Money & Actors

Actors face many challenges within their careers but undoubtedly one of the hardest hurdles is how to live and pay for life, while breaking into or maintaining a career. When asking former actors why they quit pursuing their dream, most of them say “It just became too hard” or “I got tired of the struggle”. But when it comes down to it, most of those actors did not find this career so challenging because of the rejection, or uncertainty, or any of the other perceived negatives that go hand and hand with most acting carers, but quit because of the mental and physical strain of juggling jobs waiting tables for little money just to support their “acting habit”.
For this very reason, today’s topic are some of the expenses to expect in an acting career. This is directed more to the newer actors who might be considering a move to Hollywood but might not know what kind of financial commitment actors face throughout their careers.
“Just off the bus”:
#1 Safe LOCAL Place to live:
Not Long Beach or OC, or even Marina Del Rey for that matter. When actors move to LA from a small town, they look on a map and think that San Diego looks close! But the truth is, is that if you really want to be acting in “Hollywood”, you should probably be within about 5-10 miles of…well… Hollywood. And in LA traffic, even driving 10 miles can easily take hours (depending on where you are going, time, road conditions, etc…)
And speaking of driving…
#2 A Reliable Car:
I’m sorry to say this to all of my public transportation advocates, but in LA you really do need a car. Auditions and callback sometimes happen really really fast and you just will not enough time to figure out the best bus route , etc.. I know that there are many actors who try to do it when they first come to town, but I often see those same actors in the same situation a year or two later. It might be a better strategy to just spend the time to save up the money and work 80 hr weeks for a car then to spend 4 hours round trip every day on the bus just to get to your acting class.
#3 Headshots:
Plain & Simple. You pretty much cannot function as a professional actor without them. Even in the beginning. The good news is that they have gotten a lot more affordable in recent years due to digital cameras and competition among photographers. You can now expect good headshots between around $150-$350 ish.
#4 Classes / Networking / Online Submissions:
When first getting to town, it can feel like everything costs money. And there are some things that you will need to budget for. The truth is that most actors are unemployed most of the time. So unless you are acting every day as a series regular, actors should be in class to stay sharp, to grow as an artist, to network, and to do what we came here to do…ACT!
#5 Living Expenses:
In addition to having a place to live and reliable car, actors need the normal things like computer, cell phone, food, and even a TV to stay up to date on all the new shows you want to audition for.
This is where the majority of the trained, skilled, talented, experienced actor population might live. And please understand that when I use the term “working actor” in this article, I do not necessarily mean … “making a living as an actor”. For the purpose of this particular article, today I use this term to refer to the hundreds of thousands of actors who are quite good at the craft and business of acting but have not hit it big yet. (Which according to some statistics is somewhere around 99% of all actors.
You will still need ALL of the above but now add:
* New Headshots
* SAG-AFTRA Initiation & Dues
* Classes, Workshops, Showcases
* Website
* Demo Reel
* IMDb Pro
* Memberships to industry organizations
* Agent/Manager commission
* Marketing Tools (ie Business Cards, Post Cards, Etc)
And much more…
My idea of a successful actor is one who works on a regular basis and has happiness in their life. But for the purposes of this article, we will brand this with the stereotypical “Fame & Fortune” that so many long for. When reaching that level, you will still need most of the above but now add these additions:
Your Team: Publicists, Agents, Manager, Lawyers, Coaches, Personal Assistant, Consultants, Trainer, Stylists, and More…
Plus keeping up with the Hollywood Joneses with extra expenses of fancier homes, cars, clothes, beauty, trips, charities, gifts, and so on… (These may in fact seem like perks, not expenses) However, with success, often comes bigger expenses and responsibilities. Many believe, that if they just have “this” dollar amount or hit “that” milestone in their career that all the problems and stresses just disappear. But most “successes” in Hollywood will tell you that it can be just the opposite.
The above are just some of the items that actors deal with financial over their careers—a snapshot, into what to expect if planning to commit to a life as an actor. An important topic because thousands of actors are surprised when the day to day of being an actor catches up with the dream of being an actor.
My quick financial advice?
# 1 – If you are planning to move to LA , come with a well thought out strategy, many months of savings, and realistic understanding of what it takes to be an actor, talent, and a GREAT attitude!
# 2 – When you get here, find a job within the industry so your hours that are not spent acting, are at least providing you with connections while they are supporting your bank account.
# 3 – Have an acting account so no matter what your financial status is, you always have enough for your acting necessities.
And last, but not least …. DON’T GIVE UP. If you have a realistic understanding of what you might expect as an actor, then you won’t feel heartbroken when you are not rich and famous your first month in Hollywood!
Remember what Walt Disney said: “The difference in winning and losing is most often… not quitting.”

© 2013 Kari Nissena

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