So you want to become an actor, but you don’t know how much it will cost you. There are many expenses that actors will incur over their careers, and in this article, I’ll explain how much it really costs to become an actor.
Depending on their income, an actor can spend thousands of dollars per year between classes, marketing materials, union fees and agent fees. Although it’s possible to start acting for free, in order to get the best training, actors can easily spend thousands to train at a top drama school.
In this article, I’ve listed a bunch of expenses actors have to deal with. Whether you’re an actor, want to be one, or are just interested in how an actor spends their money, this article will help you!
Table of Contents
The most important cost for an actor is training. No matter who you are, if you want to take acting seriously and make a career out of it, you must train. There are a few different types of training;
Training at a drama school can be costly. I decided to research drama schools from all over the UK and the US, and have collated how much you can expect to pay as a national and international student.
Drama school training can cost anywhere from $30,000 to over $100,000 depending on where in the world you’re studying. Drama Schools in the UK are capped at £9,250 per year and usually last for 3 years. Whereas Drama Schools in the US can cost a lot more and usually last for 4 years.
|Bachelor’s for International Students
|Master’s for International Students
|Drama School in the UK
|£9,000 or £9,250
|Drama School in the US
Drama school can be a huge commitment, with bachelor’s degrees taking between 3 and 4 years to complete, and that’s if you pass the first time. Presuming you’re not rich, you can quickly wrack up large student loans which is definitely a downside. But drama school education at a top school is definitely worth the cost.
In order to lower fees, many drama schools and entertainment organisations offer grants, bursaries and scholarships to drama school students. Find out which ones you’re eligible for and apply.
Acting Classes & Workshops
Many people choose not to study at drama school due to the high costs and the fact that it takes years to complete. Many actors feel more comfortable training through part-time acting classes, workshops and short courses as they give actors more control over their own time. Although this doesn’t mean that acting classes and workshops are always cheap.
The cost of acting classes and workshops will depend on the topic of the class, whether it provides recognised certification and the size of the class. One on one stage combat training is usually going to cost considerably more than an acting class with a group of 30 actors. A weekly acting class could cost anywhere from $10-150 (£5-100) per hour.
When picking an acting class, you’ll want to ensure that you do your research. Training with someone that gives bad advice could hurt you more in the long run, and you’ll be stuck in a habit. The price of an acting class doesn’t always reflect its quality. I’m sure there are many bad acting teachers that charge high prices for their training, and many amazing teachers that undercharge.
If you’re just starting out and you can’t afford good acting training, joining an amateur theatre group could be an amazing way to grow your ability and confidence while performing. Many actors in the UK, including myself, start out this way. Plus, you’ll also get to meet people with similar interests. I’m still friends with people I met in my amateur theatre group when I was 15.
Why am I putting this in the training section? Well, I believe books on acting are critical to an actors training and they’re extremely affordable. You can get the knowledge of the top acting practitioners like Stanislavski, Uta Hagen, Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler, Lee Strasburg and so many more for just $10-50 (£5-30). That’s a bargain!
There are also other acting books that aren’t necessarily about acting technique, but about the business of acting. My favourite is The Golden Rules of Acting by Andy Nyman. It’s short, cheap, motivational and shows you that even very successful actors can struggle.
Marketing Materials & Casting Sites
The cost of an actors marketing materials can be a hit to the wallet, but they are absolutely necessary to their careers. Without them, you won’t find representation and you definitely won’t find paid acting work.
Professional headshots are one of the largest recurring costs an actor will incur, and most actors can tell you from experience, you don’t want to cheap out on headshots.
Actor headshots can cost between $100-1000 depending on location, the photographer’s experience and the number of shots needed, although most actors should spend between $350-500. Professional actors usually update their headshots every 1-2 years, so spending $1000 on headshots isn’t always the best option.
When Casting Directors are looking for actors, they scroll through long lists of headshots. A good headshot, taken by a professional photographer will make you stand out and represent you in your truest form. A good headshot not only needs to look like you but also needs to capture your essence. You don’t want your headshot to stand out in a bad way.
|Price in Local Currency
|United States of America
Can I Take a Headshot using a Phone? Modern-day phone cameras are impressive. But an actor looking to make a career in the industry should never take their headshots using a phone camera as it will make them look unprofessional, and won’t present you in the way a professional headshot should.
Even if you know someone with a high-end camera. Taking professional actor headshots takes a lot of practice. It’s not just about the quality of the camera, top acting headshot photographers have years of experience and practice to get where they are.
Editing a showreel doesn’t have to be too complicated, but if you’re not very knowledgeable when it comes to video editing, you’ll need to hire someone to edit your showreel for you. A good showreel editor will spend most of their time on shot selection, this is possibly the most important step to building a showreel.
If you don’t have any showreel material you can also pay to get a custom showreel scene shot for you. This can be a good option if you want to get a quality showreel without having to do a bunch of student films. Getting your first showreel can be tough.
Showreel editors that edit an actors existing footage will often charge between $30-200 for a reel. Although a custom shot showreel that has been shot specifically for the actor’s reel will cost between $100-750.
It’s definitely not necessary for an actor to pay to have a showreel scene filmed, and some actors believe it’s a waste of money. There can definitely be value in paying for a showreel scene, but you must be sure that you’re ready. Acting on screen is very different to acting on stage and actors cringe when looking back on their first few times acting on screen.
If you’re wanting to pay for a custom showreel scene, I’d suggest that you get some experience acting on screen first, and then get a custom showreel scene after you’ve had some experience.
Casting websites are websites that are used by actors to find auditions. Actors can apply to jobs that are advertised by casting directors and filmmakers with the possibility of getting an audition. The most popular casting websites are Actors Access for North America and Spotlight for the UK.
Casting websites can cost from $4.99-19.99 (£5-17) per month, depending on the website and chosen payment plan.
These sites can help actors get paid and unpaid work, depending on your experience level, and are used by both actors with and without agents. Often it’s a bad idea to wait for your agent to get you an audition, you should be proactive in your own time, so these sites can be essential.
In the UK, all professional actors will be members of Spotlight, which is the industry-standard casting platform for the UK. Becoming eligible to join Spotlight isn’t an easy thing to do, many actors spend years trying to become eligible, as some agents won’t sign you without being a member. The entry requirements can be compared to that of SAG-AFTRA’s eligibility requirements.
Agent & Management Fees
Getting a talent agent is a massive goal for most actors, as those with agents often get to audition for bigger productions. Although agents, of course, don’t work for free. Some people wrongly believe that you have to pay to join an agency upfront, but this isn’t the case. If an agency asks for an upfront payment, run. These agencies are nothing more than scams.
Talent agents that represent actors and other entertainers will usually take a commission of 10-20%. This percentage can vary depending on an agencies location, size, connections and the notoriety of the individual being represented.
So when an actor is signed with an agency, and their agreement states a 15% commission. If the actor earns $10,000 from a job, the agency will take $1,500 and the actor will receive the other $8,500.
In some countries, it can be popular to have both an agent and a manager. Managers also take a commission from an actors work. So this is something to keep in mind. An actors manager can take between 10-20% commission and will often sign an actor onto a 3-year contract.
These commissions can add up and be a deciding factor between whether an actor goes full time or not. If an actor is paying tens of percent commission on their income to agents and managers, and then taxed on top of that, it can make it even harder to become full time.
Unions for Actors
Actor unions are amazing! They fight for us and ensure we aren’t being taken advantage of. Although there are a few costs to keep in mind, depending on where in the world you work.
I decided to research the top actor unions in the USA, UK, Australia and Canada. This includes SAG-AFTRA, AEA, Equity UK, ACTRA, UBCP and Actors Equity MEAA. I have collated the fees associated with each union below.
SAG-AFTRA Membership (US)
To learn more about SAG-AFTRA and their fees, you can visit their website here.
|Cost in $
|Basic Annual Base Fee
|1.575% of covered earnings up to $1,000,000
Actors Equity Membership (US)
To learn more about AEA and their fees, you can visit their website here.
|Costs in $
|Basic Annual Fee
|$176 annually ($88 each May and November)
|2.5% of gross earnings under Actors Equity contracts
Equity UK Membership (UK)
To learn more about Equity UK and their fees, you can visit their website here.
|Cost in £
|Annual Fee (Income less than £40,000)
|Annual Fee (Income £40,001 – £80,000)
|Annual Fee (Income £80,001 – £120,000)
|Annual Fee (Income £120,001 – £240,000)
|Annual Fee (Income Over £240,001)
|Child / Long Service / Recent Graduate Discount
ACTRA and UBCP Membership (Canada)
|Costs in CA$
|Apprentice Membership – Annual Fee
|Full Membership – Initiation Fee
|$1600 minus apprentice permit fees
|Full Membership – Annual Fee
|Full Membership – Working Dues
|2.25% of gross earnings (up to a combined maximum of $4,000) each year.
MEAA Membership (Australia)
To learn more about MEAA and their fees, you can visit their website here.
|Cost Per Week in AU$
|Juvenile Extras (up to age 16)
|Adult Extras, Freelance Dancers, or Juvenile Performers (up to age 16)
|Performers (Income up to $78,999)
|Performers (Income $79,000 – $103,499)
|PWD (Performers with Disabilities)
Although these are the main costs that actors may have, there are also other costs that you may not have thought about, I’ll list these below.
Living in Major Cities
Many actors aspire to move to London, LA, New York, or any other major city around the world. While there can definitely be a big benefit to living in a major city, it can also be extremely expensive. Living in London is actually so expensive that it’s the only city in the entirety of the UK that has a different minimum wage, how crazy is that?
While I can’t give exact examples due to rental prices jumping around so much, you can often expect to pay many multiples more in order to live in a major city. Most people will share apartments with friends or even strangers in order to live in these cities.
Travelling to Auditions
No matter where an actor lives, at some point they’re going to have to travel to auditions. Whether they’re local and have to use public transport or live 2 hours away. This cost obviously fluctuates a lot, and in recent years self-taping has become more popular which is great for our wallets.
Over the course of a year, most actors that are auditioning fairly regularly will spend a few hundred dollars on fuel or public transport getting to and from auditions, although this depends on local fuel and transport prices, and where the actor lives.
An actor that lives more central will have higher living expenses but lower travel expenses, but an actor that lives slightly outside the city will probably spend less overall, despite spending more on travel.
With the rise of self-taping, it’s incredibly important to be able to produce good self-tape auditions. This doesn’t mean actors should spend a lot of money on equipment if they can’t afford it, but there are a few things that actors need.
Microphone: I’ve put this one first as I think it’s most important. I’d say every actor that is auditioning with self-tapes should own a microphone, you don’t have to spend a fortune, but it’s important that the Casting Director can hear you clearly, with no echo, and you don’t sound like you’re a mile away from the camera.
Lavalier microphones can range from $10-$700 (£5-500) Although the RODE SmartLav+ is a great, reasonably priced microphone, that gives great audio.
Lighting: It’s obviously very important that a Casting Director can see you, and lighting can make a HUGE difference. Sure, you can use a window, but I can count how many self-tapes I’ve had to film late at night. Having a decent set of lights can be great for this.
Whether you use a ring light or some cheap softbox lights, they can make a world of difference in lighting your face. You can get a decent set for less than $100 (£75).
Tripod: If you’ve ever tried resting your phone on a surface to film a self-tape, you’ll know the struggle. You don’t want your phone to fall in the middle of the perfect take. A tripod can make a huge difference in the ease of framing your self-tape. You can get a cheap tripod for less than $75 (£50)
Camera: You definitely don’t need a high-quality camera to shoot your self-tapes with, but if you want an extra clear picture to give that extra good looking self-tape, it can definitely be an option. A good quality camera could cost $400+ (£300+).
What Can Actors Do About Recurring Expenses?
As you can tell, there are a lot of expenses an actor will incur, so what can we do to minimise these expenses? Fortunately, most, if not all of these things can be claimed as tax deductions. Of course, this depends heavily on where you live, but tax deductions can be a lifesaver for an actor.
Although, in order to deduct tax, you actually have to earn money. Easier said than done in the entertainment industry, unfortunately. But… It’s not impossible. It’s definitely not impossible.
You’ve got this!