A Financial-STYLE Model for Creative Time

Kevin Page on set with Jerry Seinfeld and Jason Alexander

In my professional life, I have worn a number of hats.  I am what you call a serial creative. I have mostly been engaged in traditional “artistic” fields (like acting, writing and painting), but have also spent time in areas considered more “traditional” (like stockbroking and investment banking).

Regardless of the field, I’ve always managed to leave my own mark on whatever I was doing, an indication of serial creativity in action, I suppose.

One of my jobs over the years was to prepare and deliver financial plans to individual investors who wanted to both protect and grow their retirement savings.  To do this, I would usually propose a portfolio that was diversified across several asset classes (stocks, bonds, commodities, real estate, etc.).  The reason for this, at least theoretically, is to control risk.  If you have your money spread out in a lot of different places, you not only have a lot of ways to make money, you also have a lot of ways to avoid losing money when markets become volatile (as they always eventually do).

So, several years ago I charted out my multifarious career paths on a piece of paper.  I noticed that, in many ways, it looked like one of these investment portfolios that I used to recommend.  Some of my pursuits have been successful, but there have also been long stretches of time filled with work that ultimately led to a dead end.  For instance, actors can audition for months and not get a paying job.

The fact that I have had a mix of activities over the years has really helped to even out the financial volatility that is perhaps more common in arts careers than in most other fields.  And so, I had a very simple idea: If you are an artist (of any type) or aspire to be one, why not plan your path to success in the same general way that you would purposefully build a retirement portfolio?

Plan to diversify your assets (time/creativity) across multiple investments (what you want to do with your talent): acting, writing, art, etc., and spread it across different kinds of investments. (An actor, for instance, may audition for films and TV but also do commercials or voice overs, possibly print modeling, theater, and such.)  See my article: “Diversifying Your Artistic Portfolio” for a more complete discussion of this idea.

Here’s an example from IMDB.COM. It’s what I like to call: “Stock Charts for Acting Careers.”

IMDB.com is the main professional database for the entertainment industry.  If you go to www.imdb.com, you can search for any actor, writer, director (or member of any other craft in TV or film) and find their professional credits. This is useful for entertainment industry professionals as they can instantly look up someone’s resume (particularly helpful for casting directors).  It is also the place where viewers can look up what movies and TV shows their favorite actors have been in.

StarMeter chart of Kevin Page

One of the cool services IMDB.com provides is what is called the STARmeter.  (This particular tool received some criticism earlier in 2014, but for the example I am using here, it should be just fine.)  The STARmeter aggregates all of the searches on IMDB.com that people are doing on a weekly basis all around the world (this is in the millions), plus a handful of other factors, and ranks every actor that has ever been on television or in the movies on a relative basis, from the most famous (Ranking #1) to those bit players who might have appeared once and are now wholly forgotten (a ranking of #500,000 or below).

If you chart STARmeter’s weekly listings over time, you come up with something that looks a lot like a stock chart.  And by looking at this “stock chart of the actor,” you can very clearly see the ups and downs inherent in every actor’s career, as well as their relative popularity to every other actor who is currently listed.  The Number One slot is often held by names like Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio.

My chart vacillates wildly between about 5,000 (when I am on a currently airing TV series) and 50,000 (when I have not worked in a while).  You could say I am like a volatile small-cap stock, whereas Brad and Leonardo are blue chips!

If you have done work in the film or television arena, you should look yourself up on IMDB.com and see how you rank. It is an interesting study in how well you are doing professionally (at least based on public popularity).

While an exercise like this doesn’t really help predict where your artistic career will go in the future (any more than a stock chart can really predict future profits), it does serve to illustrate the value of artistic work over time, or at least the impact of the artist’s efforts upon the culture.  The spikes on my STARmeter chart, for instance, represent the culmination of years of investing my creative time to improve myself as an actor so that I was ready for the challenge of a weekly TV series when it came.

It is unfortunate that there is not a reliable empirical instrument in other fields that could help measure the impact of one’s artistic efforts in graphic ways.  In a certain sense, social media can fill a similar function.  But again, a social network that is robust enough to provide useable feedback and connection with an audience broad enough to impact the trajectory of your career is almost always the result of years of investment on the part of the artist.

Here is the definition of Time Value of Money from http://www.investopedia.com/terms/t/timevalueofmoney.asp:

“The idea that money available at the present time is worth more than the same amount in the future due to its potential earning capacity. This core principle of finance holds that, provided money can earn interest, any amount of money is worth more the sooner it is received.”

A fundamental principal of sound investing is the time value of money (“TMV”). From the perspective of planning your creative life, it means whatever you do with your time should have the potential to pay some kind of return that is greater than if you had used that time for some other activity in the present.

One of the things that the STARmeter charts I just discussed illustrates in a graphic way is the time-frame involved in a long and committed professional career in the arts.  Look at the spikes and valleys of almost any actor’s STARmeter chart and you will see volatility (radical movements up and down). So, if you are planning to go into the arts as a profession, or you are thinking about your next career move or rebirth, consider the value of time in your decision-making process.  First, how much time are you willing to invest in any particular artistic endeavor?  And second, how long are you willing to wait to accomplish your goals?  In the end, how you invest your creative time and for how long you invest it will directly affect your return in terms of satisfaction from your artistic life.


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