I love school and I almost always have. I say “almost” because I really struggled in law school, largely because I knew I didn’t want to be a lawyer and I couldn’t make myself care about the material….but that’s another blog. For most of my life, I’ve been happiest in a classroom or with a new area to study, challenging myself to learn something new. For example, when I wanted to learn screenwriting, I happily signed up for all kinds of classes. When I needed to learn about pitching, I signed up for the Great American Pitchfest in Los Angeles and spent two-days doing round after round of five minute pitches. When I decided to become a producer, I went to workshops and signed up for mentorships and read everything I could about film production.
But now it’s time for me to tackle the one area I’ve always avoided in all my many iterations and professions so far in life…
I don’t understand money.
Of course, I understand how essential money is. You can do lots of fun things with money. But I’ve never been all that good at managing it (thank God I’ve always surrounded myself with people who are better at that than I am!), and I’ve never embraced high finance, capital investment and corporate deal-making. I’ve never prepared a profit and loss statement, and I’d never attempted to interpret one until recently.
In short, when it comes to how money is raised, accounted for, paid out or paid back in, and managing the growth of a business, I’m clueless.
This is partly deliberate. As a creative person, it’s my job to remain pure and untouched by the pecuniary realities of the world. As an artist, I’m attempting to ascend to access a “higher place,” untainted by petty lucre. I need people who deal with that stuff, leaving me free to commune with nature and receive direct downloads from “the Muse.”
But an unwillingness to deal with the messiness of money has cost plenty of talented people their fortunes. How do super successful athletes and celebrities end up broke, owing the IRS millions of dollars, struggling to recover from lawsuits and bankruptcies? By trusting other people to be good stewards of their financial well-being without having any interest or knowledge themselves.
It’s understandable. Money and creativity feel at opposite ends of the spectrum. But in entertainment, creativity is definitely a business. Money confines art into budgets and weigh its value by its profitability. But creativity can transcend finance and bloom in any budget. Creativity is inherently valuable even if it never makes a dime. In fact, if I’d listened to the people in my life who valued the security of money, I’d never have stepped onto the creative path in the first place. I would have stuck with the legal profession, where I could be more certain of the value of my effort. In order to embrace my creativity and find my voice, I’ve had to put less stock in the meaning of money and drop any fears around it.
Now as I explore the world of “show business,” it’s time for me to have a new understanding of money.
I’m used to the meetings where “story arcs” and “character development” are the central topics. But now I’m in meetings involving “tranches,” “Series B,” “rounds” and “mezzanine financing”… all in reference to raising money to produce films and television projects I am passionately involved in as writer or producer. For the past year, I’ve relied on my producing partner to interpret that language for me and have limited myself to focusing on the creative. But a recent opportunity to discuss our projects with a venture capital firm made me realize how pathetically undereducated I am in this area. And for the first time, “the Muse” is not enough. It’s going to take a completely different kind of creativity– a financial kind– to assure the health and success of the projects the Muse brings me, and build them into a flourishing empire.
So, I’m sending myself to school. I’ve started with an online course through Coursera.org to learn the vocabulary of financing. I’ve added the Wall Street Journal and Washington Business Journal to my daily reading lists. I’m looking into an MBA intensive program to fill in the edges.
It’s time to stop fighting money and look it in the face. It’s time to get as good at the language of finance as I am at the language of story. So “back to school” I go!