“Life as an aging actor” (When failure is your friend.)

The last feature film I worked as a production sound mixer was back in summer of 2015 for “No Pay, Nudity” (now available on Amazon and iTunes.)   It stars Gabriel Byrne, who plays a middle-aged theater actor in New York City, trapped in the struggle all artists undergo at some point in their lives: attaining success as an artist truthfully, while managing to pay the bills in the process.  Many creative people manage to do one of the two throughout their lives, but a talented few pull off both.

Here’s the trailer:

And here’s the inspiration for this post:

https://www.wnyc.org/widgets/ondemand_player/wnyc/#file=/audio/json/736279/&share=1

In the link above, Gabriel Byrne is joined by director Lee Wilkof and co-star Donna Murphy on wnyc.org’s Leonard Lopate show.  They all speak to this struggle from genuine experience, and share their personal takes on the murky process of navigating a creative career amidst constant setbacks and failures.

At one point, Mr. Byrne boldly confronts the taboo of giving up.  Ironically it’s cinema that does such a good job reinforcing our obsession with winning, particularly when it’s the underdog or when the dream is so big.  And it’s not just cinema, we hear it in politics too.  Mr. Wilkof references Churchill’s famous line, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”  And of course there’s his famously blunt and almost hyperbolic, “Never, never, never give up.”  It’s so significant it requires three Never’s.

Mr. Byrne adds a little grey (if not pessimism) to this black-and-white, win-or-lose way of measuring one’s standing in the world. He says what many people are afraid to even think, which is that sometimes you really need to reconsider your dream and possibly give up on it.  Though he does more or less try to de-throne the sacred “Never, never, never give up” in the noble interest of just being honest, his character (and myself) are not quite as pessimistic.

His character takes a beating in the film, but its his turnaround that motivates the jist of this post:  It’s worth simply re-considering dreams from time to time, depending what the world throws at you.  Is the dream simply unrealistic to the point of fantasy?  Is it even “you”?  Is it okay to make a few tweaks and realign your true talents with what the actual real world is giving you?

I hadn’t realized this but I absolutely did this “realignment” before I even had a career and I was a bit embarrassed to admit it for a while.  After discovering a passion for multitrack recording that begun on a Zoom 4-track recorder in my dorm room, I dreamt of becoming a record producer/studio engineer.  I was convinced it would happen because I had good taste in music, I was developing technical chops, and I was in New York.  And it didn’t happen.

What made me comfortable moving forward was the realization that dreams can be flexible.  When I later interned at an audio post-production facility, I realized sound-for-picture and composing was actually more fun and more satisfying, more “me”.  It re-exposed me to cinema and expanded my intellect.  It forced me to bridge the aural world with the visual world and it continually expands my mind with each job I get.  It also forced me out of a purely musical and introspective world and into a world populated by other minds, particularly, storytellers.  I realized I wanted to help these storytellers with my talents as a sound person.

And the glamor of the “record producer” lots its luster when I realized that “sound designer” was simply way more bad ass to me, more mysterious, elusive, and creative.  Like a painter, but with samples of audio.  Even recording sound on set took on an aura of its own, the entire craft and sensibilities that came with it.

And by no means did I trade one dream for an easier-to-achieve dream.  It’s just as challenging!  But it’s more suited to my talents and more aligned with my world.  There’s no shame in tempering a romantic vision with a little realism and honest introspection.

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