I’m writing this week’s column from Toronto (I wrote last week’s from Chicago; aren’t I quite the jet-setter these days!) and I’m realizing there’s been a major theme to my speaking engagements on this Self-Management for Actors tour: There are two filters through which to run all major decisions, no matter what tier of your career at which you find yourself.

  1. Is it true to my brand?
  2. If money were no object, would I still say yes to this?

Let’s try that at a few different tiers, to test it out.

Beginner

Well, you may not have a brand yet, but it’s important to start developing one. And one of the surest ways to head in the right direction for the brand you hope to put out into the world is to make brand-based decisions from the very beginning. You know where you want to end up. You can see the goal that’s many tiers above. You have an idea of how you’d like the world to see you, once you’ve found some success. But it’s looking at the steps to the very first tier jump, then the next one, then the one after that, that will help the most right now.

And at each level, there’s an opportunity to work that’s on-brand and work that adds to brand confusion. It makes the buyers less sure of what they’re going to get when you walk into the room, because it’s so far off the mark from what you showed them you could do last time. And the time before that. Or if you’re just starting out — like, really just starting out — there is no “time before that,” and that’s why it’s so dang important to have the mission statement, the logline handy to use as a measuring stick, if nothing else.

Now the bigger issue, perhaps, when you’re starting out, is that there are so many opportunities to work for free, many of which you’ll need to accept, simply because you’re building your credits, you’re getting footage for your reel, and you’re investing in relationships by saying yes to freebie gigs. However, if you never never never want to be associated with violent indie films because you see yourself as the new face of Disney down the line (see number one, about the brand thing), number two becomes really important.

Because at this point, you already know the answer is NO when tested on item number one. And when it’s a decision you’re making all about the money (number two), you run the risk of making some brand-compromising decisions, and you know you wouldn’t do that if money were no object, right? Because certainly, you don’t need footage showing you doing something that is not at all right for your brand, not something that is in service of your ultimate goal in the industry. Therefore, you’re considering saying yes for the money. Money is a very risky motivator for major decisions. Hence filter number two.

Working Actor

Ah… here’s where it can get really complicated, because you’re already working and you are having fun living the dream. You’re getting paid work as an actor, regularly enough, and that feels good on a lot of levels. Obviously, your brand is serving you, because you’re getting rewarded for the consistency you offer. You’re getting repeat business because people know what to expect of you and you’re good at what you do. You’ve been on-brand enough that the buyers get you and know how to cast you. Yay!

Then an offer comes in for you to do something that’s not on-brand. Do you say yes? That depends! (Don’t you love that answer?) When you run the project through the brand filter, and it’s maybe not a bulls-eye for your brand but it’s somewhere on the dartboard, it may be worth doing just because it gives you a chance to show the buyers in another area of the market what else you can do. This is when folks who are known for doing one type of role successfully on a television series branch out and do that low-budget indie that makes everyone say, “Wow! That’s impressive!”

It’s also when choices that look like they have the potential for being impressive land flat, and cost an actor on the rise valuable fan loyalty. And more importantly, perhaps, buyer confidence. Because if you were just moments away from being offered a jump from recurring character on a beloved sitcom to second lead in a studio feature film on the brand you’re known for doing well — and then you went and got all gritty indie in a way that caused more conservative producers to get a little nervous — that critically-acclaimed role may have created brand erosion rather than adding to what folks already knew of your brand, overall.

So, this is when that overarching mission statement for yourself as a creative in this industry becomes so very important. Because, while it may cost you an immediate opportunity in your well-known brand to do that risky role, it could — bigger picture — give you the decades-long career growth you’re hoping for. You’re planting seeds, with choices at this stage in your career. And the immediate brand must be in service of the overall career brand, to be most effective as a tool for your decision-making.

The money is no object thing becomes more important at this tier, too, because you may actually be getting offered premium overscale opportunities that turn your head, and they can make decisions seem more complicated, just at a time when you thought (or hoped) that money would simplify things. Just like knowing your NO line is essential at this stage, knowing your YES line is too. And if money motivates that yes sometimes (totally fine), be sure you know at which dollar amount potential brand erosion is bought and paid for, as opposed to where money just rents a little overall brand real estate.

The A-List Actor

You’d think that there’d be no worries at this stage. Everything you’ve done in service of your brand and all the choices that have felt right enough (or wrong enough, but got all worked out somehow) to get you to this point should make it so that every choice makes perfect sense.

Well, yes and no. Certainly, before you’re at that level, watching actors who are at that level making their decisions, movie to movie, show to show, makes sense. You hear about name actors turning down a project or walking away when the money isn’t right (The money sure looks right to you, right?) and think, “Wow. What was he thinking? I’d do it!”

That’s because some of the opportunities are no-brainers. They’re on-brand. The money is good (and money is no object, at this point). Check. Check. Both filters, passed. And some of the opportunities are a little murkier. There are probably handlers involved, advising each choice. They are all on board (hopefully) with the overall brand mission and are helping advise in decisions that lead toward the career-long best interest of the actor, rather than looking for the quick money or the schmackty role that may create some fan push-back. And sometimes that means walking away from a second season or a sequel or a deal that otherwise looks like an easy yes.

Sometimes it means deals that looked good on paper yield a career misstep that requires years of spin control and investment in rebuilding a fanbase. We’ve all seen this happen. My bet is, it happens when the two filters are ignored.

Does filtering your choices take all the fun out of the pursuit? Remove the mystery from the journey? Pull the artist away from the art and diminish the love of it all? No. Not even a little bit.

Just like having a religion or a moral code makes some folks’ decisions easier, because they have a set of rules or guiding principles with which to check in, running career decisions — especially ones that seem challenging, that look really sparkly and shiny and exciting and profitable at a time when you’re hungry for work or money or both — through two filters can be the easiest way to stay on target for your overall career goals, rather than constantly correcting an oversteer in one direction, then the other.

Comments are now open, folks. What are your filters telling you? Do they make it easier for you to know when to say yes and when to walk away? Simplifying is a beautiful thing, isn’t it? 😉


Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!


Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001407.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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