Overhead: Your Yearly Costs
by China brooks
I wrote this article during my career as on-camera talent in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. Although I talk about the overhead yearly costs to run an acting business, this can be applied to any industry, for example:
In 2014 I did a 30 Day Exotic Dance Challenge in Vegas, which lasted 4.5 months. I have heard people say that exotic dancing isn't a real job. It is. In order to get set up to be able to work in a strip club I had to visit several places over the course of a week or so - Sheriff's Office, specialty shoe and costume stores, DMV, and numerous licensing agencies. It cost me a few grand before I stepped foot in a club for an paid shift. I took classes online and offline to learn pole dancing, sales techniques, and the art of eroticism. I was on my feet in high heels for 8 hours at a time and dancing on stage, which took quite a bit of energy and strength in my body. Dealing with customers took finesse. Any dancer who is good at what she does has to turn into a psychiatrist who is excellent at listening, people skills, sales, and marketing. It's actually not the easiest job I've ever had - and I've had many.
There were overhead costs - body waxing, wardrobe, shoes, hair, nails, tips to bartenders, valet, the DJ, license upkeep, special foods (to keep my energy high), makeup, jewelry, continued education (classes), etc.
- and -
My costs rise as I thrive. Right now some of what I pay for monthly is:
Website hosting and upkeep
Document signing service (Adobesign)
Program delivery service (Kajabi - love them!)
Business licensing fees
Financial organization software
Office supplies (including software)
Electronics and their upkeep / upgrades
Education, workshops, and travel (including books and programs)
Beauty and wardrobe maintenance (for public appearance)
Payment processing fees
Health supplements (to keep my energy up)
(I am sure there's more, however; you get the point)
Some of this is tax deductible. Some of it is not. You have to know what is what so you don't red flag the IRS for audit.
Let's get on with the original article...
There Are Two Sides to Acting
Many actors only think of the creative side of acting. They focus only on developing their talents, which is all sorts of wrong. There are two sides to acting; the creative side and the business side. These two must be balanced or you will never make it long term. Look at many famous people you admire. Let’s choose JLo and Madonna. Notice how both are always coming out with different products to sell? Neither just do one thing. Both act and sing and have perfumes and all that. Madonna just opened gyms across the country. Why? Because it’s business. You have to handle the business side of acting as well as the creative side.
Keep it Fresh and Keep in Touch
Not only do you need to have confidence and courage in yourself and your acting skills, but you must know how to market. You will have to practice the skill of client retention, networking, and nourishing your relationships. In a sea of millions of hungry, desperate actors, people will forget you. That is, unless you keep in touch and keep it fresh and interesting. It’s like dating someone. After years of dating, you get tired of the same sexual positions over and over again, of eating at the same damn restaurants. You need variety. Surprise, this is no different. Get ready to shine and be brilliant. Otherwise, they just won’t care about you.
Your Yearly Costs
My acting career can easily cost me $6000 or more per year. Those who have hit big, trust that their overhead is exponentially larger than mine. They have to pay their PR (public relations) firm, their managers, agents, team of handlers. Keanu Reeves gets weekly facials. The bigger you get, the more your costs go up and you need to plan accordingly. This is part of the reason why big name actors get so much money. It’s because they have so many expenses. You must take your expenses into consideration or you will never really make any money.
Headshots cost about $2000+ every other year. Sometimes I have been able to use headshots for three years in a row because my look never really changes, but you can’t always count on that. Can you skimp on headshots? No! When you go to a restaurant and you pay big money, do you want the best ingredients or the crap they sell to the USA school lunch programs? Your pictures are what gets you in the door. Your pictures and your reputation are what your agents have to work with to pitch you and sell you to casting directors so you can get auditions. If your pictures suck, so do your opportunities.
When you become a member of SAG, you will have to pay their entry fee. It’s like $1600 or something like that. You will have to pay dues twice a year (May and November). Your dues are a percentage of your earnings. Here is what it says on the Screen Actors Guild website:
Dues are based on a sliding scale, with the amount determined by how much you earn under SAG contracts.
Each SAG member pays annual base dues of $116.00. In addition members pay 1.85% of all individual earnings under SAG contracts between $1 and $200,000; and 0.5% of earnings from $200,001 through $500,000; plus 0.25% of earnings from $500,001 to a maximum of $1,000,000.
Dues are calculated on an annual basis, and paid in two installments — the first on May 1, and the second on November 1. Dues are not prorated. Bills are mailed to the address on record before each due date. Members who do not receive bills are responsible for requesting duplicates.
Dues payments may be made by cash, check, money order, Visa or Mastercard, in person or by mail to Cashier, Screen Actors Guild, 5757 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036. Please put your member ID number on your check. You can also pay your dues online if you are a logged in member of sag.org
I put a percentage of every check I get into a special “Sag Dues” savings account. When I have more money, I put in more than I need to. This way, I always have a surplus in that account (more than I need) and I never have to think about it. If you do not put money away for your dues, you can easily come up short when they are due, all because of poor planning.
AFTRA has an entry fee as well, but I forget what it is. It’s been so long since I joined AFTRA. They also have a dues structure. AFTRA is mostly for soap operas and radio. SAG covers mostly everything else. Equity is if you want to do serious stage / theater productions.
You are not going to book every single audition you go out on. If you do, email me so I can take you out to a really nice lunch or dinner, at a place of your choosing, and pick your brain. Regardless of how much you book, you will still have to drive yourself to each audition. During busy season you will be filling up at the gas tank quite often. If you don’t book, this can add up.
One time I lived in the Foothills of Tujunga, California. That added an extra 40 minutes for me to get to each audition. I live much closer now and I can even walk to some of the casting offices, which I love. Where you live has to be taken into consideration. If you are auditioning all the time, it’s in your best interest to live close by. The less traffic you have to deal with, the calmer you can be when you arrive at your destination. Also, you have much less chance of being late because of traffic, which is unacceptable in my book. If you aren’t on time, trust that some other hungry actor will be.
Holden Log or Tracking Software
You will need to keep track of your auditions. I wear the same clothes to the callback that I wore to the first audition. This is in case they remember me as the, “girl in the red shirt.” It happens.
Nowadays, auditions come through via LA Casting and I just store those notices in a separate email folder. But I like to use a Holden Log to track my auditions, callbacks, and bookings. This way I can write down any money spent on the parking meters, what I wore, who was in the room, what I did, who did casting, production, and ad agency, etc…
This is great as well when I book a job and I go to send thank you notes. I think the Holden Log is about $30. You need to keep track of who you work with in some kind of Outlook or mail program. You need to send thank yous to anyone who hires you. For years I sent thank yous to any casting director who called me in to audition. It made me stand out, since I am fantastic at decoupage (handmade cards and scrap booking). Now I just send thank yous to casting when I get booked on a project or I have something to debut/ promote. But for years I worked hard on creating and nourishing contacts. Because of this, I have created a lucrative income stream with my acting career. But treating it as a business was and is crucial for success.
Welcome to more tax prep work than you ever wanted to do. You now have to keep track of all your business miles driven. This means miles accumulated driving to auditions, shoots, getting headshots, and going to the copy mart to print resumes, etc. Basically, anywhere you drive for your acting business, you need to keep track of that.
You also need to keep all (and I mean all) of your acting business receipts. Everything you spend on your acting career (everything in this blog and beyond), is tax deductible. Also, find yourself an Entertainment Accountant to do your taxes. They will know what you can deduct and what you can’t. For example, I would love to deduct getting my nails done, but unless it’s for a specific project, as in production requested you do it, you can’t deduct that. Usually production will reimburse you for that anyway. But the reason is that most women get their nails done as a regular expense. Anything that the general public would normally have to pay for, like haircuts, you can’t deduct for your business. You have to know what you can deduct and what you can’t.
I keep my tax records neatly organized in one of those multiple pocket folders. I track my mileage in a 9 column (or less) financial notebook. Both can be found in places like Office Depot and Staples, and yes, these things are tax deductible as office expenses.
Online Casting Services
Years ago, we all had to keep hard copy headshots on hand for each audition. That was costly. But now, the internet has made that obsolete and all you have to do is pay a site to upload your pictures and your agents can submit you from there. Rarely do I need hard copy headshots these days, although some casting facilities still ask for them, so I always carry some with me in my car and in my Holden Log.
Different casting offices use different online casting services. The main ones are LA Casting and Casting Frontier.
When you get new headshots they always have to be uploaded to LA Casting. This will run you about $100 each time you have new headshots, which I calculated into the $2000 I quoted you in the headshots section.
You can also submit yourself for projects on LA Casting and host your demo reel footage as well. Submitting costs $10 per month and demo reel hosting is about $5 per month. If you are submitting online, you may want additional, more character driven photos on your profile. That will cost as well. It’s $25 for the first picture and $15 for each additional picture.
Most casting offices use LA Casting as the industry standard. But a few use Casting Frontier. With Casting Frontier you have an individual bar-code you have to print out and take with you to your audition so casting can scan it. I have my bar-code taped to the back of my drivers license. I also have a copy in my Holden Log and in my wallet as well. Actors who don’t have theirs end up looking rather unprofessional in their unpreparedness. If you don’t have it when you arrive to the audition, there are computers available for you to print one up. But you have to remember your password and user-name and hope no one else is hogging up the computer when you need to use it. I just find it much better for my sanity, and to never waste castings time, to be extra prepared with three copies stashed away. Casting Frontier doesn’t cost anything, unless you buy a laminated bar-code card for $5 (I think). You can just print up your own.
If you have an agent, they are going to make you put your pictures on Actors Access. Most serious actors, unless you have passed the fame threshold, have an Actors Access profile. Each picture costs $10 to upload. I submit myself on Actors Access projects which costs $68 per year via ShowFax or you can pay $2 per submission, which adds up fast if you submit daily.
IMDB Resume and IMDB Pro
Unless you are well known, you will have to pay to have your picture and resume on IMDB. It’s $54 per year to host your resume and pictures on IMDB. There is also IMDB pro which I subscribe to as well. IMDB only has so much information on projects, producers, studio heads, etc. IMDB pro has all of that information. You will need IMDB pro in order to know how to find some of the people you are contacting for your marketing plan. Say it has been your dream to work with a certain director or film maker. You need to keep abreast of what projects he/ she has in pre-production, production and post production. You will also need to know how to find him/ her. All of this info is (usually) available on IMDB pro.
How many actors have you seen with super white teeth, buff bodies, and gorgeous hair, etc.? For the most part, I make sure my game is on point. I keep my nails done, my hair nice, my skin clear, and my teeth white. This means regular trips to the dentist (once every six months), facials if and when I need them, manicures and pedicures, etc. There are times when they ask to see your hands on camera. Sometimes you will have to hold the product and they want to see how your hands and nails look. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it does happen. I realize that from the moment I walk in, I am selling a product, which is me. They will pick me apart, from my nose to my nails, to the way I walk; sometimes nothing is left untouched. I want to make sure I am put together. The more comfortable and confident I am with myself, the more likely they are to pick up on that vibe and hire me.
You will need nice clothes and you will need to take care of them. I never walk into an audition room with wrinkled, dirty clothes on unless the breakdown specifically asks for it (that has never happened). I have a separate wardrobe just for auditions and I take really good care of it, and I rarely wear it out anywhere else. I’m not going to tell you exactly what I spent on this wardrobe. Let’s just say you need to think about this. There are certain things you will need. Watch commercials and see how they dress. Sometimes you will need to look like middle America. I like nice thermals, nice sweaters, turtlenecks, nice shoes, slacks, business suits (pant and and skirt options), etc. I have several nice dresses as well. I might try and post some of my audition wardrobe at some point. No promises though. Here are some of the categories I go out for. Each category needs its own wardrobe:
Mom Wife Host/hostess at restaurant Waitress at restaurant Upscale casual Upscale Evening wear Night on the town Art Gallery attendee Nice casual Business casual Business, quirky, unique Business Hip, casual
The list goes on and on. Yes, you are fully expected to come up with the right wardrobe for each audition. It’s your job.
Like most of us, you may need to take acting classes. Now mind you, scene study is 100% different than taking an audition technique class. Scene study is great, it will help you get connected, but the problem with those classes is they never teach about the business side of acting. Honestly, that pisses me off because those teachers actually do actors a huge disservice. Remember, there are two sides to an acting career, business and creative. In the beginning, you will work more on your marketing and networking than actually getting to act. Deal with it.
Knowing how to audition is a completely separate skill set from knowing how to act. It’s like knowing how to DJ and being actually able to play for different crowds of people, on different equipment, and in different venues. It’s two different monsters. You will need to be great at both.
I have taken classes for scene study, auditioning, and commercials. I have spent God only knows on acting classes, so be ready to break out your check book. The last commercial class I took, which was a few weeks ago, was $80 for a private session. The last theatrical class I took , which was last week, was $250 a month for the master class (by invite only). You can also take the regular class for $150 a month (4 classes).
I have purchased hundreds of dollars worth of tapes, CDs, and books in my time. Dialect and accent CDs can be $24 a piece. Book can be about the same, unless you get them on the cheap via Amazon or Alibris. You can always hit up your local library, which is smart, but I like to highlight the shit out of my books. I like to carry them with me, like they are a part of my body. I enjoy books. Sometimes preparing for a role will cost you money when you go to do your research. Samuel French is the go-to place for all things actor.
If you don’t know about THE Actors’ Network, you better ask somebody! Quick! The Actors’ Network is your go-to place to understand and tackle the business side of your acting career. I learned a lot of what I know from them. What they have taught me has saved me time, money, and has been the most useful information in the advancement of my career.
They are about $600 per year. After three years you become a lifetime member and your dues go down to $200 a year, which for them, is a steal. I spent an entire summer (literally) every day there, taking every single topic they offered and studying their intense library collection. Stars like Amir Talai have been made there. I remember him years ago, before he got the work he has now, roaming the halls of The Actors’ Network. I love The Actors’ Network!
I can’t even begin to explain what they have there because there is so much wonderful stuff for you to explore. They have power groups, which are exactly what they sound like. It’s a group that meets monthly and holds you accountable for taking serious steps towards marketing your career. The squib book is my favorite. If you have a meeting with an agent you have never heard of, and you can’t find good info on them online, you will probably find them in the squib book. This book is gold. Other TAN members write in it and you can find out so much information on an agent, manager, and/ or company before you take a meeting with them. You can even find out things like what kind of pets they have, the names of their pets, birthdays, kids, likes and dislikes, etc. There are some perv agents out there as well, which can be listed in the squib book. It’s always great to be prepared. The working actor stays prepared.
Mailings, Resumes, and Printing Stuff Up
You will will have to pay for postage, resume copies, and nice cards to mail to your networking target list. Your target list consists of shows you want to be on, directors you want to work with, people you have already worked with, and those who support you, etc. Remember I told you, you will need to keep in touch and keep it fresh. Keep letting your list know you are alive with odd-sized mailers. I bet you want to know what an odd-sized mailer is, don’t you? Well, you can sign up for The Actors’ Network and take their class on odd-sized mailers. I am not going to give away ALL my best secrets to the competition. ;)
I'm Sure There's More
I am sure there are more costs involved than what I have listed here. This is just what I can remember now. I just want you to understand that this is a business. It’s not some artsy-fartsy dream. I’m all for dreams - you know I am - but there is a balance between dreaming and taking concrete, consistent action. Slow and steady wins the race. It’s the person who keeps going, year after year, even and especially when it looks like nothing is happening, who wins in the end. Most people see no results and they give up. But not you, right?!!