I think a life of destitution as an unknown in service of art isn’t the artist’s greatest fear.
The greatest fear is to become successful (and famous) for the wrong thing. The thing you didn’t want to become your career.
Did you know William Shatner was in a film of the Brothers Karamazov? Yeah. Captain Kirk. TJ Hooker.
He’s had a blessed life. He’s got no reason to complain. Guy’s like King Midas. Earned hundreds of millions off those Priceline commercials. Look it up. He’s a rich old guy now. He’s long since made peace with all the corny crap he had to do to get here.
But for the rest of us–the ones who aren’t William Shatner–I think the fear of the wrong version of success haunts us still like nightmares.
Say that you’re some Ivy-Leaguer who takes all the right classes and makes all the right connections. You go to Hollywood to push your serious screenplay about Rigoberta Menchu or Jimmy Hoffa’s secret gay history or something. Whatever.
You go to L.A. and share an apartment in Silverlake with three other waiters-cum-screenwriters for a while. They are stealing your towels. You need dental work. You start getting hungry. You’re not getting laid. You’ve got school loans to pay.
On a drunken whim you turn in a treatment or screenplay called “Farty McFarterson’s Golden Retriever Farts Rainbow Basketballs.”
Nickelodeon picks it up. They pay you for it. They want to hire you on to the project. There’s a weekly series about happy little Farty making fart noises and his farting golden retriever defeating the evil Republican-looking possums with basketball farts on a basketball court. There’s a movie. Everyone loves it–at least everyone in that critical 4 to 9 year-old-demographic, with secondary support from teens and old men. You get a cut of merchandise sales. You move to a nice place in Laguna Beach. You get a Bentley Continental GT.
You go to parties with other cokeheads and say:
“I have a project, yeah. . . yeah.. . . “
“So what is it?”
“It’s a project for Viacom. Series. There’s been a movie, too.”
“Cool! Duuuude! So what is it?”
“It’s a well. . . . it’s… Farty McFarterson’s Golden Retriever Farts Rainbow Basketballs“
“Oh. That’s you? Oh. Well, great. Hey, I think I see Carrot Top over there. Hey! Catch you later, braahhh!”
See what I mean?
You will forever be haunted by your “success.” Try getting a job anywhere else in Hollywood with a résumé like that. Where are you going to work? “That’s my Skidmark!” or “Smegma Avalanche!” on MTV? Try New York instead.Fuck. But when the cancel the show, you need to start looking. You have appearances to keep up, after all. Not going back to that apartment only to get your towels stolen.
So, see, it’s important to be successful. It’s more important to be successful for the right reasons…
At least I think so.