By Rebecca Green
I know. I cringe just as much as you do reading the phrase ‘side hustle.’
The phrase may feel like it was invented by Millennials, but ‘side hustle’ has actually been in our vocabulary for almost 70 years.
First appearing in print back in the 1920’s, the phrase was used to refer to “a swindle.” Over the following decades, it began to also be used in a non-judgmental way, simply referring to an attempt to make money. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that the phrase began to be used to describe a legitimate job. Now ‘side hustle’ is defined as “work performed for income supplementary to one’s primary job.”
Here’s what I call it: A necessary evil. For many producers, this is the reality.
It’s how we pay the bills while developing projects on spec and how we supplement low to non-existent producing fees. For some of us, hustling on the side means creating schedules and budgets for films that will never get made. For others, the side hustle is line producing and production management that drains all of our energy. Or it’s producing commercials where the budget for one day of shooting is larger than the entire budget on your last feature.
But don’t let your side hustle bring you down. According to the personal-finance company Bankrate, an estimated 44 million people in the U.S. have a side hustle. In the Inc.com piece The Ultimate Side-Hustle How-to Guide, Jeff Haden, the author of The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win, lays out his 10 commandments for side hustle success. The tip that I felt is most notable for producers is:
#10. See your side hustle as “me time.” When you choose your side hustle, pick something you want to do. Pick something you want to achieve. Pick something you want to be, and actively work toward it.
Most of the the time, the side hustle feels like the full-time job, making it all the more important to pick work that challenges and inspires you.
Like the majority of Dear Producer readers, I am not exempt from needing a side hustle to supplement my producing ambitions. Despite perception, IT FOLLOWS did not eliminate my struggle for financial stability. Hustling on the side, I’ve had to do everything from budget breakdowns to reviewing applications and writing coverage for filmmaker lab programs to consulting on other people’s films when all I really wanted to be doing was working on my own. My current side hustle – working as the Retrospective Programmer for the 2018 LA Film Festival which kicks off tonight and runs September 20 – 28. As part of that hustle, I curated six films that will screen throughout the next 9 days.
While it sounds like a lot of fun (right?), it was actually a bit more challenging than I anticipated. I was excited when offered the position because curation is essential to becoming a successful producer. Given the amount of work that goes into making a story come to life, we have to be discriminatory in what we dedicate ourselves to, meaning we have to have strong curatorial muscles. We need to understand what audiences need and want to see – and we have a responsibility to push that sometimes (terrible Emmy Awards, I’m looking at you).
The first challenge was finding some kind of point of view. What, given that this is Los Angeles, land of Hollywood and broken dreams, would audiences respond to? What stories are people in need of right now? What are films that inspire and move us? What are the films that are unexpected and exciting enough to get audiences to turn off Netflix and head to the theater? And as retrospective, what films are old enough to be slightly off the radar, but still relevant to today’s audience? Perhaps they even reflect a different reality or show how far/not far we have come since they first ran like, for example, EL NORTE, a film from 1983 about the plight of two undocumented siblings.
The next challenge came in the form of working to secure the licenses to screen the films – which lead me to learning a lot about music rights and sing-a-longs that I otherwise did not need to know. Producers are always learning about things we otherwise do not need to know. For example, that time during production on IT FOLLOWS when director David Mitchell wanted an actual giant to portray one of the ‘its’ and I found myself Googling ‘tallest men in the US.’ Turns out one of them lived in Michigan right around the block from where we were shooting. His name is Mike Lanier, and he’s a 7’7″ former NBA prospect who lives outside Detroit and designs engines for GM. But I digress…
Eventually, I landed on a variety of films that challenged me to think deeply about the needs and wants of audiences and also allowed me to revisit some of my favorite films. In the end, challenges aside, I was able to dig deep into those questions we face when curating stories and came up with something for everyone that I hope audiences will enjoy, whether seeing them for the first time or the 31st time.
As a side hustle, retrospective programming was a bit different than the usual thing I do to continue to feed my producing dreams (and my cat). But, heeding the advice of Jeff Haden, I embraced the exercise as my own. At times it felt like making a mixtape – classic songs I love (THE WEDDING BANQUET and MYSTIC PIZZA) nostalgic pop hits (THE DARK CRYSTAL, HALF BAKED), sing-at-the-top-of your-lung anthems (THE LITTLE MERMAID) and serious, heart-wrenchers (EL NORTE).
When it comes to side hustle, it would be kind of great if we didn’t have to do them. But, since this is the world in which we live, we do what we have to. In this case, I feel all the stronger for it.
* Shout out to Stephanie Ariganello who helped me articulate my thoughts and edit this piece.
** Click here to purchase the “I literally don’t even know why I went to art school?????” patch by Adam J. Kurtz.