Actors as Investments

December 5, 2013

Actor Jeffrey Wright

Actor Jeffrey Wright

“At the most base level, what an actor represents to the film industry is an investment. Depending on the risk profile, an investor needs one-thousand reasons to commit, and one reason not to…. That can be frustrating, but you just have to be aware.”Jeffrey Wright 

Do you ever wonder why big-time movie producers don’t invest in you to star in their next big film? After all, don’t audiences want a mix of high-profile actors and fresh faces on the big screen? As beloved as Tom Hanks, Jennifer Anniston, Brad Pitt, and Leonardo DiCaprio are, don’t we get a bit weary of seeing the same old stars over and over again? And isn’t it just right to give new actors a shot at the big time? Think of Coppola’s The Outsiders in 1983. Coppola’s decision to take chances and include new talent such as Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Emilio Estevez, and Ralph Macchio proved to be downright visionary! And all of these actors went on to have major careers in the industry (kudos to prescient casting director, Janet Hirshenson). Now, Coppola is Coppola, and he’s made his own rules throughout his storied career, but it’s not normally the case that a relatively unknown actor will get a significant shot at a big-budget picture. The idea of being seen in a coffee shop one day, and the next week starring in a major release is an anachronistic notion that probably never had much validity to begin with. The plain truth is if a financier is laying down millions of dollars on a film, he or she’s going to want some insurance. That’s where the word “business” enters the picture. One Hollywood high roller put it this way, “I’m looking to make a profit; so you need to bring me a big name that assures I’m going to pull in an audience.” Indeed, screenwriters now complain that upon delivering a script, the first question they’re asked is, “Who do you have attached?”

So what does this mean to you, young Thespian, as you fret over gas money getting from audition to audition? It means that that gas money is a good investment because, more often than not, actors work their way up from no-budget projects, to micro-budget projects, to low-budget projects, and then on into the Holy Grail of big-budget extravaganzas! This is not to say that you can’t take a quantum leap into the big time at some magical moment in your career; hey, anything’s possible. But more likely you will work your way up the ranks like so many before you. A producer with a list of IMDb credits as long as the U.S. Constitution gives this advice to young actors, “Try and get a supporting role in an independent film, then work your way up to a leading role in an indie; after you’ve accomplished that, then repeat the process with studio films.” This may seem like an oversimplification, but it’s very direct advice from someone who’s produced a lot of films.

Keep working your way up–you’ll get there before too long!