About William Mapother

William Mapother has appeared in over ninety films and television shows, including the Oscar-nominated In the Bedroom and the popular series Lost. He’s also a founding partner of the tech and film finance company Slated and is a former National Director of the Screen Actors Guild.

His involvement in so many projects is no accident. It’s precisely this diversification – and relentless work ethic – that empowers him to survive and succeed in a volatile business. Recently he was kind enough to share some of his advice for aspiring filmmakers.

Lunacy: What makes the biggest difference between success and failure in the film industry?

William Mapother: Most people who leave the business, leave it for practical reasons, not for lack of interest. They run out of money. They have no leads. They implode from bad habits.

I try hard to learn from those who came before me – what worked, what didn’t, etc. Don’t  repeat the same mistakes as somebody else. It’s unnecessary and inefficient. You don’t have time to repeat someone else’s errors.

You must maximize your time. Learn as much as you can as quickly as you can to accelerate your development and move past the inevitable pitfalls. Be wrong as fast as possible so you can move past it. Remember the 80/20 rule. 80 percent of your results come from 20 of your efforts. Always be on the lookout for what your 20 percent is and put more of your focus there.

LU: It’s funny you should say that, because you seem to divide your time up among several different areas of interest.

WM: Yes, diversification is also important. Avoid relying only on one skill set. Find a secondary area (or college major) to develop; something you enjoy and are good at. It can provide steady income until your film career does, and it also gives you something to pivot into, if you decide to leave entertainment.

I went to a very good acting school, a two-year program in the Meisner technique, and have been lucky enough to work on and off ever since. I also write, and I co-founded an online film finance website. And I’m an angel investor, and I do some consulting. I try to stabilize my income through diversifying, which prevents me from curling up in a ball and crying with anxiety. That diversification offers me a couple additional advantages – the variety challenges me, and what I learn in one area usually makes me better in other areas.

LU: It must be hard keeping so many different balls in the air. Any practical advice for the day to day grind?

WM: It sounds obvious, but you must develop good, healthy habits – in finances, health, socializing, etc. Only someone who’s been in the business for a while can appreciate how habit can make the difference in a successful career.

LU: What about when you are between projects? How do you stay busy during those terrifying stretches between gigs?

WM: Actors and writers often feel disempowered, because they’re waiting for someone to offer them a job. You can feel proactive and gain control during the downtimes by acquiring skills and information that will help your career.

For example, keep notes on everything – on yourself, on your meetings, on books, scripts, movies/TV you see, etc. The goals are to constantly improve, and expedite that learning process. It’s very important to notice your patterns: How do you react to certain activities (exercise, parties), food/drink, writers/filmmakers. Look for what inspires and energizes you, and learn to avoid what bores and dispirits you. Then apply the scientific method to your behavior, changing one thing at a time, until you learn how to be happiest and most productive. The most successful people I know almost invariably know themselves very, very well.

Microsoft Excel is one of my closest friends. I keep all sorts of spreadsheets: a record of auditions, favorite quotations, writing advice, my notes on movies/TV I’ve seen, etc. Use columns as tags (eg, comedy, tone, money), so you can re-sort the information. For examples, your script runs off the rails in Act II, and you want to see just your advice on plot and structure.  

LU: A lot of creative types dread “networking” because it somehow feels forced or phony. What’s your approach?

WM: When you’re talking to people whom you might want to work with – whether it’s an actor, a producer, a D.P. – find out their interests, hobbies, alma mater, etc., and use that to stay in touch with them. Writing someone with “Hey how are you?” is a non-starter. They’re busy and don’t have time for idle chit-chat with an obvious job-seeker. But by sending them an article (preferably, one they haven’t seen) on one of their interests, you are providing something of value. That not only motivates them to respond/engage, but it also frames you as an associate/equal. And it costs you nothing, except the time spent finding such articles. (Google alerts helps with this.)

Life’s knocking on the door all day long. Just answer. The Business is a bitch, but the more time you spend now making good habits unconscious, the more you can spend later on what you love: The craft.