Learned Helplessness

One of the things I like to do in my spare time is watch lots of educational videos on YouTube.  I follow lots of awesome channels, including this one called Veritasium.  Recently, Derek, who hosts the channel did an episode about what he calls “Learned Helplessness”.  I think it bears watching again, if only to see how applicable it is to those of us in the entertainment industry:



What really struck me, was Derek’s own story, about how he wanted to be a filmmaker and how this idea of needing other people to help him realize that dream was an obstacle to actualizing it.  I saw so much parallel to my own life, and especially the new direction that I have been taking with my own career.

I wanted to be in movies & TV ever since I was a child.  Having seen the “Star Wars” movies and Indiana Jones movies on the big screen, it really motivated me to seek this out as my career.  But as a kid growing up in a Navy family with zero Hollywood connections, the chances of someone in the movie business discovering me and giving me a career were astronomically small.

So I exercised the only other option I had…do it myself.  By any means necessary, I began to make my own films–first with a Super 8 camera, and then (as they grew in running time and complexity) with the family VHS camera.  (See Law Of The Ninja as an example.)  There would be no film school for me to attend in Hawaii–USC was thousands of miles and many thousands of dollars out of reach.  But as a youth, I didn’t realize that you couldn’t do things on your own, so I found a way.

Flash forward to my return to California and moving to Hollywood. Now, as an adult and a professional actor, I knew that my career was going to be in the hands of having the “right team” behind me who would be there to open doors (ie. get me top level auditions), and thus give me the career that I always dreamed of.  All my energy was now going to be directed towards “being seen” by “the industry”.  After all, that’s how all the other actors in L.A. did it, so I had to follow suit, right?

Well, needless to say, that is a perfect example of “learned helplessness”.  By putting my career in the hands of other people, things were not only out of my control, but there was realistically no way I would ever actually achieve anything with that mentality.  I became conditioned by conventional thought which is pervasive in this town, and though I have managed to work a lot, by continuing down this road, I have been limiting myself.

Now, with my writing skills, I have actually written a few screenplays (some of which have been sold and produced), and intuitively knew that I should be writing my own material to star in.  But because I was in Hollywood, the conventional wisdom stated that I should find a producer/production company/studio or other big elements (star talent, name director, etc.) to come on board and help me bring my vision to life along with helping to get me on the big screen in my own project.

Again, that is learned helplessness.  My latest script Cyber Fighter has been floating around for many years, seeking the perfect attachments who will help bring the financing to the table and then get a producer on board who will know exactly how to get this movie made.  The recent epiphany I’ve had is in my ability to visualize…visualize how those in “power” might view my project.

Even if you have people interested in your project (and I do actually have quite a bit of interest in Cyber Fighter),  the main problem is that everyone has their own pet project that they want to get off the ground.  Unless you’re already loaded and can purchase their support (translation: hire them), you have to accept that there is going to be a limit to their involvement in your dream.

That’s why it’s your dream — it’s for you and you only to realize.  Once I had that “eureka” moment, my entire paradigm of this industry changed.  I had spent my childhood and adolescence learning all of the skills I needed to actually make my own projects.  With the advent of digital technology, the means of production were now actually within my reach, unlike how it was when I was a kid.  Sure, I used to daydream of being on the set with a big 70mm Panavision camera trained on me as I performed a heroic action sequence, but many professional productions are using humble DSLR cameras and getting pretty awesome results.

My wife Pamela & I have had our production company Four Scorpio Productions for about 15 years now, and only within this past year of 2015 we have begun producing our own short films.  The skills I honed in Hawaii are actually being used in a professional way now, and we distribute our own content worldwide on our YouTube channel.  These films are listed on IMDB, and are great examples of  breaking down that learned helplessness.  We’re slated to also produce a short film version of Cyber Fighter which will be used to help us realize the feature film as well.

It feels empowering to be able to be the master of your own destiny.  I remember being a child and fantasizing about being a movie mogul with my own movie theater, studio, and TV channel.  Folks shook their head at me back then, and some people laughed, thinking it was just childhood dreaming.  But now, with YouTube, that dream has actually come true!

Sometimes I have to remind myself of that.  Like Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz, the power was always with me.  Except instead of ruby slippers, it was my imagination.