What We Can Learn From TOOTSIE
TOOTSIE is a movie about an actor, Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman), who can’t get hired so he dresses up in drag and auditions for a soap opera as a woman. The woman, Dorothy Michaels, gets hired to play the part and creates a sensation as a strong female character on daytime TV, thus potentially trapping Michael in his life masquerading as a woman.
Complications ensue (of course!) when he falls in love with his co-star (Jessica Lange) and her father (Charles Durning) falls in love with him (as her). And that’s just part of it!
This is a wonderful, well-crafted movie and I would recommend it regardless, but I also think there are some take-aways to get from it:
1) Don’t become unhireable. Michael is a great actor and he knows it. Everyone else knows it, too, for the most part. But he is so stuck on doing things his way, he gets a reputation for being difficult and stops getting jobs and then stops even getting called in to audition.
The entertainment industry is a fairly small community. Even if you are not an actor, your reputation will spread whether it is positive or negative. Make sure it’s positive.
2) Take committed professional chances. To prove a point about his abilities (not to mention make money to live on), Michael goes so far as to completely transform himself into a woman for the audition. And he is not messing around. Not just a dress and a wig, but the right foundation garments and makeup to cover the razor stubble on his face. He gets seriously offendedwhen people question Dorothy’s figure or femininity.
You can take this lesson in any number of directions. If you are making a risky student film, make sure it’s as great as you can make it. If you are given a chance at a job that’s a little above your skill level or background, do everything you can to bridge the gap, even if you are at the library every night for a week reading old copies of Variety. Don’t just wear the dress, wear the girdle, too!
3) Be ready for opportunity. Even though Michael hadn’t had an acting job in two years, he was working on his acting skills during that time. So when the opportunity to audition for the part on the soap opera came up, he was ready for it.
That’s an easy lesson. Stay sharp. You never know when you’ll have to use your skills.
4) Go big. I’m breaking the fourth wall here, but you’re all showbiz savvy so I think you can handle it. The climax of this movie is constructed to be as suspenseful and filled with consequences for Michael as it possibly can be. Everything is laid out from the beginning to lead to a pivotal dramatic scene. This is a textbook example of how to construct a movie.
You can apply this lesson easily as a screenwriter, but also as an event planner, a teacher, someone completing a presentation for school or work. You name it. Make a splash. And make it a big one.
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