So when I first started acting in film and television, I got a lot of advice from people who had been around the block (kind of like what you’re getting right now). Some of it was very helpful and some of it was better taken with a grain of salt. One piece of advice that I received, I am going to straight up tell you does not work for the way the industry is now. I was told by multiple “professional actors” that if I want to be paid as an actor and taken seriously as a professional that I should never work for free. That may have been the way things worked 20 years ago, but that is not how it works nowadays. Now if you want a professional career in acting you are going to have to do a lot of work without getting paid. Here’s why:
- Show your passion:
It has been said that passion is contagious and as a creative professional it is absolutely vital. Everyone working in this industry is doing it because they really love making entertainment. You cannot expect any of them to pay you to do a job if they do not see that you are truly passionate about it. It’s not enough to say you are passionate, you must show it by making your own projects in your free time and by taking the time to work on others’ who’s passions are in line with your own.
- Build your brand:
Actors are no longer just artists. They are an entire brand just like a company. Any one A-list actor is responsible for the livelihoods of dozens of people who work for them. And just like starting a small business that you hope to one day grow, you have to be willing to spend money and work for free to show that you have a brand people will want to buy.
- Create your product:
Not sure exactly what you’re selling yet? Of course not, it takes a long time to figure out what your unique voice is. If someone wants to be a professional screenwriter, do you think she waits until a studio calls up and offers to pay her to write? No, she spends years writing script after script to hone her voice and determine exactly what kind of writer she is. All without getting paid. You have to do the same as an actor in order to know what unique qualities you bring to the table.
Many of the successful actors and filmmakers working in Hollywood have become successful within a group of driven creatives. Look around you, you are surrounded by talented, hungry people just like yourself. Why not get together and create for FUN? Yeah, fun, that reason that you started doing this job in the first place! Not to mention that many of the people who ask you to work for free on a project will one day have a paying job for you. Paul (My husband) and I have asked many talented people to work for us for free and then because they were so awesome, later hired them for paid jobs through our company or recommended them to others who were paying.
- Prove your worth:
As an independent filmmaker, I know exactly how much work goes into scraping and saving every penny for my productions. Why would I spend any of it on an unproven entity? I need to know that when I pay someone to do a job for me, they will deliver. You’ve got to build a track record for yourself that shows you know what you’re doing. After all, if you’re going to ask someone to pay you to do a job, you had sure better be a real professional. And nothing builds professionalism like experience.
Yes, we’d all like to be able to do what we love and get paid for it, but getting to that point takes a very long time and for many people, never happens. Nowadays the people who make it really big are the ones who have been trudging along sacrificing their time and blood to make entertainment for years before making money at it. So get out there, work on that short film shooting over the weekend or start your YouTube channel. There is nothing stopping you from creating content that showcases your talent today!