The Drake Equation for Artistic Success in Hollywood:
A Comparative Analysis
By Stacey Hegarty
A Comparative Analysis
By Stacey Hegarty
In 1960, the astronomer and astrophysicist Frank Drake devised a formula to estimate the number of alien civilizations in outer space with which we might be able to communicate. His worked paved the way for the field of SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence). Forty-nine years later, I will now attempt to translate his equation to describe the probability of artistic success in Hollywood (in the hopes of calculating the likelihood of my own big break).
Drake’s Equation is N = R* x fp x ne x fe x fi x fc x L. My formula follows the same structure, but the variables will be adjusted.
In Drake’s, N is equal to the number of civilizations with which we might communicate. In my equation, N is equal to the number of famous or successful artists in Hollywood who communicate with the world through various media outlets.
Drake claims that R* is the rate of star formation. My R* is similar to Drake’s, but I change “star formation” to the number of people in Tinseltown with real talent. I was tempted to leave R* as is, but decided that I needed to be more specific. There are many “stars” in Hollywood, but few of them have real talent beyond blind luck, killer abs, potato heads, famous parents or enviable beauty – and even fewer of these are true artists. An artist would be someone like Sean Penn or Lyle Lovett. A star would be Pamela Anderson or Ryan Seacrest.
Interestingly enough, the percentage of one’s stardom can often be calculated by the number of times the star has appeared on the cover of US Weekly or STAR Magazine multiplied by the number of times the star has spoken directly to reporters from TMZ (not just poured Fiji water on them). But I digress – this is a secondary calculation largely unrelated to the one I present to you today.
Drake’s fp is the number of stars that have planets, for me it is the fraction of those talented people who are more than just talk. The kind of people who can actually show you the script they have been writing for seven years, not just talk about it in a theoretical sense.
My ne is the average number of those people who actually do their art, while Drake’s is the number of stars and planets that can support life. The people who actually plan time in their week to write their script and do just that, not those who just stare at a blank page trying to write or give up entirely and watch TV instead.
The Hollywood fe is the fraction of the above that actually finish their art and go on to promote it. Drake’s fe is the number of planets that develop life. It’s one thing to finish the script, and talk about it – it’s another thing entirely to send it out into the black hole of Hollywood production companies, to linger undiscovered on an assistant’s desk until a screenplay similar to yours is green-lit (i.e. the simultaneous pairings of Mall Cop, Asteroid, Talking Bug, and Truman Capote pictures).
Drake’s fi is the development of intelligent life. And my fi is the fraction of the artists who create art that is objectively original, good or promising. We’ve all been there: slogging through a one act play, acoustic performance or improvisational comedy show by our actor/writer/musician friend who valiantly clings to the dream long past its expiration date. And we’ve also been there when a friend has nailed her art in a unique, definitive, culturally resonant way that makes us want to support her until the universe folds in on itself and we all implode into dark matter waiting to be big-banged once again.
Drake says that fc is the extraterrestrial life that we will be able to detect from earth. In Hollywood, fc becomes the fraction of these artists who know an established Hollywood operator who can show them how to get access to the phenomenon of “the right place at the right time” – therefore far increasing the likelihood that the rest of the earthly population will become familiar with the artist. In other words, people who don’t just perform their art for audiences of friends.
And L is the length of time an intelligent civilization can exist without destroying itself through weapons of mass destruction or other nuclear and atomic means. My L is almost identical to Drake’s. It stands for the length of time an artist can sustain herself via waiting tables, cleaning swimming pools, delivering for Yummy.com, or through benefactors, trust funds or sugar daddies until she is “discovered” – all the while maintaining a solid creative output without falling victim to apathy, self-doubt, exhaustion, anonymity, sex, drugs, the scene, or mainstream happiness like marriage and babies.
In closing, I would like to add that anyone who has been delighted by this piece can feel free to e-mail me directly because I don’t have an agent or manager and am approaching the event horizon of my own personal artistic expiration date. Thank you.