Michael Nicklin is a Los Angeles-based talent manager. He is the founder and President of Vortexian Talent Management, a boutique talent management company providing strategic career management and development services to actors. Throughout his varied career, Nicklin has consistently gravitated toward helping artists to monetize their art, a constant struggle for most independent artists.
A native of California, Nicklin grew up in Santa Barbara and attended San Jose State University’s College of Business. In his freshman year, Nicklin began modeling and acting, appearing in a number of television commercials and industrials. He then discovered that his innate love of acting could be expanded into helping others to find their own spotlights. At 25, the opportunity presented itself for Nicklin to take on the position of managing partner at the talent agency that represented him, and he became a Screen Actors Guild-AFTRA franchised agent. Nicklin represented 150 actors and models for film, television, industrials and print. After a decade of leading his agency to a state of unprecedented growth, including the production of various live events, many of which regularly brought him to Los Angeles, Nicklin launched a second successful talent agency in Beverly Hills.
Nicklin strategically exited his career as a talent agent after nearly 15 years when he landed a recurring contributor position on a newly launched syndicated morning lifestyle television show. He became a well-recognized on-air personality and consumer trends contributor, and appeared on news programs and both network and syndicated morning shows for over a decade. He has been interviewed live on more than 300 news programs. Nicklin has also served as a media performance specialist, coaching personalities for the E! Network, Harcourt Houghton Mifflin Publishing, and DreamWorks. He has trained talent in all aspects of media appearance from teleprompter reading and IFB use to leveraging media for positive PR. He simultaneously produced more than 100 live events, produced and directed an on-location lifestyle television talk show, and segment produced for several lifestyle shows on which he appeared.
Concurrent to his broadcast work, Nicklin was hired in the dot-com heyday of the mid-90s as a contract strategist for a multinational corporate incubator. He focused on developing and identifying technology investment opportunities, supervised acquisition and investment activity, and incubated several start-ups including business plan creation, putting the right partnerships in place, acquiring the necessary venture capital funding, and engaging market adoption.
Nicklin then founded a boutique consulting firm with a mission of bridging the chasm between organizational performance and the unrealized potential for clients in the retail, shopping center, and hospitality industries. The firm provided strategic consulting to more than 300 business owners and corporations and performance-based training programs for Marriott, Universal Studios, Bally, Four Seasons, Westfield, Macy’s, and other leading corporations. As a keynote speaker, Nicklin also delivered globally more than 500 presentations, on employee engagement, performance improvement, and consumer trends.
In 2009, Nicklin reentered the world of acting to reacquaint himself with the industry and to see how the business of acting had evolved over the past decade, particularly the influence of digital media and the advent of online casting tools. During this time, he acted in more than thirty shorts and independent feature films; and commercials, industrials, music videos and web series. Nicklin accepted his final film role in 2012, securing the lead role in an independent feature. At the same time, he provided strategic counseling to several actors and industry professionals on navigating the business aspects of their careers and personal brands.
Realizing that his passion for working with talent had been reignited, as well as leveraging his keen ability for strategically accelerating business and brand growth, Nicklin recently launched Vortexian Talent Management.
Nicklin regularly travels the world and has visited nearly 60 countries. He applies the insight he gleans from his intercontinental journeys to his philanthropic work, contributing strategic counsel and hands-on assistance to a number of non-profit organizations. As a participatory philanthropist, Nicklin prefers to work with industry professionals who are committed to firmly embedding their cause platforms into their personal brands to make a greater societal contribution.
Hi Michael, please tell us a little about yourself?
I am a business/career/brand manager for a small group of artists in the entertainment industry. I am a serial entrepreneur always looking to create new enterprise for myself and on behalf of my clients. I am a world explorer. I did not have the opportunity to travel internationally until my 20s, and have since visited more than 60 countries.
What’s your background?
I was born in Carmel, California, and after spending two days there, my parents returned with me to our home in Santa Barbara, where I grew up. My dad was a dentist and my mom what was back then called a “housewife.” Growing up in Santa Barbara, I did not have an appreciation for that city, as I always envisioned living in an urban metropolis – which I now do. I have always loved being near the ocean, and grew up spending most every weekend on my family boat fishing with my dad. When we weren’t fishing, we were camping in the Mojave Desert. Both of these experiences solidified a life-long attraction to nature, particularly the shoreline. A requisite of Santa Barbara beach life, I tried surfing once – but after a near-concussion when the board hit me on the head, I realized I liked having my teeth and decided not to surf again. Waterskiing seemed much more tooth-friendly, and I excelled at that solitary sport. After finishing high school and spending two years at community college, I decided it was time to trade quaint for urban and I moved to Silicon Valley to finish university. Though my plan was to return to Southern California immediately after graduating, a business opportunity kept me there for another decade.
How did you get into the industry?
I was recruited by an agency scout to model during my junior year of high school in Santa Barbara. That led to doing television commercials and industrial films when I moved to Silicon Valley to attend university. After a couple of years with the agency that repped me, I got a call from one of the managing partners. She was preparing to run for political office and no longer wanted to be a part of the agency. To she and her partner, I was the “heir apparent” and we were able to strike an equitable deal for me to purchase half the agency and become a managing partner. Within a week, I had retired from acting and modeling, and became a SAG-AFTRA franchised agent, representing a roster of 150 talented artists. After ten years in Silicon Valley, I decided to open another agency in Beverly Hills, and remained an agent for another four years. I have remained in or adjacent to the industry since then.
What did you do before starting Vortexian Talent Management?
After closing my agency in Beverly Hills and leaving the agency business, I was producing fashion merchandising events and was sitting in the CESD Agency office working with uber-agent Carol Scott to cast talent for the event. A call came in to Carol at that moment from a show producer looking for a very specific on-camera role. Carol felt I was perfect, and sent me off to an audition. Though this was familiar territory for me, I had not been on the “talent” side of an audition in nearly 20 years! I was then serendipitously offered an appearance as an on-air contributor on a newly-launched syndicated nationwide morning talk show, “George & Alana,” hosted by George Hamilton and Alana Stewart. (The same George & Alana that currently star in the E! reality show “Stewarts & Hamiltons” produced by Bunim/Murray Productions.) I was booked to appear on one episode, and the producers recognized my chemistry with the hosts and I was cast to appear weekly for the full season of the show. I will be forever grateful for George and Alana’s on- and off-screen generosity of spirit. When the show was cancelled, the many segment producers for which I had worked went to other similar format shows, and I ended up being a guest contributor for three additional shows the following year. I call that my “15 minutes” on network TV. One day, an ABC show on which I appeared was being monitored by a media packaging PR company in New York and they offered to fly me there for an audition as a trend expert for their live satellite media tours. For the next 10 years, I was interviewed live more than 500 times by morning show news programs as an expert on consumer trends.
Simultaneous to the consumer trend reporting for television, I founded a boutique consulting firm focusing on organizational productivity for clients in the retail, shopping center and hospitality industries. The company provided strategic consulting services to more than 300 business owners and corporations, including Universal Studios, Marriott, Four Seasons, Westfield and Macy’s. As a motivational speaker and educator, I personally delivered more than 500 presentations globally.
During the 90s dot-com boom, a remarkable opportunity emerged based on one of my client relationships to work with a Sydney, Australia-based corporate incubator/accelerator to support the development of several start-ups and spinoffs in the dot-com space. One of those start-up opportunities gained traction, and hence I served as its interim CEO during the developmental stages of its development and launch. Several other longer-term contracts with other corporations followed, and I served as a business strategy consultant for the next decade. After than run, I took a much-needed year off to travel the world. I literally bought an around-the-world ticket allowing me up to 15 stops, and challenged myself to visit only countries to which I had never previously traveled.
Tell us a little about your company, Vortexian Talent Management?
After my year of globe trekking, I reentered the industry in 2009 as an actor primarily to observe how the business processes of acting had evolved over the past decade. Online casting tools such as Actors, Access, LA Casting (Casting Networks) and IMDb Pro Casting did not exist when I had my agencies, and are now ubiquitous in the industry. As an actor, I began developing valuable relationships with filmmakers, casting directors and fellow actors. In those three years of being in front of the camera, I had the chance to work on several projects and met some talented industry professionals along the way. In 2011, after being asked by a number of actors with whom I had worked to guide, mentor or manage the business aspects of their careers, I began informally working as a talent manager for a small number of actors.
After encountering a consistently growing demand for my expertise, I decided in the summer of 2014 to form the new company and wrap the VTM brand around what I had been doing independently to allow me to more comprehensively serve a growing roster of clients. Vortexian Talent Management was born. My goal as a business and brand manager is to guide the talent to build and maintain a solid business foundation to monetize his or her craft while helping them navigate both the challenges and opportunities the industry presents along the journey.
To guarantee the necessary degree of my personal focus on each artist we represent, the roster size fluctuates based on where each of its artists are in their careers – which impacts the time and focus they warrant. Our roster has been as large as 30 and as small as three – and typically ranges from six to 12 at any given time. Though we began representing only actors, shortly after our launch we added a musician to the roster, and now have several “multi-hyphenates” on the roster who in addition to acting, also sing, write, produce, and/or direct.
What part of your job do you find the most challenging?
The most challenging part of the job is in balancing “art” with “commerce” in the minds, hearts and actions of the artists I manage. Business savvy is so essential in Hollywood, and an actor who sees the business aspects as a distraction to their ‘craft’ is more likely to fail.
I compare a beginning actor to a start-up small business. An experienced working actor is a small business with some brand equity. A celebrity actor is often a corporation and a global brand through product endorsements, company ownership, and more. Each of these phases of business growth requires strategic business and brand management. That is why successful recognizable actors often have one or more agents, a business manager, a financial manager, a lawyer, an accountant, a publicist, and more. The larger the career, the larger the business, and the larger the support team is required to successfully run the business.
How do you bring new talent into your organization?
When I launched the brand, I did so with a small roster of new actors with whom I had worked on set. During the first six months, we did as much PR as possible to get the VTM brand out there which jump started the inbound flow of talent submissions. Industry listings in publications such as Backstage were, and continue to be, very helpful as well. Once we built our launch roster, word of mouth began to spread among actors, and submissions increased. With a proven track record now, the inbound flow of talent submissions is steady, many coming from industry professionals such as agents, casting directors and producers.
Who are some of Vortexian’s clients?
I am thrilled to rep actors with great roles in network and cable TV, feature films, and television commercials on their resumes. Most have co-starred in films and guest starred in TV shows. All have regularly acted in television commercials. I do not manage any “stars” at this point, as that would preclude me from maintaining the present roster. Often, when an actor breaks through to stardom, they quickly become the only actor on a manager’s roster. We also rep some new faces – which I call developmental clients – that, if stars align (pun intended), will be recognizable faces before too long. The best way to discover who we are representing at any given time is to check our IMDb page, which contains a complete list of all the artists that are in the IMDb database.
Who has made the biggest impact on your life so far, and why?
She and my father chose to adopt me at birth. My mom and my biological mother were friends going to secretarial school. When my biological mother discovered she was pregnant (the result of an extramarital affair), she sought the counsel of her best friend, my future mom, and they agreed that there was only one choice: abortion. They consulted with a family doctor who said he could not perform one as he was “being watched” and said that if my biological mother went to nearby Mexico, she would probably not return alive. My mom discussed my biological mother’s plight and my parents decided to adopt me.
I was born in the conservative and conformist decade that produced the archetypal housewife. Though in the 50s, she would have been referred to by that title, my mother was the financial manager of the family and led the charge on several real estate investments. In my childhood, I was always confused by the dichotomy between how I observed mothers being portrayed on TV and what I observed in my home.
Yes, my mom delivered on the societal expectations of the time, but she also built and managed her investment portfolio. Though the external world perhaps perceived that she exhibited conformity, my mom was a true non-conformist – though she wore a dress and high heels to lunch.
A child during the Great Depression, my mother was profoundly affected by the experience. She instilled in me the concept of money at an early age – how it works and what to do with it. As an adolescent, a high level of financial independence was important to me. That was the first of many characteristics I later learned were those of a child entrepreneur – a direct result of my upbringing.
Can you name one of your strengths?
Honesty. As the saying goes, it’s the best policy.
What’s next for Michael Nicklin?
What is next up is leapfrogging the film festival circuit across the US. I produced and directed a music video for my client, musical artist Todd Schroeder for his new song “Lessons in Life.” I love the song, which he co-wrote with the legendary Sam Harris, and decided we should have a video to highlight its very meaningful lyrics. The “Lessons” video is an official selection at festivals in Miami, Atlanta, Oklahoma City and Las Vegas. Because Todd is currently on the road touring with the sensational Postmodern Jukebox, I am representing him at these festivals.
This is one example of how the individuals on the VTM roster have and will continue to shape “what’s next” for me and my company, and therefore for me. A year ago, I did not envision I would now be involved in the music industry and as a result of managing a musician, and I am now co-producing his next album. Another client is a very prolific writer of feature films, and I am working with him on developing and fundraising for at least one of those projects. I have had experience with fundraising and producing for a number of years, and greatly enjoy bringing those skills to the table on behalf of individuals I manage. Another actor on the roster wants to expand her reach to acting in films produced and shot in Europe and the UK, so as her desired reach expands globally, so will mine.
I have also begun writing a book which I am very excited about, and is very meaningful to me. It is non-fiction and explores the intersection of Hollywood and Philanthropic Intention.
What’s your favorite quote?
“If you keep doing what you’ve done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten.” There are few derivatives of this quote, including “The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome.”
What is a normal day in your life?
My definition of a typical day has always been atypical. Having always been self-employed and self-managed, I developed the discipline early on to find an energy-fueling balance in every day. I can say that a normal day includes working on behalf of clients virtually and face-to-face, meditation, and if I’m feeling disciplined, an hour of exercise. Because of what I do, I feel it is important to commit a portion of my days to being an audience of either television, film, or live performance – which usually takes place in the evening.
What I love most about what I do is that every day is different. Serving the needs of several individuals means that on any given day I may be reviewing a script an actor is considering, marketing an actor to a new agent, or having a heart to heart conversation with an actor about whether or not it is time to move on to another career pursuit.
Name 3 things you can’t live without?
– My best friend.
– My iPhone.
– International travel.
In actuality, I can live without any of these, but would prefer not to.
I love entertaining at home. There is nothing more fun than hosting a group of interesting people. I have never called that a hobby, but it is the first thing that came to mind. A few years ago, I began studying Reiki, which is a form of energy healing of which I have become very proficient. Last summer, I received my Master/Teacher certification after an intensive program at Hana on the island of Maui. Another hobby is Tarot card reading. Both of these practices get me out of my ‘business head’ and provide some healthy balance to all that is the business of show.
How important is Social Media for your business?
In a word, imperative. Social media is paramount to my business. In fact, an increasing number of casting directors are stating publicly that if given two actors with equal talent, they will select to put forth to producers the actor with the greatest social media following. We try to instill that culture in the roster with leading by example. Every day, I personally curate our VTM Twitter feed with articles and thought leadership content beneficial not only to our roster of actors, but actors in general. We also have a company Facebook page with similar content. My personal social media admittedly is sacrificed with the business focus on social media, however I do enjoy a personal Instagram presence as I enjoy digital photography immensely as a form of expression.
Where we can follow you?
Right now, I’m crazy about Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox. Re-envisioned covers that leverage familiar lyrics in imaginative new ways provide a sense of familiarity team with innovative composition.
Spicy. That desire is met by the foods of many countries and preparation styles.
This one is tough. I have never met a country I didn’t like. If forced to choose, The Greek Islands. Mykonos and Santorini made long-lasting impressions. As did the Alaskan rainforests.
My favorite movie remains “Heaven Can Wait” with Warren Beatty and Julie Christie. When I first saw it at a young age, I was inspired to delve into the concept of past lives and reincarnation.
I am a fan of scripted drama. “Suits.” “Empire.” “The Good Wife.” “Blindspot.”
A new favorite is Maré (7465 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, 90046) I was first taken there for my birthday a few weeks ago. The only way to get to Maré, Eric Greenspan’s new hidden courtyard restaurant, is to walk through Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese restaurant. You walk past the kitchen to the back of the restaurant, through the storage room and office, and come upon an unassuming old door faintly painted with the image of a sailing ship. On the other side of that door is an amazing outdoor open-air restaurant with great food presented by a very knowledgeable and engaging staff. Seeing is believing – and there are great photos of the restaurant, food and artisan cocktails on their Instagram page.
I went to a private school in Santa Barbara for the first six years of my life, and soccer was the required team sport. I remain a “world football” loyalist. Real Madrid and Manchester United are my top team pics. They swap players so I often swap loyalty.