This is such a sensitive subject for me, and many other actors that I know. Many of us will never have the desire to quit our day jobs, however for others it’s all we think about. Acting can be an excellent hobby and source of income, but for those of us who reach a little further than that-we desire it to be a full time career.
There are many benefits to acting full time; you no longer need to worry about having enough time to study and devote yourself to your role, and you would now have the ability to focus one hundred percent of your energy on your project. This means more time for auditions, prep, class work, marketing and social media to promote yourself, etc.
But, you need to be prepared to make this decision. Here is some advice that may help you determine whether or not you are ready:
- MONEY IN THE BANK. Imagine you are ready to retire without the right funds to support yourself. Imagine worrying and stressing about each month’s bills and hustling to get money by involving yourself in work you don’t enjoy. Now, imagine that this could be you, if you don’t properly prepare before committing to acting full time. Remember to take in all expenses that are accrued from acting such as headshots, websites, and casting breakdowns, etc and add to that the necessities like your rent or mortgage, monthly food bill, car payments and spending money. You need to break these items down and plan for the future if you are to quit your day job. Be very overly prepared. Give yourself several months up to a years worth (or more) of financial security to fall back on in case of emergencies.
- GET RID OF DEBT FIRST. Easier said than done, I know. But think of the freedom you will have when you are not still paying off car loans or student debt. This was my personal goal before committing to acting full time, because then I only would really need to worry about food and my internet bills. Taking out those payments means less risk of missing a payment once or twice, and can put up to a thousand extra dollars into your lap each month. Maybe even more! I highly recommend it.
- BE IN THE UNION. This one should be a no brainer! Spend the money to join the union- and nationally, not just locally. There is a UNION due cost difference, which you should be aware of otherwise it will completely catch you off guard. It’s around $700-$1000 to join SAG/AFTRA in a small market, and around $2000-$2500 to join in Los Angeles or New York. Even if you get one job in Los Angeles (and don’t even live there), SAG/AFTRA will immediately send you your new dues. Sometimes, you will not have the option on a payment plan. It depends entirely on your personal history with the UNION.
- BE PREPARED TO GO WITHOUT HEALTH INSURANCE. When I first joined SAG/AFTRA, I was over the moon with delight that I would soon be enjoying the many benefits of the unions’ glorious insurance plan; until I realized that SAG/AFTRA requires that you make a certain amount of money through UNION jobs each year before you qualify. So, if you did not make $20,000 or more for the calendar year in which you are applying for insurance- do not expect to qualify for their insurance plans.
- TAKE ADVANTAGE OF UNION PERKS. Being a UNION member, you have access to tons of perks! Most are local to Los Angeles, however if you are acting full time you should be in LA already. Get discounts on a range of items from gym memberships, makeup, entertainment packages, internet, car rentals, casting sites and much more. Before paying for anything, check SAGAFTRA.COM first to see what you qualify for.
- UNDERSTAND YOUR MANAGEMENT AND AGENT CONTRACTS. There is nothing worse than doing a job, expecting to get a certain amount and being disappointed to find that you receive something different. Afterwards, you have that awkward conversation with your management and agency teams about who took what and why. You come across looking unprofessional and uninformed. Fully read through your contracts before signing anything, and remember that your management is separate from your agent- so they receive their ‘cut’ in addition to what the agency takes. There is no governing agency for managers like there is for agents (your agent should always be SAG/AFTRA franchised), so any management contract you enter into you are solely liable for. Some managers take direction from the Talent Managers Association, which is smart and I highly recommend working with someone who is involved with them- since they have a code of ethics and a general standard. Otherwise you are at risk of signing with someone who ends up exploiting you, or stealing money from you. Of course this is not every instance, but you can’t risk it. More than one manager in different countries? Remember, both managers get paid when either one books you work (for the most part, except for highly unusual arrangements).
- DON’T GET COCKY! Acting jobs can come in waves or seasons. One season you’re in, one season you’re out. If you book a big job, stash away your portion for taxes and then allocate the rest to savings. No need to splurge until your income is steady. Don’t fall into the trap of dropping $$$ on something silly unless you are certain more money is coming. Even if you get a big film, you never know when you will book again. I’m sure you’re thinking… but what about that whole phrase dressing for the job? Won’t showing up in a Ferrari make it look like I book a ton of work? Honestly, no- they don’t care!
I hope that you are well on your path to becoming either the full time actor or actor hobbyist that you wish to be! Make sure to use these steps as you reach for your goals, and set your own as well- because your own voice can lead you better than anyone else.