The Industry is in Crisis, But Make Something Anyway

Despite all the challenges creatives face at the moment, Laura Hunter Drago is finding a way to get her work out there.

Every coffee meetup or Zoom I have with a friend in “the industry” right now is the same.

Ugh, I just don’t know…”

Do you think next year will really be better?”

Should we even live in Los Angeles anymore?”

A lot of days it feels like there’s no point to working on anything if no one will ever see it.”

The last couple of years have been rough on everyone. Between the pandemic that I don’t think anyone has truly recovered from (at least emotionally) and the strikes that we don’t seem to be fully back from in terms of production, a lot of people are feeling pretty disheartened.

Laura Hunter Drago

I’m absolutely one of those disheartened people, even when I try to fight against it. I look up Redfin listings in remote places, thinking about selling my house in Los Angeles County and buying a farm somewhere. This is honestly alarming to me, because I’ve never in my entire life wanted to live on, or even be in the general vicinity of, a farm.

So, what’s going on? My guess is there’s a collective burnout happening among people in creative fields. And when you’re burnt out, it is really hard to be creative.

This isn’t anything new – it has always been hard to take a leap of faith and really believe in yourself when starting a new project. Every time I begin writing a new screenplay, I have a solid week of imposter syndrome meltdown before I get a single word on the page. I expect that to be the case forever, no matter what the state of the world, the entertainment industry or my career is in. But right now feels different, like there’s something bigger at play.

The increasingly loud talks of AI taking over combined with the stalling of meetings, auditions and green lights makes picking up a laptop and working on something new feel harder than ever. I have friends in writers’ groups who are creating some of the most interesting, hilarious and downright entertaining projects I’ve ever read … but who feel that right now no one will read past the first 10 pages of them, much less get them made. So, how do you manufacture motivation when everything feels … pointless?

I don’t think the answer to this is simple. I know that everyone tires of the “go make your movie with your cellphone” conversations, especially when those of us who have made movies know that it is much harder than going over to your friend’s house and filming on your phone in their backyard. You need about a thousand things besides a phone (that all cost money) to make a cellphone movie. And beyond that, you need a massive marketing budget to get anyone to watch it.

But I do think the one thing anyone in this industry has at all times — that no AI ever will — is a well of human creativity to turn to.

I honestly don’t think a cellphone movie is the answer. But what could you make that is feasible for you right now? Maybe it’s a novel. A blog filled with poems. A live theatre project at a 99-seat space. What’s the thing you can do that allows you to produce something, even in an industry drought?

For me, it’s been fiction podcasts.

What’s a fiction podcast? Think of it like an audiobook television series, or a radio play with multiple episodes. The projects I have worked on have been fully cast, but people are also making them with a single narrator. Production costs are all over the map for fiction podcasts. There are people producing audio dramas with celebrity voices at high costs, and others like me who are DIY-ing their shows from the ground up. I taught myself how to edit audio in a free program called Audacity, and have edited every single second of the two shows I’ve produced so we’ve been able to make them for very little money.

Laura Hunter Drago in podcast mode.

Both shows have a strong listenership and have received accolades that have helped push us forward. St. Mary’s School (for Children with the Stigmata), a horror series that follows a group of afflicted girls who were raised at a tiny Catholic boarding school, was named one of the 10 best horror podcasts by The Mary Sue. The Crime at Camp Ashwood, a crime mystery about a 20-year-old cold case involving a young woman who was murdered at summer camp, won the Austin Film Festival Fiction Podcast Award last fall.

Perhaps most exciting of all, though, is that the people who listen to these shows are excited about them. There’s Reddit forums where followers guess what might come next, like with a traditional television series! And I’m getting to do what I really love: connect with people through art I make.

And it’s not just me. I went to a podcast conference in DTLA a few weeks ago, and the energy from the attendees there was invigorating. It was a pretty big contrast to what I’ve felt in the past year in L.A., and I think the reason is that podcasting is a medium where people feel like they have power. They’re not waiting for a huge check to make their shows, there are options to get monetization through one’s work via sponsors and paid advertisements, and the price of admission is low. It’s a little like the Wild West right now. If you have an idea and want to make it, you absolutely can. There’s power in that.

Laura Hunter Drago at the Podcast Academy’s Ambies award show.

Now, I want to be realistic. Are people going to make a living from making a fiction podcast? Maybe, but probably not. I have a day job that I’ve had my whole life, and my intention with these projects was to put my work out into the world much more than it was to make money. But I have made a little, and the positive response to the shows has been an enormous motivation for me to create additional projects and write more. It feels a little like a life raft in these uncertain times.

I’ve been encouraging friends to consider podcasting for their fiction projects. But if audio isn’t your thing, you could just think outside whatever boxes you might have set up for yourself. Make the things you can make, because regardless of what is going on in the industry, you can find a space to contribute your voice and your ideas. There’s an audience waiting for them.

Laura Hunter Drago is a producer living in Los Angeles, California. Originally from a small town in Virginia, Laura grew up performing in theatre both in school and professionally. She trained as an actress at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she studied at the Atlantic Theatre Company School and the Lee Strasberg Institute. She is a proud member of SAG-AFTRA, the Assistant Editor-in-Chief of Ms. in the Biz, a website founded by Helenna Santos that provides resources for female entrepreneurs in the entertainment industry, and co-founder of New Girl Pictures with one of her best friends from her high school theatre days, Samantha Macher. Their production company focuses on getting women into positions both in front of and behind the camera early in their careers. Her first feature film, To the New Girl, which was made by an all-female cast and creative team, is released on VOD on August 11, 2020.