Advice and How-To's Especially for ACTORS!

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Taxes/Deductions for Actors

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One of the most important parts of running your acting business is maintaining good finances. And part of that is smartly preparing your taxes, and logging and tracking your expenses.

The IRS has a special category for professionals known as the "Qualified Performing Artist" (click here to learn more.) When basic qualifications are met, actors are able to deduct expenses that were made in support of their careers in excess of what is normally allowed by law. To claim a deduction, you must have excellent records, including the receipt which shows the date, and circumstances of the expense (think of "who, what, where, when and why" as a guide.) Here is a sample list of deductions actors, with good records, can take:

Marketing
Demo reels (production and duplication), business cards, postcards, headshots, website hosting. trade publications (Backstage, Ross Reports), casting websites.

Education
Classes, workshops or coaching sessions, dance or voice lessons, tickets to shows (movies or theater), musical theater CDs.

Utilities
Fees for cell phone, internet service, TV/cable service (be sure to calculate what percent of the time is used for the maintenance/research of your career, and only deduct that percentage.)

Local Travel
Subway/taxi/cab fare or mileage allowance for travel to and from anything related to your career.

Entertainment/Food
Food/drink purchased while discussing your career (you can only deduct 50% of $$ spent- the government assumes you are paying for both parties, and they will only allow you to deduct the food you buy for others, not your own.)

Other expenses
Agent/manager commission, union dues, office supplies, mailings/postage, out-of-town travel and food (100% deductable)

Another thing that is imperative to your record keeping is to keep a very detailed diary/calendar of your efforts. If you like the computer, use your Outlook or Calendar program. if you like paper, use a tool like the Actor's Ultimate Resource Guide (see info, right.) But- DO SOMETHING.

Though I always recommend using a tax professional, I have guided many actors through the logging and tracking of their expenses, and I would love to help you too! Contact me to set up your free consultation.


Have a comment or question? Leave it by clicking below!

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.

The Dark Side of Fame


I just read this compelling article about Diablo Cody and what she is having to deal with as the recent winner of the Best Screenplay Oscar. It really jars you into reality about how finicky the media and public are about the people they hoist into stardom. This article is a must read for anyone who dreams of making it big- staying true to yourself is getting tougher than ever...

Latest "It" Talent Feeling Backlash

Friday, February 15, 2008

What does it means when a Agency is SAG Franchised?

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I saw this question posted on the Backstage Forum, and I posted an answer that I wanted to repost here:

I am a little confused as to whether it is important for the agency you sign with to be SAG (or not) or if there is a big difference if they are not SAG. We have an offer from one who is and one who isn't. Opinions please.

TAE answers:

First off- congratulations on having multiple offers- that is fantastic! I hope my response helps to answer your question.

Agencies who want to represent union members are usually required to be "franchised" by the union, meaning they have a signed agreement with the union which determines a standard practice between the agent and the union member. SAG's current contract with the agents is expired, but those agents who want to continue to work with union members can stay committed to the expired contract until a new contract is created.

Until the new contract is drawn, SAG actors can sign with any agency they choose. If you are a member of SAG, it is a good idea to choose an agency who has been franchised by the union in the past, that way you know that the agent has had a good working relationship with the union, and will likely continue that relationship in the future. So, it is a good idea to do some research- and use these message boards to get an idea of how the actors feel about working with both agencies you are interested in.

If you are not a SAG actor, it really does not matter one way or another. A SAG franchised agency can represent both union and non-union actors, and can submit non-union actors to non-union projects. But, if your goal is to get your union card, I would suggest going for the agency who plans to sign with SAG when the new contract is offered. Otherwise, you may have a tough time getting your card in the future.

I hope this demystifies the process a bit- and, again, congratulations!

Have a comment or question? Leave it by clicking below!

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Networking Seminars with Agents and Casting Directors

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As a follow up to this fantastic article about these casting director/agents networking seminars and workshops, here is a question and answer about how to take the best advantage of your time, especially in the one on one.

K asks:
I wanted to ask you for suggestions of things to ask in the one-on-one.  I always seem to freeze up when they ask me if I have any questions.  I can never think of any even though I have a million!

Hello- great question! Below is a list of some of the things I ask. I don't usually ask all of them in one session, I usually pick one. Especially for those places that have time limits, though, for that reason, I prefer the ones where you can take your time...

• Based on my audition and how I look today, what age range would you put me in? 
• Would you say that my headshot matches the person you see before you? 
• What kinds of roles have you cast in the past few weeks that are in my type category? 
• Based on my audition, what types of projects/roles would you call me in for?
• Is there anything about my audition that you liked that I should be sure to do in other auditions? 
• Is there anything about my audition that you disliked that I should avoid in the future? 

Don't be afraid of bringing your question on a small piece of paper and stashing it in your pocket. I have done that a few times, and they seem pleasantly surprised about how prepared I was.

Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!

(Note: Laws have changed in California with regard to casting director workshops- read this excellent blog post by Bonnie Gillespie to understand the details.)

Have a question? Send me an email and I'll answer it promptly!


Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

How to Join Equity


For those of you who are already members of Equity- congrats! You can skip this article with joy. But for those of you who are still on the quest to get your card, this article is for you.

First, what is Equity?
Actors' Equity Association ("AEA" or "Equity"), founded in 1913, is the labor union that represents more than 45,000 Actors and Stage Managers in the United States. Equity negotiates wages and working conditions and provides a wide range of benefits, including health and pension plans, for its members.

There are three main ways that you can get your Equity card:

1) Get cast in an Equity production in an Equity role, which earns you your card
This is the most obvious way to get your card (it is how I got mine.) Theaters are required by Equity to hold principal and, where appropriate, chorus auditions so that the local Equity membership can be seen for available roles. But sometimes, the right person for the job (you!) is a non-Equity actor. In this case, the theater will sign you to an Equity contract, and once you start rehearsals you can contact Equity about getting your card. Note: The theater does not pay your initiation fee (currently $1100) - they simply give you a contract that satisfies the requirement to receive your card. You'll also be responsible for basic dues ($118 per year, billed semi-annually) and working dues of 2.25%. Working dues are deducted from your paycheck.

2) Get cast in an Equity production in a non-Equity role and join the Equity Membership Candidacy Program, earning points towards earning your Equity card
Equity productions, depending on their contract, are required to hire a certain percentage of their actors from the Equity pool. But some productions, especially for those with large casts, have a number of slots available for non-Equity actors. When you accept this kind of role, you can call Equity and open up your Equity application. You'll pay $100 to get the application started, and for every week you work in a non-Equity theater (rehearsal and performance) you will receive 1 point. Collect 50 points, and you will earn your Equity card (and your initial $100 will be credited toward your initiation fee.) You'll also be responsible for basic and working dues. Note: there are limits to the types of theaters that are eligible for this program. Call Equity for an official list.

3) Be a member of a sister union and buy your way into Equity
If you are a member of SAG, AFTRA, AGVA, AGMA or GIAA, have been a member in good standing for the past year, AND you have worked on a principal or "under-five" contract or at least three days of extra ("background") work, you are eligible to join Equity under the 4As agreement. Again, you are responsible for paying the initiation fee, plus basic semi-annual dues. Note: Working dues are deducted from your weekly paycheck, as opposed to being billed to the actor at the end of the dues period like SAG.

There is another lesser know way to get into Equity, but this requires quite a bit of funds and a second job. If you are a theater producer, you can produce a show under an Equity contract, act in the show, and give yourself your Equity cards. Now, there are restrictions where this is concerned- the least of which is that you cannot do this with just any old contract. Equity stipulates that theaters have to be on a contract of a certain level in order to award contracts to non-Equity actors. This means that you would likely have to have a medium to large size production budget, and you'd have to pay quite a bit of money in salaries to all AEA actors involved. But it is possible if you have the cash.

I have been a member of AEA since 2001. I also served as 3rd chair on the Equity Liaison Committee in San Diego County in 2003 and 2004. I am now teaching "the business" to actors in NYC. If being a professional actor is your dream, I can help you get there. Contact me to set up your free consultation.

Friday, February 1, 2008

How to choose headshot photographer

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I saw this question posted on the Backstage Forum, and I posted an answer that I wanted to repost here:

I've never had headshots done before, and I'm not quite sure how it works. Basically, when I look at the examples from different photographers, I can't tell which I like better, or rather, which I think would be better for me. Also, the photographers that look good tend to be $300+. I can't afford that right now, but is it worth it to get headshots that cost under $200? They don't seem all that great to me. Should I go for the cheaper ones, or should I just start saving?

TAE responds:

When looking for a photographer, two things are very important:

1) Find someone in your price range. I'd say it is unnecessary to spend more than $500-$600, but there are certainly good photographers who charge less. And those who have added perks may be worth the extra money.

2) Find someone you feel completely comfortable with. Because the camera will pick up exactly how you are feeling when each photo is taken, meeting the photographer ahead of time is imperative. This is a step that many actors skip, which is silly because it costs nothing but your time.

What I always suggest is for the actor to select 10-12 photographers that you can afford and made sure they all had a few services you want. Some examples of good services:

1) They'll give you copies of all of the high-resolution images on a disk at the end of the shoot (or within a few days.) Some photographer only release 3-4 large format prints and keep the rest- I think that since you paid for the session you should be given all of the print in large format.

2) Retouching on one photo (or more) is be included. This can save you quite a bit of money in the long run.

3) They would allow you to bring your own makeup person or do it yourself (mostly for women, though men sometimes need one too). Some photographer require you to use their own, which is not always the best choice for actors.

While you look through the photos on each website, see if you can find actors of your type. If you are a comedic actor, try to find a good amount of people on their site that look like comedic actors. This will give you a sense of what your photos would look like.

Once you go through your desired list of services, and you find the photographers that show examples of actors of your type, you'll probably have narrowed it down to 4-5 photographers. Then, contact each of them and set up an interview to be done in person. After you meet each one, you will have a good sense of who you get along with most and that will lead you to the correct choice.

I hope this helps- best of luck!

Note: I have compiled a list of affordable headshot photographers: click here to view. And if you are a current TAE student or a graduate, you can enjoy discounts on 5 headshot photographers: click here for info on the TAE Discount Program.


Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.

What does" deferred pay" really mean?

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I saw this question posted on the Backstage Forum, and I posted an answer that I wanted to re-post here:

When you are cast for a role and they say it's deferred pay, does that mean they will pay you later in a form of a check? If so, shouldn't I sign some form of contract that states they will pay me on a deferred basis.

TAE responds:

Deferral usually means that you will only get money if they make a profit after they meet their expenses. In theater, sometimes this means they will give actors a cut of the ticket sales after expenses have been met. For film, it could mean a percentage of the profit if the film gets a distribution deal (whether it be for a release in theatres, on TV, or sales of DVDs.) I know a producer who, after several years, got a distribution deal on DVD, but after meeting expenses the SAG actors ended up being paid $9 each as a part of the deferral agreement. This is normal, especially for low budget agreements.

All of that aside, a contract is always a good idea (whether money is offered or not) so that that each party's expectations are mutually understand and agreed upon. Working on a union project makes this easy, because the paperwork is already drawn up for you and you know that certain minimums will be met. But with non-union projects, you need to work much harder to make sure that your rights are protected.

I hope you find this useful- good luck!


Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.

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