"Lord help my poor soul,"
"My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has got to go."
They read like the epitaph of the damned.
In a way that's not far from the truth. But, in actual fact, these utterings are the last attributed words of Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Allen Poe, and Oscar Wilde.
Today, these people are considered creative geniuses. In their own time, sadly, they lived difficult lives and died destitute.
Modernity is a bizarre thing. People like the Kardashians have convinced the masses that being famous is your ticket to riches. The very idea that you could be a creative success today, in terms of the quality of your work, and not also be dripping with ostentatious wealth seems like insanity.
Hilariously, this fantasised view of fame and fortune has actually flowed into the collective consciousness. In a 2007 American study for the book 'Fame Junkies', a group of 650 American teenagers were asked a series of questions about their future desires and aspirations. One of the many questions asked was:
'When you grow up, which of the following jobs would you most like to have?'
There were 5 possible choices of career. Of the 310 girls who completed the survey, the results were quite telling:
'9.5% chose “the chief of a major company like General Motors”;
9.8% chose “a Navy Seal”;
13.6% chose “a United States Senator”;
23.7% chose “the president of a great university like Harvard or Yale”; and
43.4% chose “the personal assistant to a very famous singer or movie star.
What’s more, among both boys and girls who got bad grades – and who described themselves as being unpopular at school – the percentage who opted to become assistants rose further to 80%.'
Oh dear. Even simply being near fame seems like a career goal.
But this intrinsic belief that fortune follows fame was not always the norm.
Nikola Tesla paved the way for alternating current (AC) power and radio, among many inventions. Ultimately, Tesla was shafted by Thomas Edison, made some bad investments in his own projects and died, in the New Yorker Hotel, without two pennies to rub together.
Herman Melville will forever be remembered for his epic seafaring story 'Moby Dick'. While he was alive, however, Melville fell into disrepute as a writer, was forgotten as an author for thirty years, and finished his working life in a 19-year stint as a low-paid customs inspector for the City of New York.
Socrates. Gutenberg. Meucci.
All celebrated as geniuses today. All expired with pockets full of only lint.
Today, aspirants are almost incredulous at the idea that you could be a creative genius, even one with some notoriety, without a pot of gold for good measure.
The very notion that you might pursue your vocation for passion, not for enormous profit, is met with aggressive disbelief.
But consider this.
The celebrated Hollywood producer, Ted Hope, wrote a terrific article a few years ago, attempting to demystify salary expectations for independent film producers. He illuminated a formula for what to expect in producer fees per film, accounting for the level of experience of the producer, and the size of the budget.
One example was an 'early career producer', overseeing a US$10M film. How much do you think such a heavy responsibility should fairly receive in compensation?
According to Mr Hope, US$36,363, annualised.
Keep in mind, the average time a producer will live with a film is five to eight years. Over five years, that's a meagre $7272 a year.
To be fair, a huge commercial success of a film can lead to a significant payday. The first 'Paranormal Activity' cost $15 million to make and made an enormous $193 million at the box office. Like any career, there can be droughts and deluges in the film and content industry.
The limbo you never hear about, however, is the world between these extremes.
Would you be satisfied with a creative life if it only paid you an honest wage?
Can you even imagine a career as a raconteur, if it doesn't come with a private jet and a luxury car?
If the only future you can imagine, as a filmmaker or visual storyteller, is one where you have struck gold, there is one more vital question you should ask yourself.
Is this path right for you?
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