The ETERNAL Question

When ANY filmmaker begins their journey, one of the big questions on their mind is formulated and looks something like this:

If I am going to use a big-named star in my movie, which one should I use that will be worth the money?

Here is the situation in that age-old question: If you select the wrong person, you’ll not only spend gobs of money having them in the movie, but you’ll find that your career is very short-lived. Because creating a movie with them in it will:

  • Drain your budget finances
  • Not bring the level of the movie up
  • Kill your chances for distribution
  • Make it difficult to ever find work in your field

You know — or at least you should know, since I’ve been bitching about it for a while — that a movie is not divided up into its parts, but taken as a whole. Your story, acting, lighting, cinematography, artwork, promotional materials, etc., are all scrutinized by everyone seeing your movie. That means, if just one thing is out of place or dysfunctional, your movie dies in a ball of horrifying flames slamming into the ground, along with your hopes and dreams. And backers/investors… HUH! Forget about that!

So, let me break the question down even more for you to understand what I mean. You’ve written (or secured) a script for a great movie that you believe has a great shot of being made into something huge. You start putting all of your pieces together and realize that you have two options: Get yourself one (or more) A-list (or B-list) actors to be in it, or go completely non-union and work with all new players of your choosing. Simply put, you can attempt to go for

This guy — Nathan Fillion — as your leading man. (JUST AN EXAMPLE! Although I WILL work with him some day, oh yes…) Or you can hold a casting call looking for someone who is not SAG-AFTRA affiliated (ie. non-union) and hopefully pick the right person for the role. But the question goes much deeper than that.

Let’s use Nathan as an example. Let’s say you call up his agent, exchange information, get a way to send a script out to him, he reads it/likes it, and wants in. The agent phones back and tells you he’s in, providing all of the specific conditions, but at a day rate of $50,000. You’re going to need him for three days, which means you’ll need to outlay $150,000 for three days wages, not including the stipends, travel, accommodations, etc. Is this actor really worth that much to you and your production? Will his presence, and subsequent addition to this movie add enough VALUE to the movie to make:

  • Investors/backers leap at a chance to fund you
  • Distributors sit up and take notice and want to buy your film for release
  • Hollywood notice that you’re who you are and doing what you’re doing

The answer is unknown… Mostly. If you’re doing a sci-fi action flick and want to have him as your star, you’d better believe you’re probably making a good decision. But what if he’s to be a villian in a thriller/drama? Would he sell? Would your movie sell?

Now you might start to see what I mean by “the eternal question”. There is no correct answer. For instance, you might hire Nathan and discover that he’s perfect, the movie’s perfect, and everything goes according to plan. Or, you might struggle and make a flopper. And although it’s really cool that you got to work with Nathan-friggin’-Fillion, you’ve done tons of damage to your potential career. Yeah, you’re on the map… But are you now a laughing stock?

Folks, there is no right answer to this question. The only viable response is that it is ALL a risk. “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t”, as my Mom used to always say. And that is what divides the one side of filmmakers from the other. Those you read about in Variety or the Hollywood Reporter took the risks. Which person are you?