I began 2014 with a few hundred dollars in the bank and no idea of where my next source of earnings would come from. In November of 2013, the one day a week job, that I’d worked for 8 years, ended in an amicable termination. A month thereafter, in December, the unemployment benefits I had been receiving, also ended abruptly. I’ll admit a little anxiety and fear had set in. My savings account had a little over half the funds needed for the following month’s living expenses, but I still had twenty days to figure something out. I refused to fall down the dark hole of despair or go into a frenzy because I had been here before, and despair didn’t fare well for me. I had experienced streams of income dry up in a moments notice, in the past. The difference about this time was, I knew that worrying and panic didn’t serve me. If I was going to figure this out I needed to be determined, clear minded and focused.
Flashback to 2007, when I booked my first SAG national commercial. It was for Proctor & Gamble’s GoodNites. It was the first time that I would ever receive residuals, as opposed to a non-union buy-out. I didn’t know what it meant at the time, to book a spot that was Class A, Cable & Wildspot. What that meant, in a nut shell, is this commercial would be viewed in all TV regions; earning me any where from several hundred to a several thousand dollars in residuals, every week, for close to a year, like a regular paying job, for only a mere 8 hour work day. Unfortunately, I wasn’t smart about money, I hadn’t saved or invested any of that income. I was working my one day a week job and resting on my residual laurels, so to speak. After 8 months, the residuals began to taper off, until finally, the commercial was released. Released means the commercial will no longer run. It was finished, and so were my lofty residual checks. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me that there would be a day when this great income, for this particular job would cease. I was completely caught up in it’s regularity. At this point, it was 2008, not only had my residuals ended, the writer’s strike went into effect, then the SAG stalemate, and the economy went bust. Needless to say, that was an extremely stressful time for me. I was a pessimistic worry wart in those days. I was still operating in the mindset of, just get a survival job. I knew I had to do that immediately. So, I asked my one day a week job for more hours, to which they obliged. The caveat was I had to commute to Orange County, which was easily a 45 minute to 2 hour drive during peak traffic hours. I grew tired of that quickly. As providence would have it, I had filed out an online application to work at an Apple store, three months before my financial crash. Apple called me in for a group interview and I was hired to work in a LA store close to my home. I thought working at Apple would be a fun experience, and thus I was excited.
At Apple, the highlight of my work day was working with the customers, meeting interesting people who, if I asked, would tell me fascinating stories about their livelihoods. Being at the epicenter of technology was captivating; I was blown away by the tech intelligence of my peers. But, I abhorred working for Apple the corporation. To me, it felt like a Gestapo. There was constant micro-managing, the environment did not encourage independence, it was as if we were herded to be of one group mind. The only creativity allowed was within the confines of the guidelines. I felt a need to rage against the machine, I can admit I was a bit difficult and contentious towards my managers. I would push back just enough staying within the confines of the rules as to not get fired. I always wondered if that was how all of the stores operated or was it just this particular store?
After a year at Apple, I quit. I still had my one day a week job in Orange County and the industry was re-emerging from its 3 punch devastating blows. During that time, I noticed that a select few of my peers still found work in the industry via other outlets. Not to say they didn’t have their own set of challenges, I’m sure they did. But, they had achieved staying financially afloat in the entertainment industry. I was struck curious at how they managed to overcome getting a survival job. What was different about this select group of people. What did they do that I didn’t. I surmised that I didn’t take the time to strategize, to plan, to have foresight. I didn’t consider what was possible. During those days I had a fear based mindset. The Los Angeles news broadcasts fed my fear, reporting the crisis of the entertainment industry, every moment of every day. Like we were in a state of emergency. So, I panicked, gave up with out a fight and got any old job. Besides, I didn’t truly believe that I could have made a living as an actor anyway. It was still a far-fetched notion for me. As the industry stridently returned to it’s resiliency, I was beginning all over again, I had lost so much momentum. It took me nearly 4 years to get back on track; I made a pact with myself, that in the event things in my industry should appear bleak again, because it would, that I’d refuse to forfeit. I vowed to work harder, more exacting, make bolder choices and change my mindset to believe that I can be like the select group of people who I had admired so much.
Flash forward to January 2014, where my financial world was in disarray, the industry now vigorous and thriving. All I needed to do was remember the pact to myself, and be diligent. One thing I knew for sure, was I knew how to book a commercial. By this time, I had several years of commercial training under my belt. Operating from my pact of 2010, I became laser focused at all of my commercial auditions, utilizing the skills I’d learned. Because I knew that was a goal that I had no control over, I didn’t just rely on that. I re-registered with Central Casting, a company that hires background extras for film and TV, in Los Angeles and NYC. I hadn’t done background work with them in over 2 years. Central requires its members to re-register after two years, wether active or not. I am so grateful that Central Casting exists because there is always a way, for an actor, to make a quick couple hundred dollars in a pinch. When I re-registered, I brought my marketing postcards along, wrote a brief note informing all of the casting directors there that I was available, and put the postcards into their personal folders. That week I received a call for a last-minute audition for a show, which struck me odd because you don’t typically audition for background. I accepted and headed to Warner Brothers Studios. There were several women waiting to audition, all of us flummoxed by the idea of having to audition for a featured background role. We were taken in one by one. My turn came, I entered the room, met two women, turned out to be the show runner and the director and was instructed on the scenario of the scene. They were looking for believable, expressive faces. I did my audition, then waited in the reception area with the other women. We were told right then who had been booked, myself and another woman. That show gave me 3 days of work that went into overtime. In the meantime, I booked several other background jobs, one being Mike & Molly, where I was getting paid to watch Melissa McCarthy work. I would’ve done that for free. I was able to subsidize my income for a few months. Not once did I worry how it was all going to work out. I was convinced that it would.
In March of 2014, I booked 2 national commercials for Pier One Imports and Edible Arrangements, in April I booked 2 more for Subaru and Verisign and another in August. I was put on avail for 2 more. An Avail means production is deciding to cast me or another candidate. By May 2014, I had made a full year’s income, I put money into a savings account, a wealth account and made my first investment. Oh, and that background role, that I auditioned for and booked, was for a new ABC pilot that had gotten picked up, called Selfie. My facial expressions were used in multiple scenes, and made the cut in the trailer for Upfront and the season opener.
2014 was the first year I earned an annual income solely from acting. It is a pivotal year that reinforced the idea of the pact of 2010. While bookings are a large percentage of my success, it’s not the only factor, there is also process and mindset. I had to learn how to be like that select group of people who I admired in 2008. Most importantly, I had to Believe that I can earn a living solely from acting, and that I Deserved It. 2014 was a testament that if I Be it, and Do it, I can Have it. I don’t know that I will ever have a survival job again, I never say never. But, I can promise that I will do everything within my code of ethics to stay away from working jobs that are not creative or fulfilling. I’ll stay far away from the society traps.
Word of advice, being a working actor can be envied by those who haven’t reached this stage yet, heck, I used to be a part of the envy group. Something to keep in mind, as you work your way to it, is absolute preparedness. Keeping overhead low, having little to no debt, being diligent in managing time and money are the factors that will get you there and keep you there.
Thank you for reading.