By Adam Jusko,,

originally published february 21, 2018 – Kevin Costner has only spoken to me once. His words weren’t important, though.* Instead, what I learned about value came from watching him.

In the spring of 2013, the movie Draft Day was filmed in Cleveland (where I live), and I ended up with a front row seat to much of the filming, getting to watch Kevin Costner, Denis Leary, and Jennifer Garner work (not to mention Black Panther‘s Chadwick Boseman). In an unlikely stroke of luck, I got to be Denis Leary’s stand-in during the filming, essentially pretending to be him while the crew set up cameras and lighting for each scene.

(I was also an extra in the airport scene; you won’t want to miss me driving a golf cart both forward and backward.)

Draft Day centers around the general manager of the Cleveland Browns (played by Costner) as he wheels and deals on the day of the NFL Draft. Denis Leary plays the new Browns coach who doesn’t see eye to eye with his GM. Jennifer Garner is the team’s salary cap expert and Costner love interest. Boseman is a potential draftee.

What you realize when you’re on the set of a film starring Kevin Costner is how much pressure is on Kevin Costner. He is in almost every scene, filming is virtually non-stop for 6 weeks or so, and he has to deliver over and over again. Almost every eye is on him no matter where he goes on the set. It’s not far-fetched to say the movie only exists because Kevin Costner was willing to do it, so in many ways he was like the film’s CEO, with the responsibility of making it work so everyone else can get paid. That’s a lot to take on. (For those under 30, Kevin Costner may just seem like an older actor, but he was THE movie star of the late 1980s and ’90s.)

And while it’s impossible to know how he felt about that pressure, I can tell you that Costner was very focused and fairly intense on set. No goofing around. I read somewhere that he not only knows his lines but he knows everyone else’s lines, too. And you could see that he sweats the details. At one point he was picking up where he’d left off in a scene, and he was concerned with the continuity: “Was I holding the cup or was it down on the table?”

The lesson for me in all this was one of value. It may be hard to fathom the amount of money top actors make, but what you see when you’re close to the action is how much is riding on their ability to perform. Not just once, but over and over again, doing the same scene repeatedly so it can be shot from different angles, playing it different ways so the director has multiple choices when editing. And being on a movie set is much less fun-and-games than you’d think — there is time pressure to get everything done on a certain schedule, because every extra day means paying 100s of people. The vibe can get a little cranky. There is value in having actors that have “been there, done that” and will hit their marks, know their lines, can always be trusted, regardless of the pressure to perform. (Of course it doesn’t hurt if audiences love them, too.)

Living here in Cleveland, I see something similar in LeBron James. The man makes ridiculous amounts of money; it’s easy to say no human should make so much. But he makes that money because others believe they are getting value for the money they pay him. Whether that’s the owner who gets his Quicken Loans Arena mentioned every time LeBron’s on a nationally-televised game, or the companies that pay him to advertise their products, or the corporations that pay for those floor seats, or even the competing teams whose arenas fill up when LeBron comes to town. It all revolves around LeBron. That’s pressure. But every time he does his thing — and he rarely fails to perform — everyone feels like they got their money’s worth. He might even be underpaid 🙂

You and I will probably never reach the earning heights of Kevin Costner or LeBron James. But we can consistently strive to become more valuable. To be the person that everyone counts on in our domain. To hone our skills so that we are one of very few people that can do the job at the highest level. Every time we add to our skill set, we separate ourselves a little bit more from the pack, getting to a place where other people either can’t or won’t go.

Kevin Costner reminded me of how important it is to become valuable, even though he only said seven words to me.*

* Those words were “I think you can go in now.” This was on the one day I filled in as Costner’s stand-in, and he was telling me the crew was ready for me as they set up a shot. It was completely inconsequential to Costner, but notice I still remember. That’s value.