(Listen. Or, listen and read along. Or, skip this and just read below.)
Dear Mr. Evans,
One of my close friends recently sent me your 2019 “Actors On Actors” Variety interview with Scarlett Johansson. She thought I’d find your conversation interesting because intelligent people talking about creative process with warmth and kindness is definitely my catnip. And, she was right.
At one point, you and Ms. Johansson discuss how difficult it is to find truly good content for making movies. You, in particular, say that “good material isn’t just sitting there untouched.”
And I get that it was just one line in conversation with a friend. I know that you said it over a year and a half ago. I also know that one of the things I do is help people connect with, and create, their “good material.” So please bear with me because something about you saying those words got to me and stirred things up.
I heard them and remembered Jerry Seinfeld and Alec Baldwin talking about the nature of luck and talent in an episode of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. Baldwin mentions an imagined “Show Business Commission” that goes door to door to find talent where it is toiling in obscurity. The ‘bit’ is defined by the fact that this commission clearly does not exist. No one is going to knock on your door “while you’re watching TV” to tell you they know how talented you are. The message? We must work hard and take risks to succeed.
And I laughed when I saw it because it’s witty and Baldwin’s delivery is great.
And I nodded knowingly, because in a way he’s right. I may not subscribe to a “boot-strappy” ideology, but we – all of us – absolutely have to shift our attachments (habits, fears etc.), to make new things happen.
I also cried when I watched this part of their conversation because I am 100% certain that there is so much talent toiling in obscurity; that there is a wealth of good material sitting around, untouched.
A million exquisite and unheard stories are buried by everything from prejudice, hatred, and poverty to garden variety self-doubt and the benighted belief that a life of storytelling is frivolous, risky, or just plain stupid.
Certainly, there are people with financial stability, health, love and support; privileged people who can avoid hatred and who have the “courage,” as you described it relative to your attempts to write, to tell their stories. But, a number of those people often discover that despite their creativity and talent, an ability to “hustle” eludes them. Not everyone is wired to find an agent, hit an open mic night, or build social media presence.
We are all good at different things. We’re supposed to be.
The sense that creative success is a solo effort of will achieved in an upwards direction always feels like Yin energy sublimated to Yang energy. It feels divorced from community and swallowed whole by hierarchy.
But, even if I accept a “Yang-Heavy-Hustle-Hierarchy” of creative success at face value, if us folks at the proverbial “bottom” shouldn’t bemoan how no one comes to find us in all our awesome, then isn’t it fair to say you are also not allowed to sit at your proverbial “top” and bemoan that brilliant material doesn’t just find you in yours?
Is it even possible for someone without an agent, or some other conventional or more personal channel, to get their “untouched material” to you so you can decide if it’s “good?” In a way, this letter is going to be my own experiment to find out.
I’m finally going to have to join Twitter…
Please imagine the twitchy, middle-aged awkwardness of a brokenhearted but determined idealist with no social media skills. Then picture my f—king awesome, savvy, and far more inured friends helping me out.
I guess the real question is: If you truly want good material, shouldn’t you be willing to go sniff it out in the potentially remote corners of its many and different natural habitats? To lure it from the bushes with a can of tuna? With an unexpected display of fireworks over a small and glassy lake?
And maybe, over the years, you have. Maybe you’ve thought about or tried all of those things and all of the following. But, maybe you haven’t, so here goes…
Have you ever forged direct relationships with K-12 schools, colleges, universities, and/or community centre programs as a way to nurture talent and stories?
Have you ever created, funded, or lent your influence to scholarship programs or granting agencies as a way to find and support writers and thinkers interested in the same things that interest you?
Do the stories you would like to tell all have to be live action film in Three-Act Structure? Could you produce a series of short animations? Curate a collection of picture books? Postcard stories? Poems printed on T-shirts? All of the above?
You say in the interview that people go to the movies to see themselves and in many ways I agree. Underneath your assertion, though, is the much deeper hiccup of our unhappy and restless Egos, namely that Ego forgets it is connected to all-the-things in all-the-ways at all-the-times. I think we watch movies and animation, read books, buy beautiful and clever T-Shirts – reach for stories other than our own – to remember we are connected; that we are more than just ourselves.
Each of us can really only serve the world one choice at a time. Your choices definitely have a far broader reach than do mine and even a scant internet search makes me grateful for the choices you do make, particularly as regards political education. I guess I’m just greedy and want you to choose this too.
We need people of your obvious kindness, purpose, intelligence, and success to start some version of a “Show Business Commission” so more of the stories that live in obscurity can find their way into the world because storytelling matters.
The stories we tell and reach for matter.
And, everything in my gut and experience tells me that the stories you most want to tell – as an actor, a director, as someone who cares about Buddhist teachings, politics, and education – live in places you’ll never find unless you go out to meet them.
So, I really hope you will.
With Genuine Respect,
Actors on Actors Video with Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans. The whole video is worth watching but the relevant segment starts around 23:30
If you have a way to watch it, the episode of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee is “Alec Baldwin: Gyrating, Naked Twister” in the season called 2018: Freshly Brewed. The relevant segment starts around 12:10