Revolva is a vaudeville hula hoop performer. This is a pretty cool routine of her doing an act to “Single Ladies.”
(There’s an unfortunate splice in the video. Keep watching anyhow.)
Apparently Oprah–you’ve heard of her, she’s all about “Your Best Life Now”–is doing a tour called “The Life You Want,” which is one of these inspirational/self-actualization things. She has Deepak Chopra and Elizabeth Gilbert with her. It will probably be a hell of show–I know people who’ve gotten inspired to change their lives at things like this. Not that their lives were changed at that point, but they were inspired to get moving and enact change. Which is great.
Oprah’s people contacted Revolva about appearing at their Oakland show.
Not even expenses covered or a basic per diem.
No. They asked her to perform in exchange for no money whatsoever.
In one day, your arena tour (capacity around 18,000, each ticket $99 to $999) is raking in more money than most people will make in a year. In ten years. In their entire lives. And yet, your side stage, featuring local acts, is paying in that old tap-dancing, phantom promise of “exposure.”
Ah, that word.
It takes exactly no time at all in Hollywood to run across people asking for your work for free. Seriously, go to a screenwriting bulletin board and see how many postings there are asking for free work “for the exposure.” For the opportunity of getting your foot in the door. Give a free option. Do a free draft…or fourteen.
Steven Pressfield (who is marvelous and wise) wrote about this phenomenon so eloquently in “Opportunities Are Bullshit”:
One way to look at it is through the prism of money. If someone wants you to do something and the remuneration is “exposure” or “opportunity” … you have answered your own question.
I know, I know. Sometimes you gotta get a seat at the table. I can tell you this: in the movie biz, I’ve given more free options than I can remember. How many have paid off?
I won’t answer except to say that the word has four letters, starts with a “z” and ends with an “o.”
Recently Taylor Swift pulled all of her music from Spotify, citing the low pay rates. Spotify threw some numbers back, including the oft-quoted “$6 million.” You know what that number is? How much Spotify estimates Swift would have made on their service this year. Not a guarantee. More of a number pulled out of their butt. And of course many people said, “How dare Taylor Swift take her music away so I can’t listen to it whenever I want? She should be happy she can find anyone to listen!”
Yeah. How dare Taylor Swift value her art, her creations.
Given that she’s just released what may be the last platinum album ever (platinum in the US: one million copies sold in one week), I suspect Swift may have good confidence in what she’s doing.
The idea that some people actually have confidence that they are providing value is scary.
When you stand up and are seen, it’s very easy for people to throw potshots at you. (For example: any damn YouTube comment section. On second thought, don’t go look.) I’ve heard the phrase “tall poppy syndrome” (described eloquently on Wikipedia as “a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers”).
Much easier to hunch down, stay invisible, stay safe. Wait for someone to bestow upon to you some value, rather than see that value within yourself.
I can’t recommend the books The War Of Art and Turning Pro (both by the aforementioned Steven Pressfield) highly enough. The short answer is: when you’re ready to take the leap into being “pro,” you know, because it requires a mindset. It requires you to say, “What I am offering has value.” It requires you to be the expert.
When you’re an amateur, you constantly need feedback: is this good? Is this? Can you help me? Maybe if I take one more class…if I join one more group…
Becoming professional requires a gigantic mindset shift. When you’re professional–whether or not you are ever paid–you stand up and say, “This is what I’m doing, and it has value.” You’re not looking for validation: you have given yourself validation. You’re offering your stuff to the public and saying, “Here, you may like this.” When you’re working, you still need outside help, whether it’s a coach to reinforce your drive or an editor or a sound engineer or whatever. You’re just not looking to any of those people to solve your problems for you, you’re looking for them to add value to what you’re doing. You trust their judgement…and then you go on your merry way, incorporating what’s useful and disregarding the rest.
Here’s another word for you: investment. When someone asks for something for free, they are investing exactly nothing in it. If I have a script I’ve optioned for $10,000 and one I’ve optioned for $0, which one am I going to put the effort into making sure gets sold?
Of course Oprah has found plenty of acts to work for her for free on her stage tour (the daily income of which, remember, is somewhere between $1.8m and $18m). There’s no investment by her tour operator in those acts, and I’m going to bet you dollars to doughnuts that attitude is going to come through to the audience. Why should they pay attention to the acts on the stage when clearly the people in charge think they’re not very important?
The only reason this keeps happening is that, as a society, we don’t value art, we don’t value artists, and we think they’re pretty damn arrogant to demand remuneration. Entertain me for free…or I’ll get other entertainment for free! Or I’ll take your stuff for free!
If there is quality entertainment or art or whatever that you like, invest with your dollars. Use your Netflix hours to watch the stuff–trust me, Netflix is taking extensive notes on what’s being watched, how often, where do you stop, etc. If there are authors you like on Amazon/iTunes/Kobo/wherever, buy their books. Trust me, Amazon is taking extensive notes on what’s being watched, how often, where do you stop, etc.
Even HBO is getting a little tired of the “sell to this many people, be watched by many, many more.” Because no one is going to invest in projects like Game of Thrones if they can’t make their money back. You aren’t owed Game of Thrones.
You get what you invest in. In your life, and in the art you enjoy.
In case I haven’t been clear, Oprah asking artists to perform for free is shameful. That’s not what people living their best life do. They invest in having the best performance for the value for their audience.