Dog House is out! The short film I made last year with an assortment of legends including director Miranda Holms, DoP Matt Riley, actors Anna Leong Brophy, Nat Luurtsema, Tom Bell and many more, was released online on Monday and I’m so proud of it. I’ve written about the journey and the process behind Dog House in this newsletter before, so I won’t repeat myself here, but I will use this week’s Tape to reflect a bit on the lessons I’ve learned since releasing it, and in comparing the start of 2024 to the start of 2023. For now, though, for those of you haven’t seen it yet, here is the film! I really hope you all enjoy it – if you like it, any shares or recommendations to friends are very much appreciated!
I’m also going to post a link to another video, which you needn’t watch in full as it’s a long one, but if you find the ideas in this week’s Tape interesting then perhaps it’s worth delving into when you have the time. It’s filmmaker Mark Duplass’s keynote speech at SXSW Festival in 2015, in which he repeatedly hammers home the message “The Cavalry Is Not Coming.” I have a writer friend who has this pinned to a board on her wall. It’s a good lesson to internalise, and it’s a lesson I think I’m only beginning to see the fruits of just now. Feel free to watch the first five minutes or so if you want to get the gist:
Essentially, Duplass lays out the way in which the film industry thrives on the illusion that someone is about to sweep in and make all your dreams come true for you, and it’s an illusion that robs people of the agency to get up and make the work that will bring them the things they actually hope for. It’s a model that maps easily onto the wider creative industries outside of just film and, I reckon, onto human psychology in general. Aspiring writers and filmmakers and creatives sit in meetings with big studios and producers and commissioners and the like and are flattered and complimented and promised an exciting future, and told they just need to write a couple more drafts, or rework the treatment a few more times, or whatever it might be. If we’re lucky, sometimes we’re offered a nominal fee for doing this work. Often, particularly with the TV industry in such a perilous state at the moment, we’re asked to do it all for free, with the vague promise of being paid at the end of the project if it all goes well, and we’re always the only people in these meetings not being paid to be there.
We persist because the illusion of success and reward being handed to us by some external entity is so alluring. But Duplass hammers home that repeated message – “The cavalry is not coming” – in order to get people to recognise that external reward only comes as a result of direct action. Action creates action. We create our own success, it’s not handed to us by some benefactor because we wish for it. Endlessly tinkering with a treatment because a production company expressed a half-interest in the idea isn’t direct action. But making something is.
This is not to say that pitching your work to production companies or commissioners or whoever is a waste of time and energy, or that those people are all uniformly timewasters – this is very much not the case. I’m working with some wonderful producers at the moment on some exciting ideas, and those routes are the routes to go down in order to expand the reach and scope and scale of your work. But the trap is to believe that going down those routes is an alternative to taking action and creating work yourself that showcases who you are and what you want to say. These are the actions that people actually respond to the most.
A picture of some cavalry. Now I look at it, I’m actually kind of relieved these guys aren’t coming. This looks really stressful.
At the start of 2023, I was in a bit of a funk. I’d reached the end of an enormous creative cycle – I’d come out of lockdown determined to work hard and make stuff I was proud of, so in 2022 I made a new live show and a radio sitcom. Once both projects were complete, I sat back and waited for the rewards to come in. I’d worked so hard, and I was so proud of both projects – surely someone would swoop in and point me towards the next big thing? A few little things began to take shape, but didn’t quite go anywhere, maybe because of bad luck, maybe because I was too exhausted to give them enough of my energy. And I continued to wait, convinced that I had done enough, that someone would come and reward me now. And then the year wound down to a close, and 2023 began, and I hadn’t been particularly active since both those projects were completed in September. And I had no idea why nobody was offering me exciting opportunities, and enticing new roads to go down. What had I done wrong???
I worked my way out of this funk as the year went by. I got active again, I started work on a number of long-form projects, I started collaborating again, I wrote loads, I acted, I built new connections. The way things worked out, I was in a position to start 2024 by releasing one of the projects I’d made the previous year – the film at the top of this email. In the 3 days since it went out, I’ve had an invitation to audition for a great TV show and an invite to meet with a couple of great production companies. These may well lead to nothing, but in 2024 I’m finding that the things I was sitting around waiting for in 2023 are appearing as a direct result of my having taken action and done something and made work and shown it to the world. And this time I don’t feel exhausted or burnt out or entitled to reward like I did in 2022. I just feel excited to make the most of whatever opportunities come my way, and to keep making stuff.
At the end of 2022, I couldn’t get Sisyphus out of my head. I kept saying to myself “I can’t believe I just got that rock to the top of the hill, and now I have to roll it up all over again.” When I first saw Duplass’s talk, I found it profoundly depressing. “You mean this will never end?” I thought. “I’m just rolling my rock forever?” For some reason, at the start of 2024 I find it incredibly inspiring. “The cavalry is not coming,” I say to myself, “so it’s time to start rolling my rock up the hill again. I can’t wait. Rolling my rock is what I do.”
A Cool New Thing In Comedy – A bunch of really exciting new comedy shows were announced by BBC Radio 4 on Monday, which I think are all coming out in the spring. There’s some stuff in there I’m really very pleased about, including Christian Brighty and Amy Greaves’s The Many Wrongs Of Lord Christian Brighty and Lorna Rose Treen and Jonathan Oldfield’s Time Of The Week. Gonna be a good year for audio comedy!
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – Bron Waugh and Ada Player performing “Just Lose It” by Eminem at karaoke.
Book Of The Week – Currently reading Dressing Up For The Carnival by Carol Shields, which is a collection of short stories. I find short story collections tricky to get into most of the time, but this one’s very nice so far. There’s a great one about a couple who remove all mirrors from their home for the summer so they can rediscover themselves.
Album Of The Week – Naturally by J.J. Cale. Album with a raccoon on the front with a top hat and a smoking jacket and a cane, full of laid-back country-blues. What more could you possibly want from an album?
Film Of The Week – Not seen any films, too busy watching The Traitors. Gonna watch Poor Things and The Holdovers this weekend though. Psyched.
That’s all for this week! As ever, if you enjoyed this newsletter enough to send it to a friend or encourage others to subscribe, I’d hugely appreciate it. Take care of yourselves until next time and all the best,
PS I’m never going to actually charge for this newsletter or put it behind a paywall, but I do write it for free and the comedy and media industries are in a perilous state right now, especially for freelancers. If you value the Therapy Tapes and enjoy what they give to you, and want to support my work and enable me to keep writing and creating, you can make a one-off donation to my Ko-Fi account, and it’s very gratefully appreciated.
PPS Here’s Robert Wells and John-Luke Roberts singing the word “heeheeheeheehee:”