hell, that’s why God invented beer — but you chose this life, in which uncertainties and aggravations compete for space with successes and joys. So keep your bitching brief. And then get back in the chair, let the makeup people do their jobs, make sure you know your lines, get in front of the camera and try again.