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Three ways to deal with uncertainty in Hollywood

by Adam Chanzit

The other day, I happened upon an article stating that people with chronic uncertainty about their jobs reported worse physical and mental health than those who actually lose their jobs or faced life-threatening illness. My reaction was, in no uncertain terms, momentary panic.

As a writer in the film industry, I experience uncertainty on a daily basis. Will this scene work? Will this script come together? Will people respond to it? Will my rep and/or producer like the latest draft? Will a director sign on? And actors? How about financing?

After my first feature was shot, I thought to myself, “Well at least that one’s all set.” But of course there remained much uncertainty over editing, festivals, distribution, and reception.

And then of course there is more basic uncertainty. Will the bills be paid? Will the deal close? Will there be a deal?

As a (relatively) young writer, I imagine that certain uncertainties become more certain over time. But my impression from those who’ve been at it longer is that uncertainty never disappears; it just changes shape and magnitude. So we’d better get used to it.

As I would prefer to maintain my mental and physical health, I’m trying to find ways to deal with uncertainty. And I’m not talking here about counting our blessings or simply appreciating what we have, though such exercises have value. I’m talking about uncertainty itself.

Here are three ways, none of which I can claim as a panacea, but they’re a start:

1. View uncertainty as a metaphysical state.

Nothing is truly certain in this world, right? Any time we drive on the 101, we risk more than we dare imagine. Many of us live in California, always in waiting for “The Big One.” I also believe that material goods acquired in this life are never permanent: the home, the car, the jewelry, the shoes, none of that comes with us when we die. Granted not everyone finds such thoughts comforting, but since nothing is permanent, some uncertainties are just more immediate than others. Perhaps we should stop trying to seek certainty where there is none.

2. Use uncertainty as motivation.

One of the best ways I’ve found to combat uncertainty is activity, using the time when I would be waiting to do something. That can mean developing projects while others hang in the balance. It can mean heading straight for the volunteer project or the beach or the bottle (did I say that?), instead of agonizing over an impending answer. It can mean scheduling that summer vacation when there’s still a chance the movie will be shooting or we’ll get a new job. In fact, if we really want the movie to shoot or the job to come through, the best thing we can possibly do is plan a vacation. Fate loves nothing more than to throw a wrench in our plans.

But I believe that whatever we do, we should not squander much energy waiting for the uncertain to become certain, wringing our hands and compulsively checking our email for the news! (Note that an exclamation mark means I am a chronic offender.) Since one uncertainty tends to morph into the next, it’s easy to live in a constant state of anticipation rather than action. So instead of wallowing in uncertainty, let’s use it as motivation to action.

3. Treat uncertainty as a positive.

It’s all a matter of perspective, right? If you are actually uncertain about the outcome of a project or a job, it means the thing is still alive. So celebrate the uncertainty. I think there really is something wonderful about uncertainty. It means that possibility exists, that we are alive to witness new twists and turns, that the ending is not yet known. So perhaps despite what that disturbing article tells us, in fact, uncertainty is not leading us to early disease and death (yikes!), but shows us that we are alive.

Maybe I’m reaching here, but I believe that if it’s a mental state rather than an actuality that threatens our health, who is to say we can’t change the mental state and improve the actuality?

How about all of you in Hollywood and beyond… What wisdom, techniques, and productive delusions do you have for dealing with uncertainty?

Adam Chanzit

About Adam Chanzit

Adam Chanzit is a screenwriter and playwright who has come to Los Angeles by way of Denver, Beijing, and Berkeley. He has earned degrees from Yale in playwriting and Berkeley in Chinese Literature, and has been a MacDowell Colony Fellow and Djerassi Resident Artist. His plays The Great Divide and Down to This were produced last year in the Bay Area, and his screenplays include the indie feature, 3 Nights in the Desert, produced this past year for a 2014 release, a co-written adaptation of the novel, The Piano Tuner, and a Chinese action film for Universal Pictures International. Please follow on Twitter: @adamchanzit

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