Two Ways to Save Money in Your Acting Career

pursuing a career as a professional actor is expensive

Here are a couple of money management tips to take special note of as we approach Episodic Season.

If there’s one thing I’d bet almost every member of the acting community can agree on, it’s that pursuing a career as a professional actor is expensive.  Photography, classes, initiation fees, union dues, subscriptions, mailings, clothing, transportation, maintenance, photo printing, resume printing, script printing, and on and on. But that’s just the unavoidable cost of doing business, right? Maybe so…and maybe not. While there are certainly some costs that are non-negotiable (and some materials and resources which are arguably more worthwhile investments than others), it pays to dedicate a bit of your time to figuring out which of the costs those are, and how you might be able – with a little creativity and outside-the-box thinking – to save some money in your acting career.

1. Expense: Headshots

Ah, headshots…those beloved little 8″x10” money pits. It is true that a good headshot is an undeniable necessity for the actor, but a little bit of digging will inevitably show you that the cost of acquiring said headshot can vary widely. Naturally, an actor in the big markets of LA or NYC is going to pay more than his fellow actor in Milwaukee – and a standard headshot session with a professional photographer in those large markets can easily run you $700 or more – but what if this kind of cash simply isn’t in your current budget? Conventional actor biz wisdom would scowl grumpily and remind you that the one place where you absolutely, positively can not cut corners ever ever amen is with your headshots…and yes, it’s important to understand that your headshots are your most critical marketing tool and you should make them the highest quality that you can…but I’d like to suggest that you can potentially cut some corners – if you know what you’re doing.

Headshots price-slashing strategy

So, the big-time pro photographers are expensive, right? But where did these professionals come from? Did they spring, fully-formed, onto the scene, with the innate ability and right to charge $100+/hr (and have people gladly pay it)? Look a few years back, and these pro photographers were student photographers, or inexperienced photographers just starting out. And whilst in the midst of gaining experience and building their skills, even extremely talented (read: potentially good-headshot-producing!) photographers will shoot photos for models and actors for significantly cheaper rates, or even for free. Check around your local college or university for photography students who might be seeking out shoot subjects. Oftentimes, if you make yourself available to model for a project the photographer needs to shoot, he/she will then turn around and shoot a set of headshots – or whatever else you need – in exchange. This mutually beneficial trade is known as TFP, or “time for prints.”

In addition to going the student photographer route, it can be useful to do a bit of digging around the photography scene in your town, as well as reaching out to other actors-who-might-know-people-who-know-people. Even professional photographers sometimes attend skill-building photography workshops, which can basically be thought of, for your purposes, as TFP on steroids. These workshops will convene as an opportunity for photographers of varying levels of professionalism to study their craft under different teachers/mentors, and to then hone their skills by conducting shoots with one or more of the models who have been hired for the occasion. These models may be getting paid a cash rate for their time, or they may be specifically interested in the collaborative value, and are donating their time/skills in exchange for a chance to network with photographers and other models, as well as update their portfolio with a number of potentially-useful new shots at once…including, yes, headshots.

Lastly, if you can track down photographer contacts (through friends, colleagues, or even social media), you may even find that some professional photographers – the same ones making a living shooting headshots – occasionally need a subject on which to test out a new piece of camera or lighting equipment. Then, in exchange for your time spent playing guinea pig, they will offer to shoot a round of headshots or other photos for your own portfolio. In short, the key here is to approach with an open yet discerning mind; do some homework, networking, and creative sleuthing to unearth headshot opportunities that others may easily overlook, and then take advantage of them with open eyes.

Headshot price-slashing caveat:

The most critical thing to remember when choosing to venture down the less-beaten path for obtaining headshots, is that at the end of the day, no matter how much or how little you spent on your photos, they still must be good. No – excellent. Try not to fall into the trap of being so excited over the money you saved by getting headshots for free, that you turn a blind eye to the actual quality of the shots. Whether you’ve gotten a set of photos from a student photographer volunteering his skills, or the most glitzy, name-droppy, expensive photographer in Hollywood, the one thing you must always do is examine the finished product with an intensely critical, objective eye, and then enlist the help of friends and colleagues whose opinions you also trust, to give feedback and help you to make the best decisions from your available options. Make sure that your headshots are of a high enough quality to be competitive within your market, and – above all – always make sure that your headshots look like you!

2. Expense: Demo reel

An actor’s demo reel is a short collection of video clips compiled to showcase his/her acting abilities. Most often, these clips are carefully curated from past onscreen work the actor has done, and edited together by a professional to create the reel itself. Sometimes, an actor who doesn’t yet have much experience – and, consequently, not enough taped work to make a demo reel out of – will go a slightly different route, and actually hire people to help him create one or more taped scenes. The approach might be as simple as hiring a single camera operator (or even a friend with a camera) to stand in one spot and shoot, or as elaborate as paying a whole crew to come in and create a small production, complete with multiple equipment operators, sound people, post-production people, editors, etc. As you can imagine, the sky is the limit when it comes to potential cost on that one. And when it comes to the demo reel, many actors accept the spending of large sums of money due to the importance of a good-quality reel in an actor’s marketing arsenal, and the weight it has in terms of helping you secure the best possible agents, managers, auditions, jobs, and other opportunities. Still, there are ways – whether you’re compiling existing video clips into a reel, or shooting these clips from scratch and then compiling them into a reel – to make this necessary expenditure a little less painful on your pocketbook.

Demo reel price-slashing strategy:

The first step for cutting costs on your demo reel is to assess your own skills: Do you know how to edit video? And if editing is a skill not yet in your personal toolbox, are you the type person who generally happens to have a knack for things like this? If so, it might be very worthwhile to you to do a little reconnaissance and find out what you can about the craft of editing. You might find – especially if you already have access to computer software used for video editing – that this is a skill you can teach yourself, either by tinkering (if that’s how your mind operates) or by poring over tutorials and other resources available on the internet. Both Macs and PCs have easily available programs, like iMovie and Windows Moviemaker that you can download on your computer or as apps for your iPads and iPhones, even.   They also have lots of fun and easy tutorials.  You could also seek out a dedicated course on the topic, or hire someone to tutor you one-on-one (perhaps, in the case of the latter, even finding a person who’d be interested in bartering their services in exchange for some skill or service which you might be able to provide for them!). The benefit to this approach, of course, is that once you’ve invested the initial time and effort to learn how to edit for yourself, you’ve bought infinite future instances where you will not have to rely on someone else to do your editing for you, thus saving yourself untold amounts of time, frustration, and- especially- money. Furthermore, when you put yourself in charge of editing your own projects, you increase the chances that you will come away with a finished product that is exactly what you want – instead of a potential compromise, or even something that turns out flat wrong – and you may even be able to exploit this new skill as a way to make some money, taking on editing work for others. (And what price-slashing strategy could be better than one that not only cuts the cost in question, but also affords you the opportunity to make money, as well?)

If in your situation, however, you decide that learning to edit for yourself is not an option, despair not – there are still cost-cutting measures you can pursue before throwing in the towel and just plunking down a huge stack of green in front of an editor you can’t afford. As in the case of headshot photographers, above, you may want to consider checking out the film programs at your local colleges and universities. There are many talented individuals who are pursuing degrees as budding cinematographers, editors, and the like, and they will be receiving an in-depth education in exactly the skills which you need to turn out a winning demo reel. Get in contact with these students, and see if there isn’t one who’d be willing to do a little editing work for you for a modest fee. You may even luck out and find someone who just really wants the extra experience, and will offer to work on your reel free of charge.   You should also be searching and submitting to the Cast It Talent Roles that are available on our website.  There’s no reason not to be working and building your own tape library all the time.  Work leads to work: through new connections or from people seeing your work.  When you work on someone’s project it is in their best interests to promote that project and they could end up taking you along for the ride if things broke just the right way.

A third strategy for cutting costs on your demo reel concerns the above-mentioned scenario, where you may be looking into producing some of your own videoed scenes from scratch, to overcome the obstacle of not yet having enough existing footage for a proper reel. In this case, find a group of peers and split demo reel production costs. In addition to increasing the variety and interestingness of your material, shooting with multiple actors generally produces a better, more professional looking product (think of being able to turn out multiple unique scenes, featuring various groupings of you and the others, versus what you’d be able to accomplish if the scenes consisted of nothing but a camera continually pointed at only you). Hunt around and find actors who are in the same boat, seeking new reel material. Work together to locate (or write) scenes that showcase exactly what each of you is aiming to sell as an actor, and then take advantage of the chance to showcase different nuances of your acting, made possible by interacting with a variety of different costars. The financial benefit to this, of course, is that you will be splitting any production costs – equipment, equipment operators, editors, locations, props, etc. – as many ways as there are actors involved. Since a camera rental is going to be the same price whether the equipment is set up and pointed at one actor or twelve, this is an excellent way to make production economical, and to help you afford far better resources than you might be able to get on your own. You may even find directors, screenwriters, editors, or other behind-the-scenes folks who are seeking to improve their demo reels, and who thus might be interested in pitching in to add their area of expertise- as well as pick up a portion of the costs- in exchange for personal use of the finished product.  Cast It Talent can also assist you here with the casting process for that hard to fill role.  You can post Roles for free and receive emailed submissions from actors who right for the part.

Demo reel price-slashing caveat:

As with headshots, the important thing to keep in mind when applying cost-cutting measures to your demo reel, is the bottom line that you still need the finished product to look (and in this case, sound!) as good as possible. I’m willing to assert that a truly bad demo reel is worse than no demo reel at all; thus, any methods you employ to save some money are only as effective- and ultimately useful- as the quality of your finished product.

Like anything in life or career, it’s up to you to look at your various needs and potential expenses and evaluate the investment-worthiness of each, both in terms of its weight or importance, and whether any plausible options exist for cutting costs without sacrificing necessary quality. Be sure to bookmark Cast It Talent’s webpage and check back for more articles, as I continue to discuss acting career expenses and ways the savvy actor can afford the materials and resources needed, without breaking the bank!

One final note from the editor: Once you have your headshots, resumes, and videos, they won’t do you any good on your home computer.  Use your Cast It Talent profile to professionally house this media and distribute it to all of the right connections.  CIT Pro actors can send their packages (comedy package, procedural package, drama package, etc.) direct to casting director inboxes using the CIT Messenger drop down on their Packages Tab.

Another cool strategy is to promote your appearances on TV or in Films or Commercials and put your own Cast It Talent URL (available on your Profile page) right on the flyer, postcard, or email so that decision makers can see that you mean business and that you have what it takes to fill the role they’re casting now or one they might think of you for in the future.

Cast It Talent believes in connecting the Right Actor with the Right Job, regardless of career level, representation, or location.

Go Book it!!

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Elizabeth Elizabeth Sekora is an actress and classically trained soprano living in Los Angeles. She has 24 years of experience in theatre, film, opera, television, and voiceover work, and holds a Bachelor of Music degree from University of Nevada, Las Vegas.