Being an actor is precarious at best. There are a lot of stats touted around about how few actors are able to make a living these days – and by and large, they’re true. Fees are falling in a totally unregulated industry. Anyone – literally anyone – can call themselves an actor these days and with thousands of desperate wannabes falling over themselves to be exploited, the number of unpaid acting “jobs” is rapidly outstripping the number of paid ones. Worse, the number of things actually costing actors money is growing too. An entire sub-industry is growing up in how to make money from actors.
It doesn’t help that the industry itself is set up to destroy people financially, sometimes emotionally and spiritually as well. It’s never been cheap to be an actor – training costs money. Headshots cost money. Equity membership costs money. Spotlight costs money. It’s always been hard to make a living, but there used to be ways to get a start. There were Rep companies where you could learn the trade. You could get agents or CDs to see you in what used to be called a “general meeting”. Those days are gone.
Pay to be seen…
These days, to get in front of an agent or a CD outside of an actual audition we have what are euphemistically termed “workshops” for which the actor pays a fee to be seen for a couple of minutes by someone, perhaps followed by a Q&A session in the hope of making a good impression that might lead to some vague hope of work in the future. The quality of these “workshops” varies. The best do indeed offer some valuable advice and guidance. The worst are a not-even-thinly-disguised money maker for whoever is running them.
Pay to play…
An even more insidious development has been the increase in a variety of exploitative “jobs” (or “opportunities”, as they are often described on casting sites). These take various forms from the blatantly open statement “we aren’t paying you”, through “volunteer status”, “passion project”, “artistic commitment” and a whole range of other euphemisms for not paying, most of which are actually illegal under NMW legislation. It doesn’t help that many students are being told by their schools that it isn’t necessary to pay actors. The worst of these don’t even cover expenses, so it actually costs the actor money to be involved.
Then there’s “Profit-Share”. Every actor knows what that means. It means “this will cost you money” in all but a vanishingly small number of cases. Even successful projects may not mean that a percentage pays off. It’s a well-known and oft-quoted example in the industry that the Star Wars movie, Empire Strikes Back, has never been in profit. Not by a single cent.
Pay for this, pay for that…
Then there are the endless streams of new things. Every day it seems that someone invents yet another thing we can charge actors for. And they are getting increasingly idiotic, but we are back to the floods of gullible, inexperienced people desperate, usually, for fame, who can be fleeced almost endlessly. There are sham agencies, people who’ve just bought a DSLR claiming to be a film maker, people who’ve read a book (or not even that if you’re unlucky) running workshops, people who’ve never worked promising to tell you how to get and pass auditions, the list is endless.
Two of the latest “innovations” are particularly laughable. One, the “360 Headshot” is being touted by one of the leading casting sites. Basically it’s a panoramic view of an actor’s revolving head. The effect that you would get by standing in front of a camcorder and turning round. They want £50 for this two-second piece of video. They claim that it enhances the chances of being selected for audition because the CD can see the back of your head. In the hundreds and hundreds of actual auditions I’ve attended, no CD – not one, ever – has ever asked to see the back of my head.
Then there’s the “Talking Headshot”. I only heard about this today from someone who’d spotted it being touted on Twitter by its “inventor” as a brand new “innovation”. I wonder if they realise how long ago video was actually “innovated”?
Whoever you are, and wherever you are in this business, please stop paying for things you don’t need. Please stop working for nothing. Please stop being exploited. Above all, please do your homework when someone tries to sell you something. One thing is for sure – you know that person who just texted you to say they found your Starnow profile and they want to cast you in Star Wars IX and all you’ll have to do is pay to attend their compulsory workshop to join the agency? They’re lying.