Updated: Oct 22, 2019

WHEN THE TV SHOW GOES OFF: How Healthy is the Film Industry?

For many, the Film Festival at Cannes, France, exemplifies the glamor of an industry well known for it. Indeed, a job in film and television is perceived to be one of the glitziest careers you can have. Part of the appeal for the thousands who seem to flock to Los Angeles alone is the allure of celebrities, parties, red carpet events and award shows, the potential paychecks and, of course, being part of the creative process.

If the L.A. film community is the draw, then a trip to Cannes represents champagne wishes and caviar dreams come true. When I got the opportunity to go to the Film Festival, I immediately put myself on a strict diet (which didn’t work) and used up an embarrassing amount of my finances to "look the part." Upon my arrival, I felt like I was in a scene from a movie, with every moment being more surreal than the last.

I thought, "If this is the lifestyle, sign me up." Seriously, though, where do I sign my soul away?

Before I made a deal with the devil, I wanted to know if people in this industry are as healthy and happy as the image? Is this life really the stuff that dreams are made of? The conclusion seems to be that except for all but the few pampered stars, life in this apparent fast lane is full of stress and job satisfaction issues, pressures, money woes and questionable lifestyle choices. In short, the glitzy jobs are not so glamorous after all.

Arriving in the south of France tapped into my own insecurities. This is a world of people who are intensely and often professionally attractive.

In Cannes, people are not just dressed for success; they display all they have day and night. It’s a see and be-seen world 24/7, to glimpse, meet or even become a celebrity. For those who think celebrity obsession is at its pinnacle in the U.S., go to Cannes, then go next year...if you (and I) can afford it.

At first blush (and there’s plenty of it) it seems that everyone in the Industry has made it. Here is the reality: plenty of those in attendance are scraping together enough money to afford the south of France, hoping to fulfill a dream that may not be real (including yours truly). Hope, as they say, is unfortunately not a strategy.

After a week at the Film Festival, I found that while virtually everyone is in full-on party mode, it's a skin-deep existence with job satisfaction cloaked behind the smoke and mirrors of the red carpet. Dressed in black tie? Yes, but odds are the tuxedo is a rental. It’s a dog-eat-dog industry and the percentage of those who really make it is very low, with consequential physical and mental stresses along the way. And if a balanced health and wellness lifestyle is the goal, think again. This industry has the same demands as other less “glamorous” jobs.

We have placed the film industry on a pedestal; and the publicity machine is working. Many are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve what appears to be success. There is an intense allure to it all, as well as the vanity and narcissism that come with chasing fame. Australia-based producer and actor, Daniel Findlay, is one of the producers for the movie, Kill Me Three Times. Daniel noted, “Everyone wants to feel like they are somebody important, that they have accomplished something in life, and if they obtain celebrity they will achieve that.” The truth is that only a very few get there.

Amy Willerton was Miss Great Britain 2013 and is a model and reality TV star. We discussed how she is under a microscope with everything that she does.

I asked Amy how she handles the scrutiny of the general public and tabloids, and she revealed that she willingly put herself in the position to be judged. “It is a responsibility that shouldn't be taken lightly. People always come up to me and say, ‘I want to be famous.’ But you need to think about it; it's not a piece of cake. It doesn't mean your life is going to be easy. If anything, it's harder because you have to take responsibility for everything you do.” Amy has been a beauty queen and pageant winner since childhood and has been trained to trade on her considerable looks. Now, some people’s reaction may be that this having to look good all the time and be a beauty queen is a real bitch, but if Amy gains five pounds, or has a zit on her face, EVERYONE notices. Ouch. 

Life is one big hypercritical photo op. That’s the world she lives in – a world where women, in particular, are scrutinized.

Still, most people don’t take the entertainment industry very seriously; certainly not as a legitimate form of employment. Actors, producers and directors may receive a proverbial eye roll if they were to call their jobs stressful. Nevertheless, the dozens of attendees I interviewed maintained that the most stressful and challenging aspect of the film industry is the extensive and rigorous hours. It is a grind, and founder of American World Pictures, director and producer Mark Lester indicated that, “you are working 20-hour days and it is really hard to find a balance with that.”

Dennis Dembia is the senior vice president of Rogers and Cowan, a global PR and marketing agency. Dennis expressed that when it comes to the Industry, people do not seem to have a clock. “When coming to Cannes, the hours differ. You go from working long hours to a 24/7 endeavor. Certainly the most stressful part of the business is that it is non-stop.”

Co-founder and executive producer of Mannequin Films, located in Johannesburg, South Africa, Kyle Ambrose emphasized that Cannes is crazy. “People think that you come on holiday here. It's the south of France and you are having a great time, but it's actually not. You get up early, work the entire day, run to a party... but you have to go, because it is networking as well. Then you go to sleep, get back up and do it all over again. You do that for seven days straight and it is quite tolling on you."

Kyle Ambrose added that he works really hard on productions and then allows himself to have a holiday afterwards. “If it's a month or two for production, then I will take a week afterwards to myself because it is really taxing." I have witnessed and experienced just how stressful and emotionally draining the business can be, albeit working long hours in the entertainment industry won't mean much to some people. That being said, Kyle does have a point. Taking time off, whether you can afford a 15-minute break or a week vacation, can help to ease stress, reset your mind and reignite willpower. 

Milan Kumar Chakraborty is one of the founders of Attic Light Films and a producer. He is currently working on a passion project called Produce. Milan and I amusingly concurred that it’s like you are having two glasses of rosé in Cannes before breakfast, and “by the third or fourth day people look like walking zombies.” Milan added that, “even the really healthy people would say that this is just their binge week. In Cannes I have 90% of my rosé intake for the year.”

Breaking news: apparently when you stay up all night in the south of France drinking rosé, you are tired and hung-over the next day. OK, so maybe these are self-inflicted wounds...

Once the Cannes hangover (discussion) passed, I realized that I had spoken to people in the industry both accomplished and still trying to make a name for themselves. But, the common consensus was that everyone seemed zealously happy. It was both obnoxious and contagious.

recent article in the Huffington Post noted what seems obvious: most people are not happy at work and this can lead to high levels of stress and even depression. Milan told me that, “At 24 years old, prior to moving to L.A., all my friends in L.A. were making less money than my friends on the East coast, but they seemed to be happy and I thought there was something to that. The thing about this industry is you are taking a bet on yourself in one of the hardest, most competitive industries, and not many people are willing to take that risk. It's a crazy business that is not a meritocracy; just because you are around for so many years, doesn’t guarantee success. There were a few years where my brain was on cruise control and this industry challenges me.”

Daniel Findlay was working in finance for a large corporation and he wasn't fulfilled. He took a leap of faith and switched careers. “Spending as much time at work as we do, I wanted to enjoy it and be in an industry that I was passionate about. I decided that life was too short, so I moved into the film industry. Of course you enjoy going to Cannes and traveling the world, but it’s the first job where I don't feel like I'm working. I enjoy what I do so much that it never feels like a chore.” A lot of us think about doing something like that, but it remains an aspiration. Those that get the opportunity clearly are fortunate.

Perhaps the people at the Cannes Film Festival are in the one percent of their industry. Possibly many of them have to beg and struggle their way there. Milan confessed, “Even for the people who are doing well, a lot of times they are in the trenches, a constant fear of failure is a constant presence.” Until you get out of those trenches, the Industry isn’t as pretty or “healthy.” Tomm Moore is the director and the co-founder of Cartoon Saloon, an animation studio and production company based in Kilkenny, Ireland, and most recently was the sequence director for The Prophet, with the voice cast including Salma Hayak and Liam Neeson. Tomm articulated that the Industry might not be as it seems. “There are little doses of surreal, 'show-biz' moments, but it is mundane, hard work. Now and again we gets bits of the glitz and glamour but they are not a part of our every day.”

Only the few make it to the Film Festival; those who don’t are likely to stay in the trenches with job pressures like the rest of us. In Cannes, it is late nights, jet lag and a continual grind to try to become successful. Some might opt for the life if they had a chance. It doesn’t sound so bad. But before you (and I) buy a one way ticket to Hollywood, recognize that in this industry there are pressures and issues. They are simply just different types of issues. You may have a chance to get those “occasional” show biz moments. If you are lucky enough to get to Cannes, it’s clearly one of those moments. Beyond that, they are not always pretty and certainly not always healthy.

Ultimately, behind the glitz, it turns out it’s a job.

Arthur :

Katherine Saxon graduated from Arizona State University obtaining a B.A. from the Hurberger Institute, with a major in theater and a minor in TV, Radio and Marketing. Katherine has been in the industry for five years, previously working at RadioMD, Dictionary Films and at Comcast Sportsnet in Chicago. She also worked in Los Angeles for companies such as Dick Clark Productions, and in live TV production, including The Daytime Emmy's and Comedy Central Roast.

Katherine's colleagues have told her she "walks the walk and talks the talk" when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle. She accredits for helping her become so passionate and informed about health and wellness. In her spare time she enjoys cooking, specifically with perfectly ripe avocados, and traveling.

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