And another one bites the dust.
Today over lunch, a fellow producer told me that his long-term girlfriend called their relationship quits. Tragic really, he’s an incredible guy. No doubt women far and wide would clamour for this guy, as he’s quite a catch. That’s not the problem. The real problem, it seems, is that he’s in entertainment.
Heads up folks, this happens a lot in the industry. Of course, there are many entertainment relationships that somehow beat the odds, so it’s not a sure fire death sentence if you’re just heading into one. But there are some industry realities that make it incredibly hard to keep relationships alive and healthy.
Off the top, production schedules are gruelling, and are sometimes so tense they can bring even the greatest of gladiators to their knees. By the time you make it home from a long day on set, you are absolutely exhausted and barely have enough energy to crawl your way into bed. Now, three things can happen here. One, you’re in a hotel somewhere your mate is not. Two, your mate is awake and wants to connect. However, in your blinding level of exhaustion, you simply can’t give them the attention they deserve and that you so desperately want to give but just can’t. Three, your mate is asleep and you only get to see the back of their head buried in the pillow before you get up and do it all again. And again the next day. And the day after that.
There also tends to be a lot of time away from home. If you’re lucky, you’ll be working on a production in your home town. However, you’re still confounded by the long hours on set, as described above. If you are away on set, it’s simply the distance and prolonged time away from each other that can chip away at intimacy, day-to-day co-existence and sharing. Different time zones make this worse, when even connecting by phone can become an issue.
Now, if you are an actor, donning the role of a new character can also be tricky in relationships. Good actors live and breathe their characters, immersing themselves in the character’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours. This is not easy to do. It takes a great deal of preparation and there’s no “off” switch that you can hit as you leave the set. Very often, the character lingers. So now, imagine that you are the mate of that actor. The person you see coming home might not be the same person you adore. They just might be someone else. I can’t imagine what couples must go through when an actor has a character like Hannibal Lecter. Yikes!
Like actors, mates of crew members have the same issues surrounding long, tense production schedules. However, their work tends to be more regional, so at least crew members make it home during production. There are also some other key benefits worth mentioning, and were pointed out to me once by a crew member’s wife. She said, “At least we don’t have to watch our husband on screen in a love scene, and we don’t get hounded by the paparazzi.” Good point.
If you are a writer, the problem isn’t just taking on a new character like an actor does, they are taking on a whole cast. Writers often refer to having characters talking in their heads or, in some cases, even arguing with each other as they battle for top of mind presence in the writer’s head. While they are working, writers don’t even live or function in the real world, they’re creating entirely new ones―sometimes from scratch. They go through this process of giving way to a new world, becoming a vessel through which new characters are born. Again, this is not something you simply turn off. It is consuming. So, imagine being the mate of that writer. Your mate isn’t even on the same planet. And if they somehow manage to come up for air, they’ll very likely appear somewhat schizophrenic.
Mates of directors have it particularly hard, as they really run a marathon. The cycle for directors is a lot longer than actors and writers with much more work before and after production. They also have to share their mate with a great many people, who are all constantly demanding a piece of the director’s time and attention. It is a director’s awesome responsibility to bring a script to life through an entire cast and crew of hundreds. To do this, directors also have to live in their heads for great lengths of time, straddling the real world and the imaginary, to somehow create something not just believable, but compelling. The pressure is also greater for both the director on the set and for their mates managing life at home, as they are often temporary single parents for extended periods of time.
Now if you are the mate of a producer –whoa! I’ll have to save that for another blog. But the stress level producers are under is enormous. Every production is like launching a brand new multi-million dollar business. Mates of producers I think have to be one of the strongest of the bunch, as it is by far the longest cycle. Only to be repeated over and over again.
I remember a couple of years back, Kevin Bacon was on stage making his acceptance speech at the SAG Awards. In his speech, he was talking about the process of “going away” for a while as he took on new role. He wasn’t only talking about the physicality of leaving for a length of time, but also his process of leaving himself to become a new character. He was looking at his wife, Kyra Sedgwick, when he thanked those who loved him for understanding and sticking by him as they knew that eventually he’d “make it back.”
There’s a reason that people in entertainment date and marry others in the industry. It’s because they get it. They understand the nature of the business, its pressures and are forgiving of the processes and absences, as they live it themselves. Not all relationships in entertainment fail, but a great many do.
I’m not sure anyone knows what the silver bullet or secret sauce is for keeping a relationship alive in Tinseltown. I’ve experienced the struggle myself. But if you have a mate in entertainment, please give them your compassion and understanding. The craziness is not forever, just for certain periods of time. And like Kevin Bacon said, eventually they come back.