$600K For A Dog? What are your talents worth?

1Front page of aol.com today:  A Chinese woman paid $600,000 for a Tibetan Mastiff dog.  She had been searching for years for just the right dog and found it.

When I saw this, it got me thinking about my actor and screenwriter clients who want to be paid for their services – presumably all of them!

So I have a question for you:  How much would someone pay for your acting or screenwriting talents?  Or anything else you do for that matter?

For the most part, the most difficult part of an acting or screenwriting career is getting paid for doing it.  It’s easy enough to act in a play, a student film, or a no-budget film, but to be HIRED to do it is a different story.

Same with writing.  You can get a video camera and shoot a few no-budget scenes, edit them with free software, and then post them on YouTube for the world to see.  Doing the thing itself is not so hard.  It’s getting paid to do it that is the hard part.

So the question is, what is it that makes someone PAY for what you do?  And a lot of money at that?

Here’s the answer:  The reason they pay you (your audience, that is) is that they perceive a particular and unique value in what you do.  Someone pays for a Madonna record because they perceive what she delivers as being unique AND they like it.

Someone pays to have you act in their film because they perceive that you will deliver something unique that’s worthy of paying for.  They also think that, in turn, others will also perceive it as being unique and worth paying for.

Said another way:  You have to be unique in some way, or more accurately, perceived to be delivering something unique that is valuable enough that the buyer will pay for it.

Let me break it down.  First, for actors:  Most actors fall in the category of what’s called a “commodity.”  A commodity is something that can be easily replaced with another similar item.

For screenwriters, it’s the same thing.  Most scripts that I’ve critiqued are actually okay, not bad.  But most of them could be classified as commodities, meaning easily replaced with a similar one.

The problem with being a commodity when it comes to marketing is that you have little leverage in getting someone to pay money for what you are selling over another commodity, unless you are a name brand (meaning a star name actor or proven screenwriter).  Think of computers:  they are now commodity products.  The main difference is the name brand.  Most people prefer to buy a name brand over a no-name brand, even when they could get more for their money with a no-namer.

There is more perceived value in the name brand commodity than the actual product itself, therefore most people stick with the name brands.  And on top of that, even the name brand companies are very competitive with each other, trying to separate themselves from the others in a sea of commodities.

As an actor or screenwriter, you are a commodity until you have a name.  It’s the chicken-egg story.  How to you get to have a name if they won’t hire you so you can build your name? Well, you have to do one thing.

I’ll put it very simply:

If you want to be paid to do your acting or screenwriting, you have to go to work on increasing your perceived value in the Hollywood market place.

It’s not about your real value or your worth as a person.  It’s not about how much money your movie would make if we could see into the future and really know.  It’s about how much the Hollywood marketplace perceives that you or your script is worth.  So you have to work on increasing the perceived value of what you provide.

How do you do that?  It’s not just one thing, there are lots of things that you can do.  Everything from being great at your craft, to being unique, to getting fans of your work, to being great to work with, and much more.  It includes all the steps in the process of branding yourself and making a career — and it’s not as elusive as you might think.  (Stay tuned for more insights on how to do this or check out Smart Girls Productions services for marketing actors and screenwriters as a starting point.)

To bring the point home, let’s go back to the $600,000 Mastiff… was that dog really worth that much money?  Who knows?  How do you even tell?  It’s a made up number.  The bottomline is that the buyer thought that he was worth it and she paid it.

What is the perceived value of your talent in the market place?  How will you increase it?