How to make money as an actor

When it comes to working as an actor, possibly the biggest myths you’ll come across are about MONEY.

Ever heard the term ‘starving artist’? Ever heard it applied to you?

When I first told people in my family that I wanted to be an actor, my uncle responded, “Get used to saying, ‘Would you like fries with that?’

He was only half joking.

Most of us, at some point, will come against someone close to us who doesn’t think we should be an actor, and the primary reason is probably money. To be fair, people who care about you don’t want to see you starve. That’s fair enough, but unfortunately they don’t have accurate information about how people actually make money in this industry. That means their fear about you starving is based on misinformation.

This is actually good news! It means that you can a) actually make a living as an actor and b) convince any sceptical people in your life that you’re going to be fine. Phew.

So let’s talk about how you will realistically make money as an actor. 

Here’s how people think they’ll make money as an actor.

How you think

Most people generally think they will be on set and in rehearsal all the time, and maybe they’ll top up their income with the odd TV advertisement.

Here’s how you’ll actually make money as an actor.

How you'll actually.jpg

Notice the difference?

Now, don’t panic. Your pie chart probably won’t look exactly like this – it’s just an example to show you how diversified the life of an actor is. In the business world, they call this diversified income streams, or diverse revenue streams. It’s a real thing. It basically means your money comes from lots of places. Entrepreneurs are particularly interested in diversifying their income streams, because that’s how you get a small business off the ground.

As an actor, you basically function like a small business. Just like any business, you need to be constantly proactive in looking for things that will generate income. Also like a business, this gets easier after a while. You’ll generate momentum by developing a solid reputation, and people will keep hiring you without you having to chase them. Still, it takes a certain amount of finesse and a fair amount of hard work to get all that income coming into your life.

So – back to your pie chart.

The examples I’ve included are just that – examples. You have control over your different types of income, just like a business would. If you hate improv, or corporate gigs, or admin, you don’t have to do them – you’ll just have to do more of something else to make sure you’re getting enough income in the door.

For example, I have friends who do about 50% film and theatre, 40% voiceovers, and 10% presenting. ‘Presenting’ could mean hosting a regular quiz night at a pub (yes, people seriously do earn a living doing this sort of thing) or it might be as a civil celebrant, speaking at weddings and funerals.

I personally don’t like corporate gigs, but I do love teaching, so I do a mix of film and theatre, teaching, a bit of voiceover and the occasional promotional work – like the other day a friend asked me to be in a photoshoot and I got $400 for it. Not bad for a couple of hours work. It’s not what I do all the time, but it was a nice extra bonus! Currently I teach one day a week, so I know I can always pay my bills, and generally I can fit plenty of creative work around that.

An added bonus:

When you diversify your income, you have a lot more flexibility to choose the best projects for your career. You might like the idea of doing 100% film, TV and theatre, but if you live in a small town, you might find that paying your bills that way involves taking on a lot of shitty gigs. Personally I would rather teach and do voiceover, both of which I enjoy a lot, than have to take on shitty projects just for the money – but that’s just my preference. You will have yours, and you can design your life accordingly.

So, now that I’ve explained how you can actually pay your bills as an actor, what’s next? What do you do now to actually get that money coming to you?

Well, that’s complicated, and unfortunately I can’t answer it all in one post, but I can recommend some simple steps for you to take right now:

  1. Think about what types of work you would enjoy doing apart from film, tv and theatre gigs.
  2. Analyse what skills you would need. You need to be at a fairly high skill level to be good enough to get the work, so you might need to invest some time getting good at it. e.g. voice lessons, improv classes.
  3. Analyse what support/marketing material you might need to get you work in these areas. Talent alone won’t get you there – there are also practical things you will need. e.g. For voiceover – you’ll probably need a voice demo reel. For presenting, you might need a qualification (like becoming a certified celebrant). For teaching, you might need to do further study or it might just be something fairly simple like applying for a police check.
  4. Write down the steps you can take to get started. Turn the information you’ve come up with into actionable steps. e.g. Enrol in improv class, speak to agent about potential voiceover work. Make a special note of anyone you might be able to go for advice, and put dates in your diary as to when you will contact them to catch up for a coffee. Word advice – don’t try and do this all at once. Spread out your action plan over at least 6 months, if not 1-2 years.
  5. Choose at least one step that you can take this week… and do it!!

 

I hope that breaks through some of the mystery for you and gives you enough to get started.

What do you think – how would you like your pie chart to look?

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