Bill Fichtner- Longevity In The Film & TV Industry
Actor, writer, producer and director, Bill Fichtner has had a long successful career in film and television and joins us to share his insight and perspective on the changing industry. He is currently seen on CBS in the popular sitcom Mom and his film Cold Brook can be seen on Showtime.
What’s the secret to longevity in the movie business? We’ll talk about it on this episode of the mind dog TV podcast.
Welcome my friends to another episode of the mind dog TV podcast. I’m Matt nappo. Thanks for coming. It’s great to have you here, special daytime taping of the podcast today to accommodate my guests who is out on the west coast. My guest today is an accomplished film actor for more than 30 years. He’s a writer, director and producer, and has some great insight and perspective to share with our film filmmakers and creative community in general that a part of the mind dog TV audience and part of my kind of extended family here. So without further ado, please help me welcome a man. Please open your ears, open your minds, and help me welcome in Bill fichtner. To the mind dog TV podcast, Bill fichtner. Welcome to the mind on TV podcast. Thanks for coming. Glad to have you here.
Bill Fichtner 1:17
My pleasure, man. Nice to have some sort of presence on Long Island.
So pardon my ignorance, but I haven’t had a television in my house for 10 years. And that’s on purpose. I kind of got tired of all the noise that cable TV news produced and just was sick of it. So I I took it out of my house. So I’m not very familiar with anything that’s happened in television in the last 10 years. And I’m kind of culturally on hip in in that regard. I understand that you’re on a current production on television that is produced by Chuck Lorre.
Bill Fichtner 2:05
Yeah, it’s a show called mom. And well, we got we got 20 of the 22 episodes in this year before they they sent everybody an email in early March and said, if you want anything in your dressing room, get it now. Because we’re shutting down. This is season seven, I think you know, you know Long Story Short. during season three. Chuck Lorre had reached out to me and had a conversation with me about playing a role on there. Just a guest spot like three or four episodes. Small Ark and, and a you know, I listen, I don’t get a lot of calls in my life for multi cam sitcoms. I the only other one that I’ve ever actually had in my life was like 28, nine years ago with another Chuck Lorre show called grace under fire. Remember that one? Yeah. In the first season, I played this Petro chemist named Ryan sparks and and Chuck hired me for that way back then. I don’t know what check, see something that no one else in this business does. But I’m glad that he does. So he called me and he said, Listen, if you come on, well, you got to give me three or four episodes because I want to do this arc with the character. His name is Adam Jana koski. And so, so I went and I did the three or four episodes. And then on the last show that I always do, you know, wave to the audience, and you do a little hug as you’re walking, you know, with the writers and the producers and everything. And he said to me when you say goodbye, listen, I’m not done with this. And I was like, Well call me. So a couple of months later, the writers called and Chuck and everybody to run the show and said, you know, would you be interested in coming back? full time and then so I went back full time season 456 and now we’re just finish, you know, or a little bit short of season seven. And there’s another season eight to go whenever that spills out, you know? So yeah, that’s my that’s my whole mom thing. Well,
Chuck is obviously a success in just about everything he touches these days. So but seven years in television, seven, seven long seasons is is the mark of a very successful television show.
Yeah, for sure. You know, mom is one of those shows where I mean, listen, I I know everybody says this about the show that they work on. But I can say this and it’s absolutely true. You don’t get better writers than in Chuck’s group but just about everything that he does, especially with mom, these these people are so under unbelievable. It’s exchange it all week long as we work on a building up to the Friday night to the live show. And by the time Friday night comes along, it’s tight and it’s really good and you know, for me Personally, the one thing that I do want to say about mom is that I’ve done two series in my life. And each one was when each one of my sons was in high school. And, you know, doing a series is the closest thing to any sort of like, you know, regular regularity or regular job to ever have in showbiz. Right? Yeah. And I’ve been so grateful especially, I mean, I did the show called Prison Break when my older boy was in high school, and but now living in California at that time, well, now at that time, I just moved out here to but I, you know, now with my younger son, who’s a pretty big sports boy football, baseball and, and, you know, Warner Brothers is like, 15 minutes from his school. And I have to tell you, I finished work, and I don’t miss many games, and I love it. And I’m so grateful to have that show. Not only creatively, but you know, just to logistically have, you know, my life and family and everything that it’s been a bit of a godsend, and I’ve been really grateful and so happy for it.
Well, I just wanted to touch on mom, because, you know, I know, it’s something you’re doing now. But one thing that intrigued me, looking up the show is that you seem to be the only male kept on the show.
Bill Fichtner 6:17
Oh, no, I meant. There’s a guest spotter, too. But, you know, sometimes this is God’s honest truth, man I’ve had, I’ve had each of the ladies on the show. And they’re an incredible group of six women. And at some point or another, I think every one of them has said to me, and some of them multiple times. I don’t know how you deal with all these women. But and I look at them. And I say this is this is I grew up. My parents divorced when I was young. And that was in the mid 60s. So I grew up with my mother and four sisters. And and I look at everybody a mom, they’re like, how are you doing? I’m like, Ah, it’s just like I use you know, when you grow up, and you’re around, you know, like, really dynamic women. You get it? I get it. Yeah, no, smooth as silk.
So I’m glad you mentioned your upbringing, because I want to use you to kind of give some insight to my audience who was largely in the creative arts and a great deal of them are filmmakers and actors, directors and, and upcoming, and they think your insight and perspective would be incredibly valuable to these people. So when did you always want to be an actor? Was that always your ambition in life?
Bill Fichtner 7:41
I have to tell you, it is God’s honest truth. I don’t ever remember in high school, even going to any, like high school production or play. I mean, I’m sure they had them. And I know that because I’ve seen them in the yearbook. But you know, I mean, the group that I hung out with, we were right out the back door and probably right over to the hockey rink. But growing up outside of Buffalo and check the log in New York. No, not even slightly. Matt. I, you know, All I knew is I had a I had a counselor in high school that said to me, Mr. Ryan, and he said to me, you know, William, if you do a little bit better, you know, you could you could go to college, and that was kind of like, you know, wow, wow, it really would that be a possibility? So, and then my dad suggested, you know, there’s a school on Long Island, SUNY Farmingdale, and criminal justice might be an interesting degree. And it’s not like I was really thinking about it that much in high school, but I thought, wow, I love the island. I’ve got relatives from one end of the island to the other. And, you know, I could, I could see my aunt Charlene all the time over these days. So I thought, wow, I gotta, I gotta go. I gotta go check out Farmingdale. And I did. And I applied, and I got it. And so I went to farming as a criminal justice major. And then farming at the time was a two year school Ag and tech school. So then I had to transfer and I transferred to SUNY Brockport outside of Rochester, still not, you know, as a criminal justice major. But long story short, when I when I got to Brockport, I was there about a week and I got a call from an admissions counselor. And they said to me, Listen, you’re short, one fine arts course that you need for your core. And I said, Oh, okay, so what’s that? And they were like, Oh, you know, like an intro to theater class. And then I’m like, Well, what else you got? And they said, Well, we have an improv class. You can take that and I was like, what’s improv? Well, and they gave me a course description. I’m like, Oh, well, it’s more of an intimate class. Sure. I’ll, I’ll do the improv class. Now, that, you know, give credit where credit is due. There was an admissions counselor at Farmingdale, a gentleman named Don Harvey, and I met him and that’s one of the reasons why I really wanted to go to Farmingdale too because he was such a cool guy and supportive. You know, he took me one time to see a Broadway show. I was, you know, he was like a mentor. I was really close to him when I was out of Farmingdale. And, and so that was really mind blowing to see like, you know, the first time I ever really saw play was like, you know, Broadway show, which was incredible. But then when I transferred up the breadboard, so I took this improv class. And I had a teacher and Aaron, her name was Sally Rubin. And she said to me, after about a month or six weeks into the semester, she asked me to step up to class one day, and she said, Listen, I don’t say this a lot. I don’t know if I’ve ever said this. But I really, I think, I think you should do this. I think you should do this in your life. You understand a moment you understand what it is to like, Listen, these are like things that make an actor and I have to tell you that as that would be like saying to me, you know, once you go build a spaceship in your backyard, I mean, out of the blue, and I’m like, I get always a compliment. But it’s not like I’m thinking about, you know, I really want to go down this road and be an actor. But I loved this improv class so much. And then for the next two years at Brockport, I took selected, like, you know, things that I could take, you know, as a non theater major, and then I graduated, and, you know, it was, it was decision time, like, what are you going to do in your life, you know, I, I applied, I was taking a federal police exam in Buffalo. I remember being in the middle of the exam thinking, I don’t think I’m going to do this. And I, I researched and I and I did an audition for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, a regional audition in Syracuse, where I did it somebody’s office and, and I got in, and I just shifted my life on a dime and got on a bus in Buffalo and got off at Port Authority, and stayed with my aunt Tootsie and a story and, and started waiting tables Matt, and going to school. Wow. So how it really how it really kind of began,
I asked this question of Eric Roberts. Last weekend, I was kind of surprised that his answer. And I basically I, I posed it as is. A lot of people see what you do. And maybe it’s not hard work. But they also tend to think, well, it’s just a matter of luck, and and not really so much hard work. And Eric, you basically blew me away with this answer. what degree do you think luck plays in in your career?
Bill Fichtner 12:40
I think you create your own luck, I don’t think I don’t think there’s a lot of luck. That’s what
I the answer. I I don’t think there’s a lot of luck. Listen, you know, what, what, what I always do say to people over time, I do believe this. You’re in it long enough, you put your 10,000 hours in my first agent in New York, you know, little tiny desk in the old equity building in Times Square with an ashtray that was about six inches high. And he said, Put your 10 years and Bill. You know, it might happen before it might happen after but you put your 10 years. And what I do think is that if you hang in, everybody’s going to get a shot. Are you ready when you get it? Right, right. Everybody’s going to get a shot. Now, that being said, you know, you know, there’s a lot of avenues to go in the entertainment business, a lot of people begin as an actor, and it may not be, that might not be your thing. In the end. I remember getting when I got into my first after the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, I, which is the time when you went there was a second year and you were invited back for that. And I got invited back to the second year. Not all kids work. I chose not to go for a lot of reasons. But what I wanted was I wanted a good scene study class. They call them studios. I mean, there’s like the Michael Howard studio, there was the William Esper studio, the different acting playwrights horizons, these are a lot of things I remember back then I’m sure they’re different now. But back then I wanted to get into one of these like Acting Studios. And so I got into one of those. And I remember the first one that I was in a teacher named Peter Thompson. And there were 20 kids in that class. And they were really talented. And I wish I thought like everybody knew more than me, because I didn’t do it in high school. I didn’t really do it in college, I never really did a play a whole play outside of a scene or something. And I could tell you out of those 20 Kids after a few months, they were all good. But I could point out the five of them that were that were really in it. And and I think you know what I mean by that like, really in it. That’s the We’re gonna do, we’re gonna, and I, and I kind of felt at that time, that that was one of them. And, and I thought everybody in the class was really amazing. But there was a difference. And I think that there’s a tenacity and and never give up. But also, you know, acting is one of those things too, that I think you can teach somebody how to you know how to get better. But I don’t know, if you can teach somebody how to act, I think there’s an innate thing about, you know, being in a moment. Wow, listening, I really do I, I’m not sure if you can teach that one thing. I don’t know,
I tend to agree with you. On on this point. And I mentioned this about a young actor who I had on the podcast recently. And what it is, is authenticity and a believability about them. And a natural idea, I know this guy, I can relate to this guy, no matter what role they’re in. And I don’t think everybody can do that, especially on camera. So you know, stages is kind of different. But I think with you, and I’m not blowing smoke, everything I’ve seen you when it feels like you’re a real person, it doesn’t feel like you’re acting. And I you know, I’m not sure if that’s training or natural ability, but you’re very, you’re very real to people. And authentic is the word I like to use. And I don’t think you can teach authenticity.
Bill Fichtner 16:28
Well, thank you. I think that, you know, there’s also something to be said about this to about what I said a minute ago about, you know, I don’t think you can teach somebody, you know, a lot of people have the innate ability to do certain things, whether it’s an inner calling, whatever. But, you know, I can tell you this much from the field of being wanting to be an actor and wanting to be a working actor. There’s a lot of stuff that comes with that. And there’s a lot of worry, there’s a lot of, you know, fear. Am I good enough, you know, you know, there’s nervousness when you’re younger than that. I remember walking into auditions and walking out one time and just saying, I, I can’t, I can never do that again. I mean, I was just so nervous, like, I can’t, I can’t do something that makes me sick. But so there’s that element to it. People have to fight through that and get through the other side of that, right. You know, I think you know what I mean. But then, then it gets back to that tenacity thing, you know, right. I remember one day when I had an epiphany moment when I was like, 25, six, or maybe 27 years old, and I was living in the West Village. And I just one day, it was just, I had no money, I had nothing, I had no job at nothing. And I had to go back to getting another job waiting tables, and I kind of worked a little bit got away from that. And I was going back and I felt like I was falling backwards. And everything sucked in I I thought I walked back to my little tiny apartment, I said, That’s it, man. I’m going back to school changing my life. Well, that lasted about like, 25 minutes. And I’m like, Alright, there’s nothing else I want to do. So why don’t you get over that bill and get back at it. I don’t think once the creative bug bites you. You’re kind of diseased with it for the rest of your life. But what you said what you just said right there, I think applies to everything in the creative arts, whether you’re a musician, a comedian, writer, whatever, you whatever you do, I think we all will all that you just said kind of applies to all that the the moments of self doubt the moments of I feel like I’m falling back instead of moving forward and all that stuff that you have to fight through.
Unknown Speaker 18:50
Yeah, yeah, it is. There, you know, and, you know, for those that hang in and, and are lucky enough to, you also have to have things go your way. Not Not to say like I said earlier, I don’t think luck has anything to do with it. I don’t think luck has anything to do with how much of your heart and soul you put into it. That’s an inner thing. I then there will come a time later on. Sure. You know, you know, the stars got to align a little bit you could call it the universe, smiling on you call it luck, but you’re going to need a little bit of that. And everybody will get a little bit of that. I think moment happens, you know, what do you do with it? Right?
I think there’s a point where and I think a lot of people get hung up on this is, as you mentioned, it’s kind of like you make your own luck and you build your own luck by your networking by you by working hard and making the right contacts and people seeing that your work is good. And seeing that you’re you’re have some integrity in your work. And that kind of opens up more doors. And the the key thing is to recognize opportunity when it comes your way. So, with that in mind, have you? Have you ever taken roles that you didn’t like just to work? Or? Or did you just Will you? Have you been blessed to have always been part of productions that you really felt good about?
Bill Fichtner 20:25
I love this question. And I will say this, and I don’t. And I mean, and I don’t wear this is like a badge of honor of like, you know, man, I drew the line in the sand of that. But I’ve always had a thing that if I didn’t believe in something, I’m positive that I’m not going to be very good. And, and it was a big fear. And I remember as a young actor being in New York, and I remember one time is Disney before I ever did a film because listen, I moved to New York when I was 21. Everybody I knew got a job in a movie before me. And not that I didn’t want to do things on stage. But I really wanted to work in film someday. And I did my first official film, I did a small little part, but I didn’t really count that it was kind of like a glorified extra. But my first official film that I got, I was 36 years old. 15 years of going for it and never getting a getting a job doing it. Wow. And yeah, no, that’s how long and then when things shifted, everything shifted. But, you know, getting back to this thing about I, I always had this fear that if I if I didn’t believe in something that I would be bad, and it was a big fear, and I want to be bad. So one time in New York, I’m a young actor, I finally got an agent. And I get an audition for this is pretty popular, pretty successful, very well known casting director in New York, I read the script, it was a big of is a Hollywood director. I’m a young guy trying to get a job in a movie. I read the role. I didn’t like it was the role of a pedophile. And I was like, Listen, I’m an actor, you know, I go out on a road I try to find, find the guy in that. But I read that I don’t want to find it’s, it’s my choice. You know, and then, you know, I had people I remember friends at the time going, Well, that’s acting, and I said, Well, we’ll then go active while you try to get it. I don’t feel like I don’t feel like going down that road. Because I didn’t believe in it. Right. And my agent at the time said to me, Are you out of your mind? And I said, Wow, I’m sorry. But I do you want me to do you want me to go in there and meet this famous casting director and, and director and tell him Well, yeah, yeah, yeah, when I’m really not interested in it. Because that’s walking in there in line. So I’m gonna you want me to go in there and lie to them. I don’t want I don’t want to play. I don’t want to do that. And they were like, Well, you know, and then the casting director was like I said, this big famous casting director, apparently said back to my agent at the time, I used that kid out of his freakin mind. He never called me again, ever Wow, ever called me again, for anything that he ever cast after that. I’m like, you know, and I felt bad. But I’m like, Well, what are you gonna? Do you make your choices? So to answer your question, to get back to it, know that I don’t take things just for money. And it’s not like, I don’t need to make money and ever family and all of that. I got offered a film one time, that was another part that I was just, I couldn’t stand it. And it was, you know, an indie independently financed film, and it was more money that I had ever made in a movie, at that point in my life ever. And I was and I hadn’t worked for like six months. And I got the script, I showed it to my wife, I went down in my man cave. I got about halfway through it. And my wife came down. And she said, so how was it? You know, she was so excited. I said, Oh, I stopped that two page like, 50 it sucks. She knew right then and there, it’s not going to happen. I’m gonna just know I can’t.
So but on that, on that note, is it more important that the entire story be really good? Or is it enough that the character that you are going after the role for is really, really inspiring and something you want to do?
Bill Fichtner 24:27
It’s a combination of all of it, you know, it’s, you know, there’s a lot of parts to like, like a film or television show or something? Who are the fellow actors? What’s the story? I mean, it all it all and I’m old school in that way. If it’s not on the page, it’s not on the stage at all begins with a great script. Who’s doing the part? You know, you find, you know, you never know what it is, you know, maybe one area comes up a little shorter. Maybe it’s a, you know, maybe it’s a director you’ve never heard of before, you know, I mean, I, I had a guy send me a script, this past October and first time director but didn’t know the guy didn’t know anything about the guy had a conversation on the phone with him. I was like, awesome, dude. I’m in. Wow, man, I just I believe, I believe what he had to say. I liked the role a lot. I liked the whole story and everything. You know, it’s whatever it is, you know, enough stuff come together and you’re like, that’s a worthy journey. I want to take I want to take that journey.
You mentioned the pedophile role and is does that come into your thought process? I don’t want to play a guy that people are gonna associate with the bad guy.
Bill Fichtner 25:40
You know, man, well, listen. Listen, I’ve my good buddy Kim coats and I that’s a Canadian actor that I met shooting Black Hawk Down and and we’ll talk about him in a little while because I shot that film that I wrote with another friend for me and Kim coats to do together. But cozy and I got this thing that we say to each other which is Come on man. If you’re if if you work in movies in this business, you have blue eyes and cheekbones you kill people. That’s it. I’ve played my my chair of like heavies. I tend to, I tend to call them like misunderstood characters. But yeah, yeah. But I listened. I I’ve even I found this thing that well, it’s, it’s the words that I use for it. Which, if you if I can’t find anything that a character cares about, then I don’t know how to play him. Because he’s not like a real person, you know, that people don’t think they’re bad. So what makes that a real person, even though he is he could be a bad guy or a bad guy in that script? What does he care about? When you find the answers to that, and then he gets to be a real person. I’ve read scripts where I thought there’s absolutely no redeeming quality whatsoever. And, you know, I was what do I do with it? And you know, not really, just not for me.
Bill Fichtner 27:07
All right, shifting gears a little bit here, just a tiny bit here. A lot of upcoming. People, people who are young, and and want to be in film, start from one perspective, I want to be an actor, I want to be a director, I want to be a producer. And they end up being all of those things. And they feel it’s out of necessity. So a lot of people think young people, especially the young filmmakers, I’m talking to be bad the writer, director, producer, and all of that even editor and sometimes even camera man, or you know, they do at all? I know, you’ve had some experience with that, but I’m not sure your experience applies so much to what they’re doing. Because you weren’t established after before you started doing that stuff. But maybe you can speak to that a little bit about the the toll it takes to do all the jobs the the emotional investment you have to make when a film is all yours. And, and the the long process that you’re buying into when when you do that.
Bill Fichtner 28:21
Yeah, you know, that’s a it’s a big question with a lot of what a lot of offshoots but you know, two things to say about that. One is this. Everything is so different in this day and age today than it was. I graduated college in the spring of 1978 and moved to New York. And you know, people back then looked for jobs, like on Broadway or Off Broadway, then then 10 years after that five years after that it was anywhere that you could get a job smaller theaters, it’s things were so different is they are today today is you know, the age of information happened. And you know, the technology of what people can do with iPhones people are I got a buddy that shot a film a feature film, a friend of mine named Bobby out of Dallas, Texas, he shot a feature film with his iPhone, right? And he got into the Toronto Film Festival with it. So things are different where where do you get your opportunities? If if somebody is so inclined that like you know, it? I would imagine if that same technology that is out there today, and the possibilities and what’s available to young artists, you know, boy, I think we all would have been making movies back then. We’re doing what people are doing today. Again, it was different back then it was like you know you wanted to be an actor you that’s the road you’re on. Didn’t seem like many people split away from that. But, you know, to be more specific about your question. I can tell you this from my experience. Instead of making a feature film that I thought about for 10 years, and then to go through to produce it directly and co write and play the CO leading it and everything, it’s, it is the most total, most fulfilling, hardest freakin thing that I ever did. Life can’t wait to do it again. Bad but it is, it is it creates it creatively. Anybody that that can that can take that road and put it together, and to actually get it to people. And if you are so lucky, because now, not only is it you know, the percentages are small for those that can do all of that and finish it. But if you can finish it and actually make something if you could get it into a film festival, if you could someday sell it, the percentages go from like 10 to 15. You know, I mean to 10 to eight to six to four to two, and then someday to ever see the light of day and see a movie screen. You know, people think, oh, you go on you make a movie, people are gonna see it, I think you’re in the less than, like, 1% I’ll ever see a screen or to get released. My point is this, if you’re so inclined, and that’s how you creatively, you know, you’re so moved, God bless you go for it. hardest thing in the world, but go for it. Because it is those that will take that chance, just like it was for somebody back when I decided that with my criminal justice degree to get on a on a bus in Atlanta Port Authority, you know, with $60 in my pocket. Boy, you gotta have something inside of you go for it. Because if you don’t, it’s never gonna happen.
I’m really glad to hear you say that. You can’t wait to do it again. Because a lot of the guys I’m talking to are discouraged by that process. And I’ve asked several, you know, what’s it worth it? Just Just as a matter of back then the movie you would just kind of talking about was that colebrook? Yes. Oh, yeah. Great film. I like a movie that that sticks with you after you’ve seen it? And you think about it for a few days after?
Unknown Speaker 32:08
Unknown Speaker 32:09
and and that that film definitely had that for me. But the question is, now, when you’re doing something like that, now, you said you thought about it for 10 years, when you’re writing a piece like that, do you take into account what it’s going to take to produce this as you’re writing it, or you just write three, you know, from your heart from, you know, put down what you want, and don’t think about how you’re going to fund it and produce it until it’s time to fund it and produce it.
Bill Fichtner 32:41
But listen, I’m gonna, I’m sure that that part of what I’m going to say is even going to be useful, even to someone who’s just beginning, you know, put themselves on the road to doing this in their life. There will be some value in this, but I have to tell you, there were times when when I met some co producers, a couple of folks from Canada, great people that really believed in the script and wanted to get behind it and be a part of it. There were times when the conversation would go. Well, you know, we should think about that for you know, it felt like there were times when the conversation would almost be like a means to an end. And what I mean by that it’s like, well, we should think about this, because that way that’ll be smarter for like foreign sales. And there’s real value in that because the truth about it is, you know, it’s show business, not so friends, let’s go have a good time and try to do something, you really you want to make something that’s creatively, you know, your, that you believe in, but at the same time, you know, you have investors, you want to pay these people back. That’s my big commitment about Cole brookton. To get to that point someday. But there also is this thing, where you got to stop and go, Oh, more than a few times. And this is the old school and mead said, Hold on a second, wait a minute, wait a minute. It’s a movie isn’t any good? If it’s not, if it isn’t the best that it could be? Well, that you just skipped the step right there. You know, that’s what let’s not put the cart before the horse. Right? You know, I remember there were times when we were, you know, running out of money in post production, and we weren’t going to have money for the sort of music that I felt needed to be in there. You know, we really fell on this, like American folk rock sort of, you know, soundtrack to it. And that would be the sound of the film. And, well, there wasn’t any money. So why don’t we just get like, you know, 10th music that’s like, from like, you know, some GarageBand and I’m like, No, no, no, we’re not gonna do that. But you know, that’s, that’s not. So now we’re thinking about it. Now we’re putting band aids on thing or we’re not going to really give it 100% in every single area of the movie. And I’m like, Well, I can’t do that. Well, what’s the point that you know, maybe Sometimes you’re going to be forced into certain things, knock on wood that I’m that, you know, while I did call Brooke, I was working on this show, as we talked about mom, and I’ve got a massively understanding wife, because I remember looking at Kimmy gone, I’m sure she goes, well then fix it darling. Because you have to write and and I do believe that anybody that creatively has taken this walk down the road, boy, draw a line in the sand and know where you can go and can’t go and do whatever you have to do to have it be your vision. Wow. Because if you don’t have that, it is not vision by committee. Right? You know, people are going to are going to put their two cents in and I have to tell you something, I wanted people’s two cents I really did. It may not, it may not be a thought that has any value to my journey or what I want. But there’s an awful lot of people that told me stuff that I was like, Oh, thank you. I didn’t see that one. Budget don’t lose. You know, what you’re trying to say? what your vision is, what you’re feeling is? Because if you do, I don’t know what you’re making that and you probably won’t know it either. Right? Right,
I get it. So you mentioned how the industry has changed. And it truly has now for young people trying, they finish their film, right. And they have so many possibilities of how do I get it out there do I shop it around, whatever. But some of those seem to be. And I hate to make it all about money, some of them seem to be a dead end road where it’s never going to be feasible to pay back your investors in any of that, anything like that. And I’m talking specifically about like, you put a film on as, say, Amazon Prime, and I’m not singling them out, I’m just that’s an example. But and you put it on there and you every time your movie gets paid or played for two hours, or whatever it is, you get like six cents or whatever. And so it’s ridiculous to try to think that it’s ever going to make its money back this that come into your thinking when you’re making a film where How am I going to distribute this? Or do you in your case? Do you know in advance where it’s going to go and how it’s going to get distributed?
Bill Fichtner 37:19
Well, first of all, no, you don’t know because you’re making the film at that point. And all I want to do while I’m making the film, is make the best film that I could possibly make, to tell the story as best as I can to have it be seamless in the moments were all of those things that make a complete thing. Now once you have that, like you mentioned amazon prime, you know not well, you got to sell it to Amazon Prime. If you if you go out and you get a distributor, the distributor will try to sell it to Amazon Prime and every other place they can including potentially cable stations, whatever, HBO Showtime, you don’t know you want, you want all the best possibilities. And those collectively, little by little like you said, you’re going to get six said, well, you get six cents, you know, 2 million times you’re going to you’re going to help start to pay some people back. But, you know, truth be told, you know, even even when I shot called Brook, at my age right now, I have to tell you something, I went to school. I mean, I earned I earned a master’s and 12 months, you know, figuring out what to do with this stuff. There were there were so many things that I truly was unaware of, of distribution of what you had to do. But the only thing that really drove me and let’s face it, anybody else that makes a film, go out there and, and, you know, plan and pray for the 17 miracles, you’re going to need to have happen because you will need them and they will come. And but even with all of that. There were things that I was I was unaware of disown aware of and learned on the fly. But I never lost sight of the one thing as I said, which was make the best movie that you can i because that’s the best shot you have of ever having people see the film.
I really appreciate that answer.
Bill Fichtner 39:21
Oh, yeah. And you know, listen, listen, we’re in. We’re in the throes right now with colebrook sure, you know, in the process of getting, you know, the tax incentive back from upstate New York, great, you know, we’re in the process of you know, I got a distributor for it. I took it to film festivals didn’t get into every festival, but the earthy kind of ones like like Woodstock in upstate New York and Napa Valley Film Festival out. You know, a lot of these earthy kind of festivals that are great festivals. They really got the film. And so I took it to these festivals and we want awards at these festivals. All, you know, in my mind, I’m thinking, Okay, I got an indie film here. One of these days, if I ever get a distributor, I’m gonna make a post about for this film, and I’m not posting I’m gonna put some laurels and, and it’s gonna be that I won some things that these indie films, you know, it means a lot to me. Yeah, I mean listen to it meant a lot to all of us when we all went to the festivals, all the actors in it and other people involved and just had an awesome time celebrating the movie, but I knew someday it would help, it would help someday in selling the film. It’s just a little piece of the puzzle. And people recognize the song. So it’s these things and when you start to put them all together, and getting back to does the movie work, and then then you can start to see, and this is where the education really came in for me of how does everybody make the money back. And it’s, it’s my commitment. I’ll tell you this much too. And it’s important to say this, because, and I’m not saying anything that any young filmmaker probably hasn’t experienced, multiple times, or the first time for sure, which is, I remember the conversation where we needed something while we were shooting called Brook. And I was like, we didn’t have the money. And I’m like, Well, you know, pay my co writer but defer my payment on as a writer, as someone else came up. And you know, we’re in post production and well, the for my payment is producer. Oh, yeah, we got this thing here. We’re short on money for music differ my payment is what he called us as a director. You know, the only thing that I got paid on was Screen Actors Guild because you have to, but everything else that was did come down as a choice to me, it was like, put it back in the movie. And you’re going to have things like that. And you have to, because it makes a better movie. And in the end, you have to give yourself the best shot to have success for the film. And it all comes back to how good is the film? Is it everything you wanted it to be? Did you put everything in with that you could set your best shot.
So having that experience. I’m not sure if you have any advice, but I got to ask for a young guy who really wants to be an actor, but feels like he has to write his own because he’s not getting the opportunities. I’m not sure even have had, they would follow that path in today’s world. But if you’re really serious about I just want to be an actor. But I feel like I have to make this film myself. I have to write it and produce it and directed. Do you have any advice for that? Would you say stick to your your true strength in acting or directing or whatever it is, rather than go that route and try to make your own film right from the start? Because, again, I know you were an established actor, before you even took that upon yourself. A lot of these guys are coming out of the gate thinking that’s what they have to do.
Bill Fichtner 43:00
Yeah, you know, you know, Listen, man, it’s even the thought that of like, not getting seen as an actor and I’ll make my own thing. I mean, that is so that’s like speaking a foreign language when I when I was young. Nobody you know me now. It’s just like, out of the book. Imagine that thinking, well, nobody’s gonna hire me as you know, as a chef, I’m just gonna open up my own restaurant.
That’s what Stallone did, though with Rocky. I mean, I know he was in some parts before that. But I think he felt like he wasn’t getting enough. At least this is from what I’ve read that he he wasn’t getting enough part. He wasn’t getting enough opportunities. So he just said, You know what, screw it. I’m just gonna write my own thing, direct it and produce it.
Unknown Speaker 43:48
That’s what I have read over time as well. But you know, listen, what you know what happened with Stallone and Rocky and who was it? Who’s, what’s the Hollywood folklore that Who was it that the studio’s really wanted to play the part? Oh, yeah. Somebody like Robert Redford. You know, and, and, and apparently still on was like, No, no, no, it’s me. A you know, listen, I love that story. It’s a great story. It’s a great film. He’s great in it. And that’s, I mean, that’s like beyond rare,
right? lightning in a bottle for sure.
Bill Fichtner 44:26
Oh, just lightning and and a really, really, really big bottle and a little diesel lightning that was just magic. But, but listen to to somebody. You know, if a young actor CAG can’t get a job, you know, it isn’t making a movie isn’t necessarily going to put you on the road to be a better actor. Right? You know, you can never let go with the fact of how am I a better actor. Listen, I every three years I still read the same acting book I bought 40 years ago. goal. So you know, everybody’s gonna make you know, and I always find the little something new in it. But, you know, you’re always a student of that. But. But if you go down that road and put all your heart and soul and energy into writing and producing and what it takes and directing and everything, you know that you might just find out that Wow, you’re one, you’re one heck of a storyteller, and you’ve just found your calling. And you might not. But But again, you aren’t going to know until that is? And I don’t really know, you know, that’s it. I find interesting, you know, even the question that you asked, there’s a guy that can’t get an acting job. Is that a, is that a real place to go? If you’re inspired to go there? And you want to show your stuff in that way? That is this day and age, you know, and stranger things have happened, right? Well, I’m how tell people can, can, can can make a difference in their life?
Unknown Speaker 45:58
Clearly, I don’t have the insight and experience you have the might, my tendency to answer that question is, if you really want to be an actor, you should concentrate on being an actor, because getting involved, especially when you’re young, I’m thinking I’m playing. Because getting involved in writing and directing is great for the future. But if your goal is to be an actor, don’t let other things distract you from that. Because, again, I know you know this from going through it. And I’m actually going through it right now making my own film, that it’s a life investment, when you when you actually go to make a film and you are the guy, you are the director, you this is your film, you’re you’re giving up part of your life to make this film, it’s like it’s worse than having a, I’m not going to stay in it because all fine ladies, it’s like having a child but not as painful physically.
Unknown Speaker 46:57
It’s, you know, as I said, before, hardest road I’ve ever walked down. And a little bit of, you know, my own personality, I’ve you know, I’m the guy that wakes up in the morning and opens up the curtains looks in the backyard. And if I see one shrub, that’s kind of like weird, you know, I’ll end up getting a cup of coffee and a pair of little scissors, and I’ll go out there. And so I’m the was the same way making colebrook. You know, I just, I couldn’t put a bandaid on anything that I thought could be just a little bit better. So yes, it is. It’s a massive, massive commitment. You want if you want to be like the most incredible actor that you can be? Go Go find out how to work that hard to be that I do agree with you. I just think that there were there’s never really been any rules. But there’s a lot less now than there were when I first moved to New York, right? It just feels like things are reinvented on a weekly basis, you know, or a daily basis. Yeah. And that is that is our world, you want to you want to reinvent yourself and, and, you know, take a journey. Go for it. You You may find that is that is your thing. It’s it’s, it’s almost in some ways, it’s almost an impossible question to answer. Because my answer would be one of my experience that was, you know, began 40 years ago, and my experience is not the world. Right. And, but but I still have some, but But then again, you know, listen, the old sensibilities, some of them, you know, are always true, right? You know, I remember when, you know, the first time my mother came to visit me in New York, and I was in the late 70s, I had a little apartment and queens and. And she came to the city and we went around on the subway and looked at things and she went back to my apartment and, and she said, Well, it only looks like there’s two things you have any control over honey. And I said, What’s that mom? She goes, how much work you put into it, and how clean your apartment is? And that’s it. That’s how much are you willing to put into it? Great.
So a lot of the young guys filmmakers to directors feel like they need to really pursue a name or actor or somebody who’s a household name and get frustrated when they can’t, you know, you know, you’re not going to get a superstar actor to commit to on first time directors film unless the script really knocks them out. And you can even get the script in their hands and that it can be impossible, but a lot of them feel like if I can’t get a big star to do this movie. It’s not worth doing. You have any perspective on that?
Bill Fichtner 49:50
Yeah, yeah, for sure. Especially after having gone through and making coldbrook you know, it’s it is it is our world today. It is As they sell things in a though things change and everything, you know, they sell things on, on on the who’s in it. There’s There’s no doubt about it. It’s like foreign sales we have an I my, what kind of film is that? What is it? I called Brooke as a film that’s, that’s like a PG rated film about friendship, how far do you go to help a stranger? There’s, there’s no guns, there’s no violences there’s, there’s no sex, there’s no nudity, nothing blows up. I mean, I had people when I was looking for a distributor going, Yeah, it’s gonna be a tough one, really, you know, people would see the movie at festivals and go really good movie, man, I don’t know what to do with it. Because a lot of those things are elements that people do sell movies on, you know, you know, to foreign markets, and, and you sell it on name value. Now listen, I’m I’m a, you know, recognizable actor to whatever degree and, and I was fortunate enough with cold Brook that I raised, you know, or my co producers really, along with my help raised the money from the private sector. So one of the upshot of that whole thing is that I didn’t have some producer over my head from Hollywood, or somewhere telling me, you got to do this, we got to do this, we got to hire this person, if you don’t have this person in the movie, you’re not gonna be able to make it. So because we, you know, raise money privately, I was able to go to who I felt were the best actors to be in the film, that the actors that blow my mind, and I went to them and they did the movie. But you can’t say, and I can’t say, I, I put someone in there that has the sort of name value that’s going to make a big difference to people in the world that might really need that in order to purchase a film. If I had if I had a household, you know, name that was in, in the film, what would it have been easier for me to sell? coldbrook? Definitely, no doubt about it. It might not have been the same film and it might not have been, you know, every element changes something makes it a you know, slightly different painting. But it does make a difference. Yeah, I mean, I get that. But then again, people go out and, and they make films and if you’re lucky enough to have somebody see it and go, I have no idea who’s in that movie. But that was unbelievable. Right? Well, it doesn’t happen often. But it happens. And and then all of a sudden, I mean, look at the people who went and spent $60,000 on their credit cards. It made Blair Witch Project. Yeah, it’s gonna make a scary movie, but like $60 million, or whatever. Yeah. You know, Blitz depends on what it is. I mean, I have a good buddy of mine, listen to this, you’re gonna love this as a good buddy of mine that produced a film that I was in about four or five years ago. And, and, and he said, I, you know, I keep in touch. And we say, Bill, man, I really want to see you. I really want to see your film. I sent him the film and and I had lunch with him. And he sat down with me. He goes, What? Why? Why would you make that movie? I like, I’m like, what kind of questions why would you ask me? What do you mean? Why would I make that movie? In this day and age today a movie about like, how far do you go to help a stranger and finding an inner calling to do the right thing? Yeah, but But what are you ever going to do with it? And, you know, I got his point. But it’s, but it is the movie that I wanted to make. The next time that I make a film, do I? Will I adhere to those sort of standards? Or or? Or things that people might expect in this business to help you sell a film? Well, I guess the next time around, I certainly don’t ever want to make a movie for someone else’s. You know, what they think is that movie I should make? You want to make the movie you want to make it but at the same time? Sure, you know, I’ve I have a better eye about maybe how to how to blend those things together. Though I still think that cold Brook, if I was to start it all over again today, I still think I would have made the same movie.
Right? And my perspective and my might not be yours. But my and I understand that everything is a business and money makes the world go round. But from my perspective as an artist, and I don’t care what creative art you’re involved in, being proud of the work and being really happy with with the work that you’ve done and produced is the number one way I would measure success.
Bill Fichtner 54:49
Oh, there’s there’s a lesson and then but then again, it comes down to That’s such I mean, that’s a huge thing. And that’s a my thing. You can eat away. But it’s not everybody, right?
Bill Fichtner 55:12
Okay, it won’t pay. You can eat it or bite. But it’s the most it’s the first step to me. I’m not saying it’s the only measure of success. Again, I understand this the business, but if I’m not proud of the work I’ve done, and it makes a million dollars, I’m gonna end up drinking or doing drugs or something. Because Because I’m gonna, I’m gonna feel like I cheated somebody.
Bill Fichtner 55:35
I there’s Yes, exactly. Yeah, you did. And I feel the same way. And you cheated yourself. And I don’t like doing that. Right? And I don’t live that way. And I don’t want to listen, I have, I have an issue. And the older that I get, it seems to come on more and more. I don’t really like watching myself. You know, even when I started working in films, I would get asked to like, do you want to watch dailies? And I’d be like, No, no, no, thanks. Is it smart to do that? Sure. You can learn things from that from watching stuff. I just, I just would never mind things. Then the older I got, the only times that ever really see a film was like at the premiere, or when you had to do some sort of ADR looping you know, sound on it, when they were putting it together. I don’t have that thing where I need to, I don’t get this sort of gratification where Oh, man, I gotta watch myself, you know, because I’m so good. I don’t have that. I’m a little Actually, I’m a little hyper critical of my own thing. So here I come trying to make this film, you know, in the last couple of years and, and boy talk about, you know, I don’t like watching myself, but yet I played the CO lead in this. And I got a great editor. And I told this young editor that I met that I just believed in, met him on the phone, actually, it didn’t even see his real. And I think I talked to him for an hour. And I’m like, gearin, I love you. What’s your name again, buddy. He’s my editor. And I can’t imagine not wanting to work with him the next time I do something, and but I said to him, I’m, I might cut myself out of this movie, and I won’t serve the film. So you edit the scenes we’re going to work on you show me what you’re thinking about. Because I don’t want to do that. Wow. And that’s what we did. And actually, it was a lesson learned on the first, the first day of editing was the first week, first couple of days. And I was picking things out going, Oh, I liked that moment. I liked that moment. And we worked on this big opening scene, and the scene that opens the film. And he played it for me after two days. And I was like, it doesn’t work. And and I know what I’m doing. I’m getting in my way, I’m screwing myself up. Because I don’t like watching myself. And I love everybody else that’s in the scene. I can’t do that. So let’s let’s adjust something right now. you edit the scene, and let’s demo start to bounce some thoughts off of it. And and, you know, at the end of the day, I you know, getting back to you know, a couple of years go by and make the film gets distributed. Thank God, it’s out there right now on these platforms. And, and but when I look at the film now, you know if i grown up since then, sure. Am I smarter about things? Absolutely. But I’m still proud of it. You know, I? Boy, if I didn’t have that? I don’t know what I would think if I didn’t if I wasn’t proud of it. I you know, and I would hope that nobody ever saw it. Right, you know? Yeah.
Wow, this has been a really insightful and powerful conversation. I hope a lot of the young filmmakers and you know what musicians guys can can relate to what everything you said to it’s just a different medium that they work in. I got to tell you a little story before I prefaced My last question to you because it’s something I asked every creative person. I play in a band. And I was buying an AMP off of Craigslist. And the guy told me to meet him in a in a mall parking lot. And you might be familiar with $1 what Whitman? What were more parking. I know where it is. Yeah, sure. So I got there before him. And I’m thinking why you know and amplify something you need to plug into why isn’t this guy having me to his house, he must. He must have something to protect, doesn’t want strangers to pass, I can understand that. I got there early. He pulls up and I knew right away the guy had a lot of money by the vehicle he pulled up with. His wife was like covered in diamonds and pearls. He was with them in the passenger seat. And we got to talk and they said what are you doing? And I said I play in a band and he said, Oh, you’re living the dream. And I laughed in his face. I actually and I didn’t mean to be rude, but it was just a natural reaction. I said, You don’t understand. I’m not rich. I’m famous, I’m not a rock star. I play clubs, I play beaches, I play at nursing homes, I play private parties. My wife, I’m a working stiff musician. And he said, You don’t understand. I’ve been a day trader all my life, I’ve made a ton of money. I always wanted to be in a band, I’m selling you my amp, I’m retired, it means I’m never going to live my dream. You’re living my dream. And I went, Whoa. And I decided I got to make a film about this to show what it takes to really pursue no matter what you do. Whatever you do in life, there’s a price to pay you never know somebody else’s life into your actually step into their shoes. But there are a lot of people who go through life, never pursuing their dream for one reason or another, they you know, money becomes more important, or other things become more important. And they are, for lack of a better way to put it not courageous enough to follow their dream. So I have to ask you, do you feel like you lived your dream?
Bill Fichtner 1:01:07
Yes. Wow. Yeah, I remember. moments when I first made a decision that I thought I How could I might my college girlfriend, I was I was telling you, you know, taking these classes at SUNY Brockport. And when I graduated, my college girlfriend gave me a paperback book. And it was called How to be a working actor. I am actually in my little man cave off my garage, and I’m looking at it right now on the shelf. And I read that book 10 times that summer. And it was just the nuts and bolts of how, what do you do if you go to LA? And where do you study? And this was four years ago? And where do you go? If you go to New York? And how where do you study? And how do you do it? And, and I read it over and over. And I remember at the time, when I read that book that it was so exciting, that it was a world that I was just having a new dream about. And and was dreaming about it during the day and at night. And but it was a dream every moment and in something back then back then. Did anybody really know an actor living in check the log in New York that was so that was on television? Or? Or an Hollywood guide? You didn’t know actors? Right? I mean, so to, to get to that place and to have enough, enough inside and you know, and then that probably comes from my mother, you know, just always given you the confidence that you can you can try it, you can do it, whatever it was, and, and to go to New York to go through that were the hard times did I ever Honestly, I can’t believe I’m gonna say this. Did I? Did I ever really? Do I feel at my place in my life right now that I filled every dream that I ever had? Absolutely not? No. But I ended up with a few other ones that I didn’t think I was going to have. And they were really freaking good. So but I put myself on a road did I did I get as far down the road as I thought, maybe not. But I but I got on the road and and I live on that road. And it’s it’s, it’s, you know, it’s the road that I that I chose back in the summer of 78. When I turned in that police exam and said, This just isn’t going to be my road, I’m going to go on this road and I have no and it’s not like I knew anybody in the business, nothing, nothing. But I’m going to go on that road. And I’m going to try to get down that road. And I live on that road now. So you know the other thing I want to say too, about what you were saying before about playing in a band and buying that amp. I will say this much about the things that I’ve worked on in my life. Every single thing that I have done in my life is is is like a piece of the puzzle of whatever your life is. Are you proud of every piece that you put into the puzzle? The finish something and feel like you did it in every way possible that you can then be proud of it? Because if you’re not what does it mean? What your puzzle misses a few pieces. I don’t care if you if they’re all the pieces that you dreamt about. But boy, man, if you care about it and care about each piece you put in there, then you puzzle you’re going to be proud of it. And I try to live like that and everything. Especially the shrubs in the backyard. You know, man, I can’t let it go. As soon as I get off the phone with you. I’m in the backyard today. It’s my job. Well, I’m gonna but it’s gonna look good. It’s gonna be a good piece of the puzzle.
Unknown Speaker 1:04:53
Right? I get it and and that’s that’s inspiring itself and i and i think that’s inspiring. If you’re still a young person, that’s a great, you know, I’m what I’m talking about young person, a teenager, somebody who hasn’t quite grown up yet, you’re just starting out, and you have maybe some idea of where your life is going to go, you just be open to the possibilities and opportunities that come because things change, as you said, you know, you were pursuing a criminal justice degree, and, and didn’t even the thought hadn’t even occurred to you to be an actor until it happened. And then you were open to it. So I would say for very young people who were, you know, trapped in an idea of this is where my life’s gonna go with at 15 years old or whatever, be open to possibilities that it’s not going to go exactly as you plan. And there might be something better to coming your way that you don’t even see on the horizon.
Unknown Speaker 1:05:53
I you know, the old expression, listen, you know, your pictures not coming. But keep your eyes open, because it might, it might be a better picture, right? You know, just, you know, add self belief will, will help you paint your own picture.
Wow. Well, I can’t thank you enough for for spending this hour with me today. And providing your perspective and insight through, like, whatever it is 3540 years of experience in in acting and film. And I hope it’s been really powerful, as powerful for the people who are listening as it is for me, but I again, I just want to express my sincere gratitude for you taking taken an hour of your time today to spend it with me and share your insights.
Unknown Speaker 1:06:44
Absolutely. My pleasure, sir. Absolutely.
Unknown Speaker 1:06:47
You have a good day with the shrubs. And
Unknown Speaker 1:06:53
what else do I do? I’m running out a project. I don’t leave the house
Unknown Speaker 1:06:57
I hear you know, it’s a very it’s a very troubling time and and, you know, a lot of people are really fixated on the lockdown and I say dude, do something you know, creative in this time you got nothing else to do find something creative to do.
Unknown Speaker 1:07:15
Right? Shut thoughts down, do something right, gentle rain, meditate, you know, just do what you can. I mean, it would be these are these are tough times in so many ways, you know, in so many ways for so many people. God bless all of them all. But you know, and for those in the creative thing, if anybody was tuning in today, you know that, that anything that I said has some meaning for you. That’s fantastic. What an honor to share it with you.
Unknown Speaker 1:07:42
Great, thank you again, Bill. Have a great day.
Unknown Speaker 1:07:45
Till the next time my friend Yep. You got
Unknown Speaker 1:07:49
my for now.
Unknown Speaker 1:07:49
All right back.
Bill Fichtner everybody. great insight there. I can’t imagine that if you’re a creative person, you didn’t get something of real value from his insight and perspective and I really grateful to have him. Join us today and share it with us. Just a note, I want to thank my good friend Vinnie Florrie for hooking this up for me today. He actually was responsible for getting billed to be on the show and I did not want to say goodbye without thanking Vinnie, Vinnie. So Laurie, thank you very much, buddy. Till next time, and I hope you got a great deal out of this show. I hope you’ll share it with your friends. I hope you subscribe. Till next time, I’m Matt nappo for the mind dog TV podcast. Bye for now.