Move the Needle

Anytime you get the opportunity to study the career of an actor with 82 credits to his name (not including recurring roles or characters played over multiple seasons of course), you should pay close attention.

One of the keys to success is to stand on the shoulders of giants and the way to do that is to model what made them successful. We live in the information age…

Stick with me, this is not a tangent. The time we’re living in is a double edged sword.

If you Google “how to become an actor” you will get over 96 Million results. We don’t need more information...we need actionable information. That’s what’s lacking. It’s so easy to go from one blog to the next and pick up tip after tip that gets logged into a mental list of to-dos, most of which never get done.

It’s easy to mistake activity like this for progress. When it comes down to it, the only thing that measures progress is results, and you only get results from the things you do that move the needle: auditioning and being booked.

Having been in the industry for a very long time, I can tell you one of the key differences between actors who never fulfill their dreams and actors who work consistently and build a career they love.

The former always have a lot of “activity” going on and they’re always winging it. As for the latter, they’re engaged in focused activity that moves the needle and produces results. They understand that reshooting your headshot a dozen times or filming glorified B-roll to add to your reel doesn’t make an ounce of difference, if you never get it into someone’s hands.

Also, the successful ones are obsessed with studying patterns of success. Here’s why…

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result, right?

So if you model what successful actors have done and repeat that over and over again, should you expect a different result than what they achieved?

I can you hear you screaming through the interwebs “It’s not that simple!” Agreed. There are a few factors that will affect this, but the bottom line is that this gives you the best shot at achieving your desired result.

It’s the difference between baking a cake blindfolded using whatever you happen to lay your hands on and hoping that it turns out OK, and baking a cake following a proven recipe and using the exact ingredients in the correct quantities.

Follow me?

This is why I bring you case studies like today’s. Let them be your recipe. If you want to be an actor and not an “actor” then you have to stop winging it. Your dreams are too important to leave it to chance.

The actors that we’ll study today couldn’t be much more different and that’s precisely why I selected them. William Fichtner should be instantly recognizable to everyone reading this. His career spans decades, featuring 82 credits and a cast of co-stars that reads like the who’s who of The Hollywood Walk of Fame.

It’s important that you study those that you can learn from, not just someone you like. If you’re a fan and can learn from them, then it’s a huge bonus! William Fichtner rose to fame with films like Armageddon, The Perfect Storm, Blades of Glory, Black Hawk Down, Crash, and many more.

When you begin to model someone, you have start by reverse engineering what led them to the peak. You have to study “the climb.” If you dissect William Fichtner’s career, you will instantly recognize one of the core tenets of our tribe’s philosophy at work.

He created a category of one. He specialized in playing a character, mastered it, became known for it and rode that wave straight to the career he desired. He varied it some but didn’t get side tracked with passion projects until the time was right.

This is about as textbook as you can get. Depending on who you ask, William Fichtner is either washed up and long past being relevant, or he’s just getting started. 2017-2018 is actually slated to be one of his busiest times ever.

He’s making a directorial debut, leaping into producing, and he’s even co-hosting Top Gear America (a franchise of one of the biggest TV shows on the planet). That move raised a few eyebrows as if it was a sign of desperation but it was quite the opposite. It was calculated and perfectly timed.

See, he’s a car guy. His fan base knows this and taking on the role of host in a show all about cars will only draw him closer to his fan base. This is exactly what I mean by “building a career you love.”

Had he made a similar move, directly after Armageddon, his career would have likely derailed. The timing is key. You have to be firmly rooted in your category of one before you begin to deviate too far from it.

Such was the case with Will #2, Wilmer Valderrama. You know him as Fez from “That 70’s Show” or as that guy dated Lindsay Lohan and Demi Lovato.

Not only do you have to study what to do, you also have to study what not to do. This way you sidestep the pitfalls and avoid the mistakes these actors made.

So, Will #2 was undoubtedly at the peak of his star power during his time on That 70’s Show. He’s not exactly a cautionary tale, as he is poised to make a comeback having fixed his career strategy.

Some of our tribe members are people you would recognize if you were to cross paths. Like Wilmer, they’ve been there. They lost their footing and are wondering what happened.

After wrapping That 70’s Show, Wilmer was lost. His character on the show was beyond goofy and you can’t blame him for wanting to create a separation and avoid building a career as the punchline.

See, there’s a delicate balance between building and sustaining a category of one and being typecast. At the time, Wilmer was one of only a handful of Latino actors that were seen as being capable of carrying a film and building a franchise around.

Rather than exploiting that, he ran from it. Unlike William Fichtner's move, this one was not well timed. He wasn’t firmly rooted in his category to began departing it so he got lost in the crowd and became just another struggling actor. This is further evidenced by the time he spent on other projects.

Until recently he was credited as Wilmer Valderrama actor, singer, music producer, screen producer, writer, director and television personality. This is akin to an accountant that will also shine your shoes, and take a look under the hood of your car.

You can’t be great at any one thing, if you’re trying to tackle everything. The moves into other areas must be well timed. He is finally back in the mainstream after a long hiatus (long in Hollywood years). The market has moved away from the category he should have created for himself, but it’s never too late to carve out a niche.

His full slate for the coming year hasn’t yet been released, likely because there isn’t much of one. That’s OK though, bouncing back can take time and I’ll be following his next moves closely. His next project is a voice over character in a family oriented animated film.

Not only this a departure from his previous work, but it’s also telling. See, his fan base today was largely inherited from his relationship with Demi Lovato. The windfall of social media capital that he gained from that was the ace up his sleeve.

With over 700,000 twitter followers, and a rapidly growing following of over 1.2 Million on Instagram, he leveraged this social capital to find a project where he would be able to “move the needle.” For this project, he comes with a potentially lucrative revenue stream attached.

See, sometimes you have to evolve to meet the market. This is primarily why I chose to chronicle Will #2. He’s meeting the market where it’s at rather than trying to revert it back to where it was.

My question to you is: are you meeting the market where it’s at? Do you have an ace up your sleeve: a social media following to leverage when you need it?

Do you have a strategy for building a career you love or are you winging it? Have you defined what your category of one will be?

Here’s how to solve 2 of those problems forever.

So, what was your biggest takeaway from this release? Let me know in the comments below. Stay focused on your success and stay tuned for more to come.

See you at the top,