1. Understanding Acting Costs
This is truly a complicated question to answer. Investing money in your acting career isn’t like buying a car; there is no definite number or time frame. In fact, there is absolutely NOTHING that is definite about a career in acting. So is the pursuit of this dream going to cost you? Yes. Will it be rewarding? Absolutely!
Instead of giving you numbers, I’m going to present you with an idea of what expenses you will encounter as an aspiring actor. I would like to avoid using any numbers because they change significantly from town to town. Cost of living in London is way different than that in Sheffield. Even Los Angeles and New York aren’t similar.
For some actual numbers, once you’re already going to auditions and trying to struggle as everybody else, see our article on acting costs in London and Los Angeles. These calculations are pretty close to reality, and they also include costs aside from acting (rent, gas, etc.) Viewer discretion is advised, though.
Like it was said many times before, YOU are the product in this business. Every single time you spend on your acting career, it’s an investment you make in yourself. You either pay to make the product better (acting classes, workshops, gym, etc.) or market it so that people would “buy it” (headshots, casting websites, personal websites, etc.)
Here are two great quotes from a successful investor Warren Buffet:
The most important investment you can make is in yourself. Very few people get anything like their potential horsepower translated into the actual horsepower of their output in life. Potential exceeds realization for many people. The best asset is your own self. You can become to an enormous degree the person you want to be.
Generally speaking, investing in yourself is the best thing you can do. Anything that improves your own talents; nobody can tax it or take it away from you. They can run up huge deficits and the dollar can become worth far less. You can have all kinds of things happen. But if you’ve got talent yourself, and you’ve maximized your talent, you’ve got a tremendous asset that can return ten-fold.
2. Necessary Acting Expenses
As a budding artist who is just getting to know the industry, you don’t need to spend the amount of cash that experienced actors do. It will just go to waist. Instead, you have to focus on the basics and push through the first stage of the acting industry — getting to know how show business works.
Here’s a list of things you’re going to have to pay for in your first year of acting pursuit. These are sorted in the order you SHOULD be getting them.
The number one expense — and the one you also CANNOT avoid — are acting classes. Such training is essential, even if you’ve gone to a reputable drama school (to learn why that is, read this article and this one).
This is an ongoing expense, so you need to budget for it; ergo our advice on planning out your acting career. You need to always stay in training. Cost of acting classes vary from type to type, teacher to teacher, school to school, and city to city.
The second biggest expense for a newbie actor are headshots. Regardless of what some of your friends might tell you, snapshots and pictures that your mom took won’t do. These photographs have to be professionally made (and trust me, it’s easy to spot a good headshot from mediocre one).
The good news is that usually you need to do these only once a year, sometimes even once in two years if your looks don’t change. Normally, when you see a below the market price for headshots, you get what you paid for. But then again, the most expensive photographer doesn’t mean the best headshot. Budget wisely, go for something in between.
When you’re just starting out, you don’t have any talent agency representing you. This means you need to find work on your own, and casting websites is the only way to go. Casting websites will allow you to put your face out there for people to hire you. Don’t use free memberships as these usually don’t have any paid work, and you do want to get paid for acting, right?
For your first year, just one website is going to be more than enough. Do your research, find out which website has the biggest number of acting opportunities in your town and become a member. It’s smart to try their services for just 1 month first, and if you’re happy, acquire membership for a whole year (you’ll save some money).
That’s it! Aside from living costs, this is what you’re going to spend on your acting career in your first year. Granted, there are quite a few other ways where you can invest your money if you can afford it, but when you’re new to the industry, they are not necessary. I will list them below nonetheless, just in case.
3. Not So Necessary Acting Expenses
Unless you’re rich or have rich siblings to support you, I would advise NOT to spend money on the things below in your first year. That is not to say such investments are useless; they are just not as effective for a newbie as they will be once you get to know how acting industry works. Plus, you need to save money for later.
Some actors love to spend extra on retouching services that cost almost as much as headshots themselves. Retouching is good, but you can do just as well with the basic retouching that most headshot photographers will offer you with their package either for free or for a small fee.
Again, if you have some cash you don’t know what to do with, you can register on more than one website. Acting, modeling, print, background/extra work — all of these have their separate websites. If you can’t afford them all, I’d say prioritize what is most important to you and save the rest of the money for later; you’re going to need it.
This also includes personal website. Unless you know how to do it yourself with the absolute minimum to spend, you don’t need a website in your first year. Keep the money.
Acting workshops aren’t the same as acting classes. They usually just last from 2 to 8 hours, and you’re done in one day. Sometimes it’s good to learn a thing or two from them, but the problem is that they aren’t cost effective.
Price for a 1-day workshop is close to that of an acting class that lasts a month. Furthermore, you also cannot put workshop training on your acting CV/resume, because it’s not really training. It’s more of a short introductory lesson. Having said that, there are some good ones worth taking, so use your best judgment.
4. Other Things to Consider
One of my good actor friends once said: “It’s not really about how much you’re going to spend on your acting career in cash; it’s about what will it cost you in exchange for something else you might want to pursue in your life.”
In other words, if you DON’T feel like acting is the absolute one thing you want to do in your life, maybe think twice before blowing a lot of money into something that will never pay off if you quit early.
You need to have enough passion and love for the craft of acting to never hesitate when it comes to investing money into this career. You cannot stop mid-way, because then your investment will never pay off. It will not be the rewarding career that we so often speak of on this website.
Being an struggling actor isn’t an easy life. This field is very competitive, there’s little to no pay, it requires a lot of monetary investments as well as complete dedication. If you bounce back and forth, never really committing to this career choice, it will never give back. Please consider this beforehand; it’s a very important step that you’re taking here.