If you base your knowledge of the human species exclusively on adverts, you'd think the normal condition of humanity was to be a good looking single person between 20 and 35 with excellent muscle definition and/or an excellent figure, and a large disposable income.
- Francis Spufford
Fake it til you make it only works if you can afford to enter the game.
- Good Girl Online
Being Free to Lose
For the freelancer and everyday small business owner, entrepreneurial spirit isn't enough to fuel success.
Jesus Christ, why couldn't I shoot for a cushy w-2?
I asked myself this question as I squeeze past Pelican cases and into the recesses of a garage, while the camera roles on talent playing the part of potential homeowners. Nearby the real homeowner circle in hopes of mitigating property damage by the production company. That’s the typical explanation offered as those off set forage for information about the project, pay, the director. Crouched nearby, I also learn through whispered animation that Homeowner’s garage has a filter especially designed for vacuuming the interior of his vehicles. I compliment Homeowner over such a badass feature, and remind him of sound speeding, camera rolling.
Homeowner doesn’t seem to care.
Had I been able to land a cushy w-2, there’d be no need to panic file invoices or swallow the sunk costs of sometimes operating as a production company’s emergency till. No need to sort tax documents, again, far too late into the year. I'm fairly certain this God forsaken Yes You Can spirit entirely originates from the DNA of my father, the 1st black man in my hometown to do one of too many things. Baked into his definition of happiness was achieving an enjoyable work/life balance which he consistently attempted to realize. As a marketing consultant, I had a small and reliable portfolio of clients. Being the three year director of a children's nonprofit sharpened my fundraising skills and understanding of midwestern demographics. In a few short years, the idea of growth and pitching a well-known Ohio ad agency seemed within reach. I never made it past the introduction process and doubt the ad agency was in a position to consider the value of eagerness.
To that end, my continued version of work/life balance now comes by way of PA work with NFL Films and feeds my need to learn more about what moves the creative process across multiple verticals. I still circle the job listings in the world of advertising while paying bills and working towards career goals. My sweet spot was copy and management of Cypress Entertainment Group where as advertising rep, creative director and production coordinator, there was nothing better than translating ideas into visual medium. In the years since, I’ve learned the value in being an interpreter between client and camera, copy and crew. Cheering and supporting the short form style of content creation truly appeals to my niche of supporting artists, entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Taking a chance as an artist, entrepreneur, business owner - anything really - is fucking hard. While 20% of small businesses fail before their second year anniversary, 65% bite the dust within the first ten years (Bureau of Labor Statistics). My first and only production company had the fortuitous advantage of lasting until year four when target markets shifted and investment and opportunities lagged - aka we moved to a new city and booked few, if any, contracts. I couldn’t offset the toll of creating new relationships with enough time and cash reserves to anchor authentic and professional interaction. These sorts of introductions live in the limited experiences for new kids on the block, especially if from marginalized communities.
As defeating and embarrassing as it was to fold CEG (and I’m still folding, why does it take so long to fold?) I also recognize and give thanks that I could incorporate and work as a media entity. It doesn’t escape me, having the audacity to try to build a company at my age, with my gender and with limited formal training. What I was trying to obtain required balls. Now that they’ve finished reverberating and smacking me in my face, I’m ready to try again.
Proverbial teabagging aside, in those failures were lessons whose value I've only been able to appreciate after the fact. By design, some people will not be able to sustain the years of standing in the crowd. Even in the world of production assistant, being free to stand comes at a cost - the financial cost of being available to wait for the desired gigs also purchases the freedom to solely focus on not screwing up.
Even though loss and failure is baked into growth and learning, bad PA’s don’t engender that sort of understanding. The US tax code recognizes the power in claiming losses, and I try to remember this each time I have to hop on the commie with not so good news. While we are all free to try our hands at any goal, for the majority of individuals who fall within the Persons of Color demographic, what's more important is planning for the barriers that consistently impede development. Being regularly limited to last minute call sheet changes, crew introductions and unclear expectations will always be challenges. But having reliable transportation to the gig that might ask you to run around town with or without crew? That sort of fortification can’t be addressed within the proclamations of a diversity program.
After Dad passed away, I discovered a project tucked away in his file cabinet, a small business development and financial literacy plan initiated thru Shreveport, Louisiana -based Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program. By offering a host of services revolving around education, access and resources to assist in understanding and leveraging the economic landscape, EAP helps pack the weaponry for small business owners. For Dad the dreamer and encourager of believing in oneself, recognizing the need to teach the average guy to prepare was a kind reminder of the learning curve of life and entrepreneurship, and that it's perfectly acceptable to ask for the help. Knowing help will be needed is the first step.
*The Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program offers mentorship programs designed to accelerate ideas, products or existing business into a thriving company quickly by providing intensive startup support. More information can be found at https://eapla.com/