So you were offered an acting gig…congrats! Pick up a bottle of wine (go ahead and grab one from the shelf second to the bottom, you’re fancy tonight)! Call your mom and choke into the phone that a Bachelor of Fine Arts is paying off after all. Celebrate! And then start preparing. Now is the time for the business side of you to kick in and make sure everything is in order before you lay your John Hancock on that contract. Below are some questions you should be asking, whether the gig is theatre, film or industrial.
Money, Money, Money
This is the big one. Many young or new actors are so excited to book a gig they neglect to probe the compensation side of things. Worse yet, even at a professional level, you will run into job offers that do not openly state what they are paying, and actors can feel uncomfortable asking. Let me help you out on that front. Never, never, never feel bad about inquiring after money. It is your responsibility as a working actor to know ahead of time what you are receiving in return for services you are about to render. Few jobs outside of the arts expect you to offer your hard-won skills and training blindly. Be part of the solution, and before you sign your soul away make sure you know:
- How much are you getting paid? It’s not gauche. It’s business.
- When will you receive checks? This varies so widely! Doing extra work? Be prepared to wait 5-8 weeks for a check in the mail. Theatre? You might get paid weekly, bi-weekly, in two separate chunks, or all at once on closing. Film work? Make sure you know if it’s SAG or not, because that will make a big difference. (Scale varies between projects but SAG should be able to help you figure out your rate).
- In what manner are you getting paid? Check in the mail? (Probably). Check for pick-up at a theatre? Direct deposit? It’s good to know.
- Is this going to be a 1099 MISC? A lot of theatre gigs are considered independent contract work. If that sounds like Greek to you, it basically means that taxes aren’t withheld, so if you don’t put money aside, you could end up owing money when it’s time to do your taxes.
Production Etiquette and Details
- When are you allowed to advertise your involvement? We live in the age of social media, but that doesn’t trump your non-disclosure agreement, so before you ecstatically tweet your role to the world, make sure you aren’t violating any contracts. Honestly, especially in film and television where scenes aplenty end up on the cutting room floor, sometimes the safest strategy is to surprise friends and loved ones once the material has made it to air.
- What is the production calendar like? These can be ever-changing and hard to track down but the sooner you know when you’re filming or rehearsing, the sooner you know when you might be free to take other work. If nothing else, you can at least find out when you might be issued schedule.
- What is being asked of you? This one is to make sure you can hold up your end of things. Before you sign, make sure you’re game for whatever is being asked of you—nudity, being able to speak a second language, what have you—because once the deed is done, you can’t just opt out later.
- Where are you filming? Certain projects may offer compensation for gas and whatnot if you’re shooting outside a certain radius.
- Who is involved? This is a tricky one. Sometimes information about who is involved in the project isn’t available immediately. Even if it is, it is difficult to find a way to ask who else is coming to the party without putting someone’s back up. On the other hand, reputations get around, and knowing who’s working on any given project can give you clues as to the quality and desirability of the production. So break out your sleuthing skills for this one and see what you can dig up.
If you have an agent or a manager, you already have someone to help you sort through the business side of things, but it’s still good to know all aspects of your business. Either way a good thing to remember is a lot of this information should be contained in a professional contract. If you don’t know the answers to these questions, but don’t want to look green, read the contract and all other materials very carefully. After that, anything that needs clarification is fair game. Remember, knowledge is power. The more you know about each gig, the better you can command your career as a whole.
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