Mandy May Cheetham, Actress/Writer/Producer shares with us some of the secrets of her success.
Today I heard the sad news that the mother of a childhood friend passed. It got me thinking about our families and how close we all were when we were children. I was a pretty lucky kid — surrounded by artistic types, hippies and free thinkers. My dad was into astrology, boats and rum — my parents had a rich social life full of experiences and characters that was not lost on my budding artistic temperament. As I grew up in the age of the entrepreneur, my dad was one of my greatest business advisors — always reading books on how to improve his own businesses, and sharing that advice with me. In honor of his generation — which seems to be slipping away more quickly than any of us could have predicted — I thought I’d share some of his insights into business and life that keep me on an even keel, even today.
Quit Crying and Get a Job
“stop complaining about it and go and get a real job, because complaining was not going to solve the problem”
The number of times I called my dad crying because I had no money and my business was in turmoil was so plentiful in my 20s that this became a running joke between us. Said with love and respect, but “Quit crying and get a job” was ALWAYS the thing I needed to hear. I took this to mean two things: one, if I really hated my career in the arts that much (I was running a cheerleading company at the time) then I should stop complaining about it and go and get a real job, because complaining was not going to solve the problem, and two, actually go and sell some of the widgets I was selling (at the time it was cheerleading choreography, but now it would be my services as an actor). I’d done it before and I could do it again, so literally quit crying and get yourself an acting job.
Today, when I am crying about being broke or scared I think of this advice and what I could be doing about my situation instead of crying about it. The answer is: a million things. I could be self taping for practice, reading a play, doing vocal exercises, working out, writing a short film, looking for grants for artists, or having coffee with a director or producer I love to find out what is coming down the pipeline for them that I may be right for.
Keep Your To Do List Short
Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many things to do in a day. It’s a simple thing you can do to be kind to yourself.
Of course I have a massive to do list that is pages long so I don’t forget anything, and filled with large projects and small, but on a daily basis I write down the six things I want to accomplish that day and I git ‘er done. And I feel really good about myself for doing it too.
If All Your Business Partner Does Is Get You Out of Bed In the Morning Then They Are Worth Having Around
The first business I created was with a partner. It is really tough to have a business partner and I would often call him to discuss difficulties I was having making it work. Today I think of my agents and manager as my partners. I have two agents, a manager, two lawyers, a personal assistant, and a publicist on my team. All of them work well when there is momentum happening with my career, none of them work well when there is not (except my lawyers, they’ll always work when needed!). The momentum within my career ALWAYS starts with me. Some idea I have for a show I want to create, or a role I want to self tape for, or a blog I want to be featured on — the direction my team goes in comes from me, AND GUESS HOW I GOT THAT TEAM?! ‘Cause I know many of you are reading this and thinking — yeah, sure, she can think that way ‘cause she has all of those people,but I started thinking this way, and creating my own momentum and then the team built itself around me — I attracted all of these hardworking folks to me and now here we are. All of my major credits and any big deals I have are because I have put myself on that path through discipline and focus, and I feel responsible to that team to make shit happen and keep us all motivated…so I get out of bed in the morning.
Cultivate Your Network
My father said this to my son as one of his final pieces of advice to him during his last week of life. We were talking about how lucky he was to be in the palliative facility he was in, and how it had come about because I had known someone who worked in the medical field and had gotten us in despite a long waiting list. He said, “Take the time to take someone out for a coffee before you need a favour from them. Cultivate your relationships with people by spending time with them because, when everything else falls apart — and it will at some point or another for all of us — your network is all you have.”
I have been living on people’s couches and in their spare rooms for too long to admit — traveling back and forth between LA and Toronto to try to sell my TV show has been expensive and time consuming and makes it difficult to hold down a joe job as I jump between countries. I have been able to exist in this way for so long because a) I am a fairly un-intrusive houseguest, b) I have a killer network, and c) before I became an actress I had a giant 6 bedroom house and let everyone stay there all the time. I have great couch karma. And I have a really f*cking loyal network of friends.
Take Care of the Women in Your Life
The second piece of advice my father gave my son on his deathbed (Dad would appreciate the dramatic picture) was to take care of the women in your life, because they are the ones who end up taking care of you. He said it because that was his experience through his illness: that the women in his life were the ones that cared for him. I have found that to be true, so it’s good long term life advice for all of us (call your mom!).
I don’t believe that the way to make change is to shame men, or complain about the system; it is for women to hire other women, and for women to write for other women.
I also believe this is excellent advice for those of us in the creative field. Women have so much to offer in every area of our business and yet we are under-represented in front of and behind the camera, and underpaid. In my experience, my female colleagues go above and beyond to connect me with their contacts, often work for free, and always do more work than they are asked to do. Of course there are men that do this too, but until we start going out of our way for women in our industry (and paying them well for it), we will never find the male-female balance that is so needed on sets.
I have committed to this idea by writing roles for women, and always being conscious of interviewing an equal number of men and women for jobs for which I am hiring. I am taking care of all of the talented actresses I know by writing parts for them in my show, in my sketch pieces, and in my feature films. I think the change will come as more and more women write their stories and the stories of the women we know, and I look forward to seeing more women having vibrant acting careers into their 80s if they so choose, because their gorgeous, aging faces, and, more importantly, voices are in demand.