To recap, I recently discussed how productions love to shoot in local markets with tax incentives because it’s cheap. But hey—at least we’re working, right? We can still make money, right? And have a chance to book great roles, RIGHT!?
There are a few caveats to each of those tantalizing sparks of potential that may lure actors away from hubs like Los Angeles or New York. Let’s clarify a few of the “myths” associated with the local markets:
If I live in a local market, I’ll work more.
Possibly, but if you think you’re going to work a lot, it depends on a lot of circumstances, many out of your control. First and foremost, make sure that you vigorously study and hone your craft. I know this is stating the obvious, but it is imperative you know how to handle yourself in an audition room, a callback, and on set—especially big budget projects where there are literally hundreds of people present, everyone counting on each other to do their job.
Secondly, it depends on the types of projects that are filming in that market. For example, New Mexico is a haven for dramas, westerns, and war movies—which means men, particularly white, have ample roles available to them. Despite the push for diverse voices in Hollywood, there’s a long road ahead of us, and I believe women in local markets feel the brunt of that lack of representation. There were many projects in both film and television who proudly touted “strong female leads”—yet cast 90% of their supporting roles with men.
A lot of it may simply come down to luck (aka…when preparation meets opportunity.) A disgruntled friend of mine hadn’t booked anything in over a year, and after taking a month-long vacation in Europe, she came back to New Mexico and literally landed 3 roles within two weeks.
If I live in a local market, I’ll make money, while paying lower cost of living.
It is true that living in New Mexico is significantly cheaper than living in the urban entertainment hubs of Los Angeles, New York, or even Chicago. My current apartment in Los Angeles costs 2.4 times more than my old apartment in Albuquerque—and they are equal in size. But if you take into account being paid SAG minimum with no room for negotiation, very little (if any) travel and per diem reimbursements, and less job opportunities depending on your type, it is impossible to make a living off acting alone. Even the actors who work most frequently maintain side jobs, most of which pay significantly less than the same jobs in more expensive cities. Why? Because cheaper cost of living typically aligns with a lower minimum wage.
Several actors can have a great year, or two, or even three, and gain their SAG health insurance, buy a house, or put down a loan. But to be perfectly honest, almost no one quits their day job and lives on acting income alone. For those who do, they usually have spouses, parents, or loved ones who supplement income.
If I live in a local market, I’ll book great roles due to less competition.
For features, there are more opportunities to book a juicy role opposite an A-list actor that’s more than just a line or two. But in television, it is rare that a guest star will go to a local actor. Most will be hired out of LA, and the “Under 5,” or co-star roles, are left to locals.
There are always exceptions. In my case, a co-star that was originally written for two episodes on WGN’s Manhattan became intricately connected with one of the series regulars’ roles, and suddenly I had a beautiful arc over the course of two seasons. Steven Michael Quezada garnered local and national attention as Dean Norris’ partner in Breaking Bad, while Lora Cunningham has continually booked stand-out roles, most notably The Book of Eli and Sicario. And to demonstrate another local market, let’s not forget Atlanta’s Shannon Purser, a local actor who played the beloved “Barb” in Stranger Things and now has her own television show debuting on Netflix.
But I (along with plenty of other local men and women) have auditioned for countless guest star roles in New Mexico that still ended up going to an “LA actor.” Unfortunately, there can be a stigma or bias against locals, no matter how hard local casting directors fight for us.
And boy, do they fight for us.
THE CASE FOR THE LOCAL
There are only a handful of casting directors in New Mexico, but the few we have love the local actors. They know how hard we work, how much rejection we encounter, they run into us at the grocery store and at film screenings, and we even hire them to cast our independent projects. They, along with the local crew members, are all part of the same community, and therefore they do everything in their power to book us…especially if it means getting hired over the LA actor.
So if you are considering moving to New Mexico from LA or New York, the most detrimental attitude you can have is the belief that you are better than a local hire because of the fact that you are from those big cities. This won’t fly with casting, most of whom are from New Mexico themselves, and they are proud of their locals.
Also, as states become more strict with their tax rebate rules, it has become harder to play the “market game” and have representation all over the country. Unless an actor can prove that they live in New Mexico and file their state tax returns as a full-time resident, productions won’t earn a tax rebate on that specific actor. This in turn has made casting directors crack down on any actor who walks into their room—they don’t just want you flying in from LA, they want you living in the state.
I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “Can’t I just send in a tape?” The answer is complicated. If you are someone who has never stepped foot in that local market and met that casting director in person, they will most likely have no interest in considering you. But if you’ve spent the time and energy developing a relationship and building trust, there are always exceptions to the rule.
Still considering the move? Stay tuned for my next article, where I talk about how to take advantage of a local market…even when you’re not necessarily working on those big budget sets.