Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Supporting your acting career

Something like 3% of Screen Actors' Guild members actually make a comfortable annual living wage acting for the camera.

One of my actors once asked me how one makes a living as a working actor, and I gave her an unforgivably incomplete answer. I thought she meant how does one make a living *strictly* acting. I simply reviewed several outlets for finding more auditions, getting jobs, etc.

Afterward, I realized she meant, "How do I *survive* while I'm auditioning and getting paying gigs here and there .. mostly there?"


That's another story.

The first thing I suggest you do is create an actor's business plan.

After all, you are at once the manufacturer and the "product" that creates income - and I've found that people who approach their work with a business-like attitude seem to go farther faster than those who don't.

There are actually a couple books out on the subject and many samples of business plan.

I devised an actor's business plan template for my actors based on several business plans I found online, then adapted them for artists.

A business plan demands that you create a mission statement for your work and life, and requires that you plan every aspect of the career you want to have and how you want to achieve it - including a plan of action and a financial breakdown encompassing what your living costs are and creating the funds to pay them.

In some cases it can be a part time job (wait persons can make a lot of money at nicer restaurants while working flexible schedules, which is why it's such a popular job for actors), a full time job with the flexibility to allow for auditions and work, or pursue an entrepreneurial side.

Lots of well-known actors own their own businesses - from trailers for shoots to website building to all sorts of independant contracting, construction work, and much more.

Normal costs include headshots, transportation, acting classes and equipment (notebooks, books, whatever) or an acting coach, other studies like singing, improv, dancing or body work. Everything else is negotiable (your own website in addition to a service like gym membership, psychology classes, getting demo reels edited - or even shot and edited), listing your photo on actors' internet services, having your own website (in addition to listing with a number of social online services), as well as other marketing tools.

None of it's cheap.

Many of today's stars had fairly restricted social lives in their early days as they worked and studied. Brad Pitt drove limousines and took classes for some six years before he started to land roles that pushed him up the film acting food chain. This after he already had attended the University of Missouri, studying at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Harrison Ford was a carpenter, supporting a family, when he started his acting career. At one point, after only getting cast in bit parts and lower paying roles, he decided that he would take an acting job *only* if it paid more than his carpentry gig. He initially turned down the role of Hans Solo in Star Wars until they agreed to at least pay him a little more than his carpentry gig.

The most notable working actor story these days involves Heroes star Masi Oka, who for several years has worked for - and continues to work for - George Lucas' motion picture visual special effects and lighting company in San Francisco, even though he has a pretty sexy "day job" on the popular TV hit!

In short, there is no easy, simple or set answer.

You have to figure out what works for you financially, educationally and artistically.

The people who seem to do the best that I coach have a steady (not necessarily huge) income - enough to cover their coaching and professional expenses like headshots so they don't have to worry about finances. They don't live above their means, and in some cases even have a partner or parents or angel who can afford to stake them to their coaching sessions.

Interestingly, I've coached graduates from professional acting schools (including The Academy of Dramatic Arts in LA) and university drama programs (including the Tisch School of Drama at New York University), so it's important that you match up the education you need with your career expectation.

If you're uncertain about what sort of career you want?

Again, I suggest you start with creating a business plan.

You might try one on your own before seeking the counsel of a couple books out describing the artists' business plan to see which sort of plan meets your needs instead of the other way around. By that I mean don't do something the way a book shows you just because it's in a book. Decide what you want to do and how you want to do and look for ways to make that happen. If your research shows you have to be open to other choices? So be it, but at least you won't feel that you didn't try to give it a shot doing it your way.

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