Money, Money, Money
Spending, Saving, Earning
One of the more challenging realities of becoming an actor is that it will get expensive. The cost of classes, pictures, marketing, demo reels, scripts, theatre company dues, showcases, union initiation fees and dues and other professional expenses, adds up big time. While most other professions would probably cost you much more, with most other professions you would have a better chance of earning a steady income – unless you are in the 5 percent who make their living as actors.
Actors are entrepreneurs whose business is themselves. When starting a business, time and money are invested sometimes for years before a dime of profit comes out. Amassing savings from one or more money jobs or having someone to bankroll your acting efforts is the first step. Do not expect a return on your investment right away. Assume the worst – that like home renovations, this process of working as an actor will take three times the money and time estimated. If money and security are your ultimate goals in life, there are a multitude of easier and more reliable professions to pursue. ALICIA RUSKIN, Commercial Agent & Partner, KSA Talent
When embarking on most professions, people usually have a good idea of the necessary expenses for education, start-up business costs, marketing and the money needed to finance the first few years. Unfortunately, most new actors don’t understand or consider all the costs involved nor do they have a plan to finance their careers and lives. That means major obstacles are in place before even getting started. Some get lucky right away. (It is easier to get lucky when you are prepared, knowledgeable and have a plan.) Some have well-to-do families or influential friends. But the great majority of new actors must“get real” and understand that acting is a business. To start, I stronglysuggest that you put together a financial strategyso that you can be economically prepared for most every step of this trip. Outlined in this chapter is most of the information you will need for your financial strategy.
THE COSTS OF BECOMING AN ACTOR
To structure a feasible plan, it is important to first understand the costs involved. Please realize that the following are approximate prices based on typical fees and the year this book was published. Also, understand that I have listed a maximumnumber of workshops and activities you could be involved in and items you could purchase in each year of your development. Although this is ideal, I realize that most might not be able to do and purchase everything listed: therefore, I will also suggest variables and options.
$225 per month for approx. 11 months $ 2,475
(Most acting teachers take a month off at the end of the year.)
2 twelve-week workshop sessions, @ $475 each $ 950
1 eight-week session $ 435
Books and Scripts $ 195
Photo session $ 450
Photo and Resume Duplication 250 copies $ 150
Includes postage, mailing labels and mailing envelopes $ 150
Speech or Diction lessons (if necessary) $ 500
Gym Membership or Dance or Yoga classes $ 800
(I believe that taking care of your body is an acting expense.)
Cell Phone and Voice Mail $ 1,600
MAXIMUM TOTAL OF FIRST YEAR’S ACTING-RELATEDEXPENSES
AVERAGE MONTHLY EXPENSE $ 642
It really adds up, doesn’t it? It is better to know the expenses so that you can organize and be prepared for this first year. I was taught, “It is not that you can’t really afford what you need: it’s that you choose to spend your money elsewhere.” And “if you don’t have enough, make more.” As simplistic as that advice sounds, bottom line, both statements are true. If you want to be an actor, be smart about making, saving and spending money.
Variables: Here are items that can be cut, delayed or reduced that will trim down some acting-related expenses in this first year:
- No speech and voice lessons (if not necessary) Deduct $ 500
- Exercise on your own Deduct $ 800
- Hold off until your 2ndyear to get pictures Deduct $ 750
and resumes and to start marketing yourself
- Barter services for your acting classes Deduct $ 2,000
(Sometimes a teacher will exchange his or her class for a student’s being a class assistant or a work-study)
- If you are approaching acting as an investigation, you might not take as many classes Deduct $1,000
(If you are doing this as a career or hobby, classes are the wrong place to cut back)
The heat gets turned up this year for your acting-related expenses. Remember, the costs listed are approximate.
$225 per month for 11 months $ 2,475
1 twelve-session workshop $ 475
2 eight-week sessions @ $450 each $ 900
Specialty Workshops (sitcom, soap, Shakespeare, theatre, voice-over)
2 eight-week sessions @ $450 each $ 900
Showcases and One-on-One Casting Director (CD) Workshops
(Starting the last six months of the second year)
OR Three Casting Director workshops a month for six months
OR One Showcase and six CD Workshops Average cost $ 540
Theatre Company Dues
Initiation FeeInitiation Fees are rare. Most companies have monthly dues.
Monthly Dues ($25/Month – $155/Month) Average Yearly Dues $ 600
Networking Organization Membership
Six months (Join in the last 6 months of this 2ndyear) $ 500
Photographs $ 400
Photo and Resume Duplication (Commercial & Theatrical)
600 copies $ 450
Postcards and Business Cards $ 100
Includes postage, mailing labels and mailing envelopes $ 260
Gym Membership or Dance or Yoga Classes $ 800
Audition Wardrobe $ 475
(Clothes and props that you buy to wear at auditions)
Cell Phone and Voice Mail $ 1200
Online and Printed Directory Casting Services
LA Casting Network www.lacasting.com
Represented Talent 1st photo FREE
Unrepresented Talent: Setup Fee-$50 and Monthly Fee – $10 $110
Actors Access /Showfax www.showfax.com http://www.actorsaccess.com
Actors Access Registration (First 2 photos – Free)
One-year subscription to Showfax $ 68
Graduate Films and Theatrical Productions
(Your personal expenses, e.g., wardrobe, makeup, props, gas, parking) estimate: $375
Union Initiation Fees and Dues
SAG(Screen Actors Guild) www.sag.com
Initiation Fee $2,211 + basicsemi-annual dues of $58 $ 2,269
Average Dues $60 semi-annually $ 120
After joining, a member’s dues are based on earnings in SAG’s jurisdiction during the prior year.
AFTRA(American Federation of Television & Radio Artists)
Initiation Fee , $1,300 plus initial dues of $60.90 $1,360.90 covering the first dues period
Average Dues $ 130
After joining, a member’s dues are based on earnings in AFTRA’s jurisdiction during the prior year.
AEA (Actors Equity Association)
Initiation fee $1,100
Basic Dues per year $ 118
Working Dues 2.25 percent based on earnings in AEA’s jurisdiction during the prior year.
NOTE:Most new actors will only join one, or maybe two of the unions this year (depending on which arenas he/she books work in). And once an actor is a member of one, the other union fees are discounted. So, I approximated the initiation fees for two of the three unions and factored that amount into the year two maximum total.
MAXIMUMTOTAL OF SECOND YEAR’S ACTING-RELATED EXPENSES
(Approximately) $ 13, 450.
AVERAGE MONTHLY EXPENSE $ 1,125.
Variables: The marketing expenses and union initiation fees could really kick up the costs to double in the second year. Most new actors might not need all the listed elements. To save money, factor in these variables that might be deducted or put off to the 3rdyear:
- If you are approaching acting as a hobby you might not take as many classes.
(If you are doing this as a career, remember classes are the wrong place to cut back.). Deduct $ 2,000
- Join only one of the three unions. (Which one will be determined by where you start to do your professional work, e.g., film, soaps, sitcoms, commercials, radio or theatre.). Deduct $ 2,000 OR
- You may choose to stay non-union and decide not to join any of the unions during this second year. Deduct $ 4,215
- Join just one of the online or printed directory casting services. Deduct $ 263
- Hold off until the 3rd year to join the networking organization. Deduct $ 500
- Reduce the number of photo and resume duplications, postcards, business cards and mailings. Deduct $ 350
- Work out regularly on your own so that you can do without a gym membership or dance/yoga classes. Deduct $ 800
Factoring in allvariables
SECOND-YEAR ACTING-RELATED EXPENSES (Approximately) $ 7,775
AVERAGE MONTHLY EXPENSE $ 650
Doable:I bet this still seems like a lot and many might believe it’s not doable. You mustn’t be naïve. Acting is a career (for those who choose it). If you save money (either before you start or in your first year), plan ahead, are creative and resourceful then you should be able to handle the expenses.
Although this book primarily focuses on the first two years, I believe it would be helpful to know the potential estimated third-year acting expenses so that you will be prepared.
$250 per month for 11 months $ 2,750
1 eight-week session $ 450
Specialty Workshop (e.g., sitcom, soap, Shakespeare, theatre)
1 eight-week session (in one of these mediums) $ 450
Showcases and Casting Director Workshops
OR three workshops a month for eleven months
OR one showcase and 12 workshops Estimated cost $ 1,050
Theatre Company Dues
Monthly Dues – $ 50 a month $ 600
Union Initiation Fees and Dues
The Initiation Fees for the three unions are posted under the 2ndyear expenses.
SAG (Screen Actors Guild)
Average Dues $50 semi-annually $ 140
After joining, a member’s dues are based on earnings in SAG’s jurisdiction during the prior year.
AFTRA (American Federation of Television & Radio Artists)
Average Dues $ 130
After joining, a member’s dues are based on earnings in AFTRA’s jurisdiction during the prior year.
AEA (Actors’ Equity Association)
Basic Dues $ 118
Working dues are 2.25 percent and based on earnings in AEA’s jurisdiction during the prior year.
Online and Directory Casting Services
LA Casting Network
Represented Talent – FREE
Non-represented actors – yearly fee $120
Showfax Inc / Actors Access
Actors Access Registration – Free
One year subscription to Showfax $ 68
Networking Organization Membership – One year $ 700
Photographs $ 475
Photo and Resume Duplication (commercial & theatrical) 600 copies $ 450
Postcard and Business Cards $ 100
Mailings – Includes postage, mailing labels and mailing envelopes $ 260
Gym Membership or Dance or Yoga Classes $ 500
Audition Wardrobe $ 550
Cell Phone and Voice Mail $1,200
Graduate Films and Theatrical Productions
Personal expenses (e.g., wardrobe, makeup, props, gas, parking) estimate $300
TOTAL FOR THIRD-YEAR ACTING-RELATED EXPENSES: (Approximately)$10, 500.00 AVERAGE MONTHLY EXPENSE $ 875.00
Variables: Possible additional expense: If you joined one or more unions in the 2nd year, you may need to join the other one(s) this year. Add $1,406 -$ 3,867
The following are more suggestions to save money:
- Take only six months of acting classes: Deduct $ 1,375
I suggest (if at all possible) you stay in your acting class unless you are doing a theatrical production, working on a film or if you just need to take a break for a short time to do another project or program that is acting-related.
- Take either the Cold-reading orthe Specialty workshops: Deduct $ 425
- Choose to do half the Showcases and Casting Director workshops: Deduct $ 500
- Subscribe to only one of the online or printed directory casting services: Deduct $ 263
- Work out on your own so that you can go without a gym membership or dance/yoga classes: Deduct $ 500
- If you are only paying dues to one union, Deduct $ 225
- Plus, whatever other ways you can find to save money, e.g., bartering or doing class assistant work.
Factoring in all variables:
THE THIRD-YEAR ACTING-RELATED EXPENSES: $ 6,050
AVERAGE MONTHLY EXPENSES $ 504
The Total:If you do everything that is listed for these first three years, the total would be around $32,000. It sounds like a lot. But if you compared that amount to what it would cost for three years to go a university or trade school to get the necessary education to pursue any career, the $32,000 would look like a deal. The money you will be spending in this plan is to train, educate and prepare you for an acting career.
Recommendations:Many actors will invest in their training during the first year and when the time comes for marketing and union expenses (in the second year) they are not financially prepared and thus often miss work opportunities. Or they might stop training, which will arrest their growth as an actor. Here are basic suggestions that can help make a difference in the pursuit of your career:
- Plan for allof your expenses. Along with the acting expenses, factor into your budget the costs of living: home or apartment, food, vitamins, medicines, eating out, insurance, gasoline, car payments, movies, transportation, recreation, phones, Internet and cable access, appearance and health and every other possible expenditure. (These living expenses would be the same with any profession that you pursue.) Once you have a clear financial picture, you will know how much you really need to earn.
TIP: Know that everything will cost more than you thought. You can count on it. So factor at least a 15 percent cushion into your best estimate of your basic living expenses.
- Make money. My strongest money advice (especially in the first year) is to work at the best-paying job possible. Many have several jobs in order to support themselves and their careers. It can be overwhelming, but realize it is just part of yourgame plan. Don’t be afraid to take a day job during the first year when you are training. It’s not a necessity at this time to keep your days free for auditions. I believe it is very important to focus all your attention on training and making as much money as you can. This way you should have the money to pay for your training, marketing and promotion as well as joining the union(s) in your second year.
You might want to get an entry-level job in the entertainment business for which you also have an interest in case you decide not to pursue an acting career. First, it is an opportunity to make contacts that might help you as an actor. Second, if you choose a career in this other business, you would have established a foothold during this time.
- For those who are pursuing an acting career, I recommend that at the beginning of the plan, you open a bank account just for acting-related expenses. A separate account will help you to keep your acting expenditures organized and it is the best way to justify these expenses for tax purposes. Each month, deposit a minimum of $800 (if at all possible). This amount will cover the monthly acting expenditures plus provide savings for your future business expenses.
For those approaching acting as an investigation or a hobby and not taking on all the “Year One Expenses,” $350 to $500 is a reasonable amount to deposit monthly into your designated account. This should cover your training and some marketing expenses. It is realistically what you will need to spend to definitively determine if this is a hobby or career and to facilitate continuing after the first year. If you decide that acting is not for you, you will have money saved to start your next investigation.
AFTER YEAR THREE
There will continue to be money spent to develop your craft and yourself as well as to promote your career. The amount depends on the training, personal development and marketing you choose to do. The good news is your foundation acting expenses will be behind you. Now pursue your career and continue to develop your craft with all of your focus, energy, intelligence and whatever money needs to be spent.
DISCLAIMER: I truly believe that the money spent on the workshops, activities and products that I have outlined in my three-year plan will give you a better chance of becoming a quality actor as well as creating more opportunities for becoming successful. But spending this money does not guarantee you one job, nor does it mean that you won’t succeed if you don’t spend it
An important key to having the money for your training and marketing could be how you save on your expenses.
MONEY SAVING TIPS
MANAGE YOUR APARTMENT COMPLEX – The managers of apartment complexes get their apartments for free or at a reduced rate. Often they earn a salary depending on the size of the complex, the responsibilities and the manager’s skills. If this interests you, I recommend you find out about apartment manager training classes. Once you’re certified, those running the programs sometimes give out a list of apartments that need managers or you can check the want ads.
TIPS: Do not take on a building that has more than 24 units. Larger complexes usually require too much time and might make it difficult to do all you need to do for your career. And I suggest that you negotiate with the building owners to pay for all or at least half your cell phone bills. You will be on the phone a lot for this job.
HOUSE SITTING / CARETAKING / NANNY -Three possibilities for a free place to live:
- House-sitting: If you don’t have many personal possessions or furniture, taking care of other people’s homes while they are out of town could be a great way to get free lodging. Often the homes are comfortable and well-appointed. If there are responsibilities, e.g., taking care of the pets or plants, there might be a stipend. The disadvantage to this living arrangement is that there will be times when you are between assignments and will have no place to live. So house-sitting is best used as a temporary situation to save money for a period of time.
- Caretaking: Often elderly or disabled people prefer to have someone living with them to help with driving, cooking, shopping, errands, cleaning, etc. If you have references and are licensed though an agency, you usually make a salary as well.
- Nanny: Live-in caretakers of babies or children normally are also provided with meals and a negotiated salary.
SHARE AN APARTMENT OR HOUSE- If you are single, find one or more roommates who would be compatible to share an apartment or house with. Many find roommates whom they have met in class, at survival jobs or through friends. Some have good luck with services that match up roommates. It is usually best if the person you share with is someone you know fairly well.
TIP:There are often nightmare roommates or those with whom you are not compatible. Unless you know the person well, I suggest that you secure the apartment or house in your name and choose the person with whom you want to share. If you don’t know the person, be sure to get references. Create a written agreement stating the conditions under which the roommate can live in your place. This way, if the living arrangement does not work, you have the right to ask the person to move out. Thus, you are in control of your home.
START YOUR OWN NETWORKING GROUP – Select 10–15 actors who are friends or whom you have worked with in classes or on projects and put together your own networking group. Set up a regular meeting time, for several hours each week or every other week or at the very least once a month. In Chapter Thirteen, I will lay out additional tips to help make your group beneficial.
CREATE A COLD-READING PRACTICE GROUP – Organize a few actors to get together on a regular basis. (If you have a networking group, the same people could do cold-reading workouts.) Get TV, film and theatre scripts and practice doing audition readings. You might even hire an audition teacher or casting director to work with your group for an evening. Unless you can get one to volunteer (which is rare), teachers or CDs will probably charge between $100 and $250 dollars. If you have at least ten to fifteen actors in your group, the fee will be financially feasible for each participant.Then your group could continue to practice what you learned from the guest instructor.
GET A VIDEO CAMERA AND PRACTICE AUDITIONING – If you absolutely cannot afford to take a commercial or an on-camera cold-reading workshop, then, audit several recommended teachers (most let actors audit once), take copious notes, practice integrating the techniques you observed and record your work on-camera. When you watch the playback, you should see what works and what doesn’t – then make adjustments. Also, actor friends who take cold-reading classes might be willing to teach you what they have learned. The key elements to get the necessary benefits are instruction, a camera and consistentpractice. As soon as you can afford it, take a commercial and an on-camera cold-reading workshop. If you have practiced well and continued with your acting classes, you should be able to skip the introductory level and get into an intermediate or advanced on-camera class, thus saving money. During the workshop and once you have completed it, continue to consistently practice what you have learned. Rehearsing correctlyon-camera could speed up the training process and improve your auditions so that you might start getting work sooner.
WARNING: Being your own teacher for any kind of acting or auditioning technique training is only good for a limited time. You do need the objective feedback of a professional teacher to break bad habits, teach the basics or the next level of the craft and help you to develop faster. If you are not sure that you need a professional class, then you probably do.
While in the learning process, I don’t believe actors can teach themselves. They cannot recognize what is and what is not working and why. Actors should go to class, absorb adjustments and evolve. TERRY BERLAND, Commercial CD & Author
When purchasing a video camera, know that it doesn’t have to be a costly investment. You can buy an inexpensive, basic model with none of “the bells and whistles” or a used one from a reputable company that offers a warranty. Find new and discontinued cameras at excellent prices on websites like overstock.com, nextag.com, dealtime.com, biznet.com, shopzilla.com, amazon.com and pricegrabber.com. Check out the makes and models of the cameras you are interested in on websites that review electronic products, e.g., cnetreviews.com and eopinions.com. You will find that most websites offering product reviews also refer you to sites that sell the products as well as review those online businesses. So if you do your research, you can get a good camera at a great price from a reputable online business. Using this same process, get a tripod suited to your camera. Once your camera arrives bring it to an electronics store and let them help you select the wires and hook-ups necessary to attach it to your computer, video-deck or TV.
FIND A PHOTOGRAPHER TO SHOOT “TEST SHOTS” – Search for new or established “crossover” photographers who want to shoot sample pictures for their portfolios and websites. Or find student photographers looking to shoot assignments for their classes. Most of them are willing to shoot headshots (which they refer to as “test shots”) for free. They usually give you an agreed-upon number of prints, but many insist on owning your negatives. Some may charge you a minimal fee for developing the film or printing the pictures, but there should be no charge for the shoot. Get the receipt from their lab to make sure you are being billed correctly. Check with talent managers, agents, universities, other photographers and friends when locating “test shot” photographers.
TIP: Be sure to get a signed statement from the “test shot” photographer stating exactly how they will be using your photos. And if you are asked to sign a release, read it very carefully.
GET INEXPENSIVE 4 x 6 PROOF PRINTS – Instead of getting a proof sheet or 4 x 6 proof prints from your photographer, ask him/her for a CD and take the disc to a store that develops photographs inexpensively such as Costco, Sam’s Club or drugstores. Most of these places do 4 x 6 prints at a fraction of the price that a lab would charge. Also, there are online websites, e.g. snapfish.com, where you can download JPEG picture files and have the prints sent to you within a few days for even less. The quality is not as good as the professional labs but plenty good enough to help you narrow down the choices – making it easier to select your headshots. Save even more by paring down your selections and only printing your favorite twenty to forty proof prints instead of all the pictures from the shoot.
MAKE PHOTO DUPLICATIONS FROM THE CD – Since most photographers give the finished prints on a CD, it is no longer necessary to have 8 x 10 photos for touch-up or duplication purposes. Just bring your disc to the photo lab to get your selected photos duplicated. Most labs will do touch-ups when requested or you can bring your CD to a touch-up specialist.
WORK-STUDY OR BE A CLASS ASSISTANT – Most every teacher has a work-study, an assistant or a monitor in his/her class whose job is to take care of the paperwork, monitor the attendance, make phone calls, and do data entry and/or personal jobs for the teacher. In exchange, these students take the class at a discounted price or for free. Once you have found an acting, improv, cold-reading or commercial teacher you love(and possibly have already studied with), talk to him/her about being an assistant. If that position is not available, ask if, in exchange for the class or a discounted rate, you can clean, baby-sit, run errands, etc. If the answer is no and if you continue to study with this teacher, ask again at a later time. Or look around for another teacher you respect who might be willing.
BARTER FOR MEMBERSHIP IN ACTING ORGANIZATIONS OR FOR ACTOR SERVICES – You probably have skills that you might be able to barter for services you need. When dealing with networking organizations, theatre companies, photographers, etc., check to see if they would be willing for you to do designated work in exchange for their fee or a part of it.
GET YOUR HAIR STYLED AND COLORED AT BEAUTY SCHOOLS – Businesses that train beauticians usually have their more advanced students cut and color patrons’ hair for free or a minimal fee. They are trained but not experienced. There is normally no reason to be concerned about their inexperience because their instructors are supervising them but I have heard of people who have had problems with their hair color or cut. Play it safe; ask questions, pay careful attention while they work on you and make sure a supervisor is nearby.
EXERCISE ON YOUR OWN – Work out on your own if money is an issue. If you are disciplined, focused and creative, you can get the physical exercise you need to keep yourself in shape, stay healthy and look good. Put a daily routine together and stick to it. Jog around your neighborhood, buy exercise tapes and work out with them, stretch, create your own weight workout, do sit-ups and push-ups, etc. Change your workout every four-to-eight weeks to keep motivated. Maybe get a fitness magazine and try a new regimen that is featured. It takes commitment but it’s for your health and well-being.
BUY CLOTHES AT THRIFT, CHARITY, OUTLET AND DISCOUNT STORES AS WELL AS GARAGE SALES – You can save lots of money and get great clothes (even designer fashions) when you shop at thrift, charity, outlet and discount stores and garage sales. There are stores in New York and Los Angeles that specialize in wardrobe that was bought for actors (and not always worn) in films, TV shows and commercials. Many times it is designer clothing and costs half of what is charged in department and specialty stores. You may have to hunt around and sometimes do some alterations, but the money you save is often worth the time.
BUY GROCERIES, GASOLINE AND HOME NECESSITIES AT MEMBERSHIP CLUBS -Membership clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club offer incredible savings on groceries, gasoline and many necessities as well as clothes. Most items are sold in large quantities. I suggest you divide your purchases among roommates or friends. There is an annual membership fee, but it is only a fraction of the money you will save. Maybe the fee could be split up among those sharing your purchases.
PUT COUPONS TO WORK – In newspapers, magazines, mailings, handouts and on numerous websites (e.g. couponcabin.com and coupons.com) you can find coupons that can be used to save money on all kinds of items. Cut the ones out for things you need and use them. It might surprise you how much money you can save.
UTILIZE REFERRAL DISCOUNTS – Often acting teachers, photographers, photo duplicators, etc., give discounts to agency clients, organization members, students, etc. Check with people and businesses that you are already affiliated with to see if they have referral discounts set up for a class or service you want. But don’t let a discount be the main criterion for choosing a class or service. You only save if it’s something you truly want. If not, you’re wasting money.
UTILIZE THE INTERNET TO SAVE MONEY – There are several websites that list the best online businesses to buy almost any product at great prices, e.g., nextag.com, shopzilla.com and pricegrabber.com. Be sure to factor in the shipping and handling fees when determining how much you are really saving. Sites like craigslist.com have saved people lots of money on previously owned products.
WARNING: When there is a problem with the products purchased from website businesses, it is sometimes difficult to get good customer service. Research the customer ratings and return policies on any online business you plan to purchase from and always make sure they are a credit-card-secure site.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE PUBLIC LIBRARY – Join the library, which is free, and check out copies of books, movie DVDs or scripts. Libraries also have copiers and often Internet access.
MONEY SAVING WARNINGS
Most of us look for a bargain or creative opportunities to save money. It is crucial to weigh what you are getting against what you might be saving. Many times an attempt to save will cost more money or valuable time. Here are specific examples:
- Saving rent money on a house or apartment that is a long distance from where you work, study and audition is not really saving. The expense of gasoline as well as wear and tear on your car will often end up costing you a lot more than the higher-priced apartment or home closer to the hub of your activities. Plus, the time driving (usually in traffic) could be used working at your “survival” job making more money so that you can afford the higher priced abode closer to where you need to be.
I always suggest to actors looking to make the move to L.A., to consider finding a place to live in between Hollywood and Burbank, as most of the theatrical auditions center around these two areas. Sure, there are satellite offices located twenty to forty miles from those areas, but the bulk of auditions are usually found in Burbank and Hollywood. TODD JUSTICE, Talent Representative @ Marshak/Zachary
- Choosing teachers onlybecause they are less expensive, willing to barter, or willing to make you a class assistant could end up costing you time; more importantly it could take a toll on your talent development. A deal only benefits you if it truly serves you. Select teachers who you would be willing to pay, not just any teacher who would be willing to make you a deal.
- Taking breaks in your training is not a good place to save money. Your training is making you an actor. Don’t jeopardize your craft. Doing so could postpone when you will start earning money doing acting work.
- Networking groups are about building careers. Even though I did suggest starting your own to save money, realize that professional groups with their established contacts, tried-and-true tactics and established networking opportunities are definitely more valuable, if you can afford it. A reputable networking/entertainment business guidance organization will be able to move your career along faster (especially after eighteen months into my plan) and should help you to help yourself find more acting work.
- Saving money with a less expensive photographer does not always work. Do your research and if you find that a more expensive photographer is the one you truly prefer then wait a little longer, save the necessary money and shoot with your first choice. If you go with a photographer primarily because he/she is inexpensive and don’t get photos that serve you then you will need to shoot again with a better photographer (usually the one that you wanted in the first place). In an attempt to save money, you will have spent almost twice the amount.
Your pictures are nothing to skimp on. Bad photos waste your time, your agent’s and manager’s time and cost you more in the long run. ABBY GIRVIN, Owner of DDO agency
These are just a few examples of mistakes actors make when they try to save money. So, look at what you are getting for what you are saving. And save wisely.
Okay, now that you know how much money you could be spending and saving, let’s take a look at occupations and part-time jobs. During the first year or so of my plan, you should have a full-time job or several jobs that
- earn you enough money for living expenses and classes as well as enough to save for marketing your career in the second year
- provide time flexibility so you can audition and do acting work
- you enjoy and helps you to feel successful
It is important to feel good about yourself and the work you do. If you are in a job that you hate just to make money, you might take that negativity into your acting work or even give up your career in order to stop doing the “survival” job.
Acting is your avocation. Let it be the work you do from the heart. Trust me, you are going to need a vocation. It took me five years before I was able to completely support myself with acting. That seems to be the number when I talk to other actors – and we are the lucky ones. The goal is for your avocation to become your vocation. LESLIE JORDAN, Emmy-Award-Winning Actor
Having a job that you are trained for and enjoy with an accommodating company or starting your own small business creates a work situation that gives you the freedom and flexibility to audition and to take time off for acting work. It is also important to have a job(s) in a positive environment that can develop, not undermine, your confidence and that makes you feel good about the work you do – then your job is interesting and nurturing so you are inspired to succeed and make good money.Choose your job(s) or second career carefully. The following are the more popular jobs because they are conducive to actors pursuing a career:
BOOKKEEPER AND TAX PREPARER -Both require training and certification and can be ideal, well-paying jobs. It is essential to work for a company that can be flexible with your hours. Temp agencies do find work for bookkeepers. It can be even better if you have your own personal clients.
CAB DRIVER / LIMOUSINE DRIVER- Both require a chauffeur’s license. If you want to drive a cab, you can work for an established company. Or you can buy a medallion (which is fairly expensive)and a cab, get a business license and work for yourself. The rates are set but additional money is made in gratuities. To drive a limousine you can either work for a company and draw a salary (the gratuities are yours) or own your business medallion and limo and establish your own rates.
- CASTING ASSISTANT: They assist commercial and theatrical casting directors with everything from running errands, sorting through pictures, setting appointments and writing letters to running a casting session’s waiting room. This job normally pays between $100 and $150 a day.
- Casting Camera Operator: Almost every commercial casting session and many theatrical ones are recorded on video and thus a camera operator is necessary. Knowledge of and experience with video equipment, lighting and editing are pre-requisites for this work. Camera operators usually earn $125 to $175 a day.
- Session Director: They direct actors at the auditions for the CDs, supervise the camera operator, and do the paperwork as well as oversee the shipping of DVDs and paperwork to the client and the director. Session directors make $150 to $200 a day.
- Camera Operator/Session Director: Often the camera operator and the session director are the same person. When doing both jobs for the same session, he/she will earn from $200 to $350 a day.
A great way to get these jobs is to intern or work for free for a month or two with a CD with whom you would like to seek employment. Once you prove yourself and when there is an opening, you have a strong chance of getting hired. Most will start you as an assistant. Once you are assisting, if you choose, you can usually arrange to get training as a camera operator and/or a session director.
After becoming proficient and experienced, most assistants, camera operators and session directors work for several casting directors. Two great perks: often actors are invited to audition for parts that are appropriate for them when they are working at the sessions or because they have a relationship with the CDs; and because there is a network of actors doing this work, it is usually easy to get yourself covered if you have to leave for an audition or acting job. Unfortunately, this work is not consistent for most so it could mean that you would need another job.
COMMERCIAL PRINT WORK -You don’t have to be a model or even an actor to do commercial print work. All types at any age can do it. You will need an agent to be considered for the majority of this work. (There are some print jobs that you can submit yourself for online.) When you get an appointment, you go to the office of the client’s photographer or the advertising agency to meet those in charge and shoot one or two audition photos. Sometimes print jobs are booked off your headshot(s) without an audition. The fee you earn for this work is based on what your agent negotiates per hour, day, or week or for the whole job; if product exclusivity is required; and whether or not travel is involved. Most actors can, at best, make a supplemental income doing commercial print jobs.
FIREMAN AND AIRLINE ATTENDANT- Many actors are firemen or airline attendants. They often work a two- or three-day shift and have the rest of the week to pursue acting. These jobs require training and certification(s), pay well and have health benefits. I believe both jobs are probably better for those pursuing acting as a hobby because it can take years to accrue the seniority necessary to arrange schedules that are conducive to pursuing an acting career.
HOUSE PAINTER, HANDYMAN AND CONSTRUCTION WORKER- Lots of actors work as painters, handymen and construction workers. Many work for companies or contractors and some have their own businesses. It is physically demanding and can be creatively satisfying. It averages from $15 to $45 an hour or from $100 to $600 a day. The money earned depends on the clients, your experience and level of expertise and, if you are in business for yourself, your ability to market yourself.
CLUB AND PARTY DOOR GUARD / BOUNCER- This work entails ousting problem patrons at nightclubs and parties or standing at the door and checking that guests are on the invitation list. This is normally a nighttime and/or weekend job that hires good-looking, well-built, strong men. There are businesses that supply guys for these positions. Or if you know someone associated with the club or party or happen to be at the right place at the right time, you could get the job on your own. The money is set or can be negotiable, based on the club’s popularity or the clout of the organization that sets up the guards.
DOG-WALKER AND CAT CARETAKER -If you are good with animals and enjoy taking care of them, this job might be right for you. Animal owners who work long hours or go out of town often need help with their pets.
- With dogs you could be required to feed them, walk them around the neighborhood, take them to a public dog park or trail, pick up after them and, if needed, give medications and take and pick them up at the veterinarian.
- Cats need to be fed, cared for, played with, their litter box cleaned once or twice daily and if needed, given medications and taken to and picked up at the vet.
The money earned is based on experience, the number of pets, whether walking dogs or looking after cats, certifications, if it is a regular gig, a few days or weeks and, of course, what is negotiated. Normally, they earn from $15 to $45 an hour. Often dog-walkers walk a few dogs at a time, which means they can make more per hour. If there is house-sitting involved while caring for the pet(s), add an additional $25 to $60 a day depending on whether you are staying the night or the number of times you visit a day.
EXTRA WORK – Extras are the people with no dialogue who fill the background in TV shows, movies, commercials, music videos and industrial films. It may seem easy, but this can be tedious work, with lengthy periods of waiting-to-work (often in uncomfortable situations), long, late hours and lots of standing, sitting or walking when the shooting starts. Once registered with a “Call In” service, if you are right for the kind of extras they are hiring, you will be contacted and booked for a day, week, month or longer. For more information on doing “extra” work, check sag.org and aftra.org.
WARNING: Extras are often told that they will only be needed for a few hours and then have to stay on the set well into the evening. If you have a class, are in a play or have something you must do that evening, play it safe and turn down that day’s work. There will be other opportunities to work as an extra.
Money earned for doing “extra” work:
- Non-union extras are paid a minimum of $50 (for an eight-hour day) plus overtime.
- SAG extras make a minimum of $130 for film and TV shows and $291.80 a day for commercials: plus there is the possibility of earning overtime and penalties.
- AFTRA extras earn a minimum of $130 when working on TV soap operas and $119 for other AFTRA television programs.
MASSEUSE, MASSEUR, FACIALIST OR PHYSICAL THERAPIST -These jobs require a training program, certification(s) and a license. Once this is accomplished, masseuses, facialists and physical therapists can make anywhere from $25 to $150 a session (plus gratuities) depending on their clientele, service, location and whether they work at a spa or for themselves.
NANNY – A nanny (female or male) assists with the care of a baby or young children during the day or evening. This job usually requires references and often certifications and a license. Most families hire licensed nannies through employment agencies. It is best for new actors only during the initial training period – when responsible for childcare it is impossible to get away for auditions. A weekend nanny would be a good job after the first eighteen months of my plan. The money is negotiated and depends on the hours, certifications, number of kids, responsibilities, if you live-in and the clients. If you do a live-in situation, you also save money on food, gas and lodgings.
NIGHT-SHIFT EMPLOYEES – Hospitals, hotels, police stations, grocery stores and many corporate businesses have night-shift employees, e.g., customer service agents, data-entry people, restockers, security, receptionists, orderlies and nurses. Sometimes nighttime employees will get more per hour than those doing the same job during the day.
OUTSIDE SALES – Doing outside-the-office sales work can be an ideal job because you are usually able to schedule most of your client appointments around your auditions and acting work. You can make good money depending on the product, the territory, your contacts and your skill as a salesperson. Many sales jobs are minimum wage plus commissions and normally include expenses. Specialized sales jobs, depending on the product, require a certification(s) and/or training. Some examples: selling medical supplies requires an academic degree and a license; real estate brokers must take a course and pass a test; some sales jobs, e.g. magazine advertising and multi-level marketing, require training from the company.
TIP: When selecting a product to sell I recommend you choose one that you believe in, really understand and feel good about selling.
PARTY OR CLUB DJ’S- This job offers a chance to work with music, socialize, network, be in the center of the party scene and work nights and weekends. The money earned depends on the club or party planner doing the hiring. It is an enjoyable, creative job that (for most) supplies additional income.
PERSONAL ASSISTANT – Being a personal assistant can involve all kinds of tasks: errands, phone calls, writing letters, mailings, general office work, research, overseeing workers, shopping, walking dogs, changing cat litter, making signs, putting together scrapbooks, organizing projects, data-entry – whatever is needed at the moment or on a regular basis. The pay ranges from $10 to $35 an hour depending on references, skills, number of hours and clientele. There are agencies that find jobs for personal assistants.
After the first eighteen months, when you start going out on auditions, I strongly suggest that you do not work as a personal assistant for a celebrity, corporate executive or major businessperson. Working for high-profile clients will earn you more money but it is usually impossible to pursue your career. Once you are auditioning regularly, only do assistant work with clients who will be flexible with your schedule.
PERSONAL SHOPPER -If you love shopping, have excellent (as well as trendy, creative and sophisticated) taste in clothes, gifts, food, etc., you may want to investigate earning an income as a personal shopper for individual clients and businesses. (You must be willing to adapt your tastes to serve the preferences of others.) The challenging part is getting the clients. You can start by working for an established “shopping” business or high-end department store and once you have the experience and contacts, move out on your own.
PHONE SALES – There are two main types of phone sales jobs:
- Telemarketers make unsolicited calls to encourage people to buy products or services. They can work from any location as long as they have a phone and a computer. Normally they receive a base salary with commissions.
- Incoming phone sales employees receive calls from those interested in the products or services being offered. This job usually entails working in an office. They earn a base salary and sometimes commissions.
Income depends on the product(s), call volume, amount of time working and sales ability.
PHOTOGRAPHER – Many top photographers are or were actors. Most photographers earn $200 to $400 for a shoot that takes, on average, three hours. Even with the great ones, the hardest part of being successful is getting clients on a consistent basis.
PHYSICAL TRAINER, YOGA, AEROBICS OR DANCE TEACHER – These jobs require a committed training program and/or certifications. You can earn from $20 to $100 an hour depending on whether you work for a company or for yourself, give classes or do private sessions, and the number of certifications completed. In the major entertainment cities there is an abundance of dancers, athletes, actors and others who opt for this kind of work. It can be very competitive and therefore slow to build a clientele.
PRODUCT PROMOTIONS – Actors are hired to speak (either scripted or impromptu) about companies and products and/or do product demonstrations at various venues such as conventions, special events, bars and parties. The money earned depends on the job, venue, company, amount of time and travel required and the person’s training, experience, expertise and how long or how often they have worked for a company. Most actors can’t count on these jobs for a steady income: however it is great work to supplement earnings. Once positioned with agents, companies, party planners, caterers, etc., you will be able to work fairly frequently and make decent money for a day or a week or two at a time. Many jobs are local but some require travel – occasionally out of the country. You can choose to take only the jobs that work for your schedule.
RETAIL SALES – Sales positions in department and specialty stores or in car dealerships are good if there is an understanding boss and others who can fill in on short notice. Retail sales jobs offer a salary and/or a commission. The amount of money to be made depends on the product, location, clientele, commission structure and sales ability.
SINGER, DANCER, FASHION MODEL OR HOST – Actors who sing, dance, model or do hosting can get work through agents who specialize in each of these fields. So with proper skills, the right look, marketing and representation, you could make a full or supplemental income doing any of these jobs while preparing for or pursuing an acting career.
WARNING: Be careful not to accept too many out of town jobs or jobs that take you on the road for extended periods of time. It is extremely difficult to build your acting foundation or create career momentum if you are constantly interrupting the process.
SPECIALIZED SKILLS TEACHER – If you have a strong knowledge or talent in a specialized skill, such as computers, arts and crafts, dog training, languages, photography, feng shui, golf, tennis, baseball, cooking, quilting, etc. and have an ability to communicate that skill, you can make either a living or supplement your income teaching your skill. There are people, sometimes lots of them, who would like to learn what you know. It’s a matter of locating them or them finding you. With a business plan, advertising, word of mouth and/or a good location, finding potential students to start your own teaching business is doable. You can secure a job with an established teaching institution and when you are ready, move out on your own. The income is determined by the complexity of your skill and the demand.
SUBSTITUTE SCHOOL TEACHER – This job requires an academic degree and a certification. Substitute teachers get their work calls either the night before or very early on the morning they are needed. If actors don’t have auditions or acting work, they take the job. It is usually a 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. job. For six hours of work, the pay is approximately $120.
SWAP MEET, STREET FAIR AND FLEA MARKET VENDOR – Selling products that you either make or buy wholesale at weekend markets is another option. There is normally a market venue to be found (within a reasonable driving distance) every weekend in the major entertainment cities. If they have a desirable product(s) at a good price, are good salespeople and secure a good location, many actors make enough money in two days so that they don’t have to work another job. (You will need to get a business and resale license – you must make sure your paperwork is accurate and your taxes are paid so you can avoid IRS problems.) During the week, at their convenience, those doing this work can handle the restocking, paperwork and finances of running their own little business.
TEMP WORK – Those skilled in data entry, computer research, letter writing, research, receptionist work, and other clerical skills can apply with a temp agency (or several) to do daily, weekly or monthly work. Sometimes these temp jobs can lead to a permanent position (if you want). The salary for this work is based on skills, the going rate for specific services, and the fee the agency has negotiated.
WAITER AND BARTENDER – These are appealing jobs because most shifts are in the evening or are flexible, which leaves the time for auditions and classes. The shifts are scheduled in advance and if the actor needs to go to an audition or do an acting job, he/she can usually get someone to cover or switch. Plus, the money earned can be pretty good, especially if you work for a popular restaurant or club. Depending on the cost of the meals and drinks, actors can make from $10 to $35 an hour in gratuities (sometimes more) in addition to the minimum wage. Caterers and party planners also hire servers and bartenders for parties and events, which will create additional income.
TIP: Finding work as a waiter or bartender is not always as easy as one might think because the major entertainment cities are saturated with lots of actors who want to support themselves doing this work. So, if you are thinking about supporting your acting career as a waiter or a bartender, before moving to Los Angeles, New York or Chicago, start working for a corporate restaurant that has locations in one of the three cities in which you are planning to move. When you are ready to move, ask for a transfer so you that will probably have a job when you get to your destination.
More Jobs – Additional actor-friendly jobs and occupations that can provide a substantial living for actors:
Web designer online business owner astrologer
golf or tennis pro graphic/art designer acupuncturist cabinetmaker hypnotherapist accountant
business consultant animal groomer publicist
tutor script reader event planner
house cleaner bookkeeper hair colorist/stylist
artist interior decorator jewelry maker
landscaper/gardener security officer eyebrow shaper book/copy editor body waxer valet
day trader (stocks) mobile auto detailer resume writer personal chef real estate salesperson consultant
notary artist’s model mystery shopper
computer technician computer programmer messenger
kids’ party entertainer car valet translator
preproduction and post-production work for TV/films/commercials
Choose wisely. The money you make from your job(s) facilitates and sometimes can dictate the course of your career as well as make it possible to have a comfortable life.
I don’t believe in a fallback plan for actors. An actor needs survival skills, whether it is bartending, dog walking, data entry, whatever will pay the rent and fund classes. But an “if this doesn’t work out I can always go back to being a lawyer” mentality doesn’t just reduce the possibility of a successful acting career, it dampens the commitment needed to push through the tough times. Do you want your surgeon hoping this medicine thing works out, but if not, she can always pick up her job at the bank? ALICIA RUSKIN, Commercial Agent & Partner, KSA Talent Agency
THE BOTTOM LINE
There are services and jobs you perform to make a living and then there are occupations that are careers and require your full focus. You work to earn money while pursuing an acting profession but it is nearly impossible to pursue a full-on business career and an acting career simultaneously. If you want be a business professional then being an actor can be a hobby. Also, it is possible but extremely difficult to work, for example, a government job or be a doctor, lawyer, schoolteacher, psychiatrist, executive in the corporate world or even a full-time receptionist. Jobs that are structured for a 9-to-5 day, five days a week and require overtime are not conducive for actors (except during the training year(s). Once again, those pursuing acting work need to have a job with flexible hours that is not heavy with responsibility or should own their small business maybe with a partner. It is essential to prioritize your goals and serve one career at a time.It will help you to focus your time, money and energy efficiently, thus producing more results.
I strongly suggest that during your training year(s), you start positioning yourself for whatever avocation(s) interest you. Then you will be ready to move into one or two of them once you start pursuing acting work full time. If you eventually decide that acting is not for you, the job(s) you choose can help you to develop a business or skill that you might want to take on as a career.