Paying to not get paid

Whenever I post a long rant on FB my friends get all worried.  When I see them they come up to me and whisper ” Are you ok?” When I video rant it gets more crazy, like when I videotaped the hospital staff In Vegas when I was drugged and they wouldn’t treat me.  I got some phone calls and texts and even my mother got calls making sure I was okay…. My mother assured everyone I was fine and just being my normal self.  She has been putting up with me since birth. So to make a note before this post/ rant…. I am not mad.  This is just a topic.  I am in a fine mood.  I just like to write.

I have been thinking about this topic for a while.  I’ve been hesitant because most actors will not talk about anything publicly that is negative because of fear they might get one less audition or job or because they are perfectly happy with the system, and that’s great.  I’m glad it is working for you. I’ve been in the entertainment industry since 1995.  I got my Sag card in 1996.  I stayed in LA until 2000 and then for ten years I produced and hosted live model search events for Hawaiian Tropic around the world.  I’ve been back in LA for 3 years pursuing TV and Film.  I am HAPPY.  I’ve worked my ass off.  I know it is hard.  The past 3 years I have been a machine submitting to everything … I mean EVERYTHING on,,,…… student films, infomercials, low budget, ultra low budget, no budget.  I have done a million things for free just to get back in the game, meet people, get imdb credits and most importantly; footage for my reel.  I have done classes; Cold reading with Brian Reise (love him; need to go back- on a break), went through the year long improv program at IOWest (cost $350 per 8 week term 7 terms), and 2nd City ( cost $350 per 8 week term minimum 7 terms- its complicated).  I learned so much.  Best thing I ever found.  I didn’t even know about the improv community.  It has helped me guide my career, making me smarter, quicker, again great for the resume and has helped immensely with auditions/ work.  I am so in the negative financially, but I expected it.  I knew it was coming. I planned for it…. somewhat…. and I can still get help from my biggest supporter… my mother… who still wants me to get a part time job at night. (I’m trying… ).  I knew that with every new agent and manager I would have to get new pictures.  Which by the time you add the cost of touch ups, printing, make up / hair and the posting costs on Lacasting, actorsaccess, ect easily sets you back $500 a pop……. I’ve done this now at least 5 times in the past 3 years.  It is financially straining to be an actor, but again, I knew what I was getting into. Making sure my roots are highlighted, gas, parking, parking tickets, towing, food, living expenses ahhhh.  You need a job just to afford being an actor….. but there is a catch.,…. It has to be a night job because you have to be 100% free during the day “just in case” your agent or manager or MORE likely YOU gets  you an audition… and what if you actually book it.. AHHHH the pressure.  I have two kids in school.  There are no to/from school buses.  They need to be dropped off and picked up every day.  The there are the after school activities and HOMEWORK (which has been manageable this year- cant complain).  However, then you have to like feed the kids three meals a day and like make sure they are clean and do laundry and dishes and shit.  However, AGAIN…. I knew what I was getting into. I am HAPPY damn it:)

What I also planned on when I came back to LA was casting director workshops.  You pay anywhere from $30-$50 EACH TIME to read a scene to a casting director and they adjust you and you do it again and/ or you get notes on your performance; scale 1-5, headshot, personality, ect.  Every actor I know does them.  How else are you going to meet casting directors when you are just starting out? What if you don’t even have an agent or manager?  Its the obvious best choice.  Every agent and manager I have had wants me to do them.  I did them before I started my Hawaiian Tropic career and I wonder if that is in part why I took an “acting in LA break”.  I went to 50 in under 6 months and was called in to audition NO TIMES.  It was kind of taboo in 1999.  NOW its the rage. In the late 90’s I was going out like 3 times a week when I had a great manager and I didn’t even get one audition from all of these workshops I paid to go to.  Did I suck?  Maybe I sucked?  But my feed back forms said they liked me.  They gave me all 5’s…… Well then I was 25.  I didn’t know all I know now.  I was in a rush to be working NOW NOW NOW.  I was in my 20’s panic mode of “I need to be successful now.  Right now!”…..Cue Nervous breakdown…..

Ten years later coming back….. again, again, again… I knew what I was getting into.  Again I started doing the casting director work shops. I did 48 in under 4 months… I was called in once….. for a one liner…. from a CD who has a great reputation for bringing in workshop actors from roles he casts on a TV show, which is great.  I’ve heard of numerous people that have booked gigs with him after doing work shops and then been called in to audition for a part on his show.  What a great way to get your foot in the door to get some credits. To help you in the daunting task of finding an agent and a manager by having a “recognizable credit”.  It shows the potential agent/ manager someone thinks you dont suck.  “Look…. I booked this myself. Casting directors know me and like me!”  But what about people like me…. I’ve done like 100 in my life… I’ve been called in once.  I am in a horrible competitive demographic.  I am in the- “Mid to late 30’s woman who had some kids and now is getting back into the acting game.” I am competing with women who never took a break from Hollywood and have an arm load of credits and great representation.  They have been around.  They know people.  I know this and that is why I have done so many jobs for free to build my resume.  But it makes me wonder? Do I suck?  Like I cant be brought in for a tiny part like to say ” Do you want some coffee?” Like I think I have talent enough for that… wait ANYONE has talent for that.  My plumber could pull it off. I have booked some major shit…. ON MY OWN.  These workshops? who’s shopping?  Not me. I’m broke from doing them. What is the actual ratio that people are being called in?  I once asked a casting director in the Q&A how many work shops she did a week. (she was caught of guard and a little pissed off, but I wanted to know.  what was I up against?)…. I don’t remember the specific number…. but it was A LOT.  I still have mixed feelings on Casting Director workshops and I can’t say I’ll never do them again.  If you dont have an agent or a manager how would you meet any?  Only agents and managers get the breakdowns and can submit their clients for the good gigs.  That’s just the way it is. For TV Co-star or Guest star parts the Casting Director probably gets 1,000 submissions.  If you met them even 5 years ago maybe they will remember you to give you one of the 10 slots to come in and audition for the role.  I will say that the whole Casting Director work shop thing has gotten out of control.  I get so many e-mails a day from so many different places with the same casting directors bouncing around from one to the next.  I also think there should be a limit of how much can be charged.  Heck it should be free.  They should WANT to meet new actors.  It makes their casting job easier.

There is something that has REALLY pissed me off lately though.  The workshops done by agents and managers.  My friend who is in her 20’s has been doing them to try to get some representation.  She is young, little credits, ambitious and just wants what we all want…. to audition.  Maybe it is my motherly instinct but knowing that she is paying for these agent work shops to hope upon hope she will get representation and she hasn’t gotten one bite yet, not even for commercial representation MAKES ME MAD.  She’s cute.  She used to compete for me with Hawaiian Tropic.  She placed and won a lot.  I hired her for numerous promotions.  Now I have always gotten my representation the old fashion way; either by referral into an office and then won them over or mailed out a head shot and resume to EVERY single agent and manager in town in hopes I would get called in to win them over.  It is expensive.  It costs 1.20 just for the postage and there are over 300 agents and 300 managers in LA.  I would only get one or two calls per mailing.  I can see the allure of just paying $20 per agent workshop.  However, who are they calling in?  Who are they actually signing? I keep getting e-mail after e-mail from workshops to meet agents… and its always the SAME agents.  This puts me over the edge.  How can these agents take money from these young actors just starting out and not even sign them?  I don’t know if I would want an agent that did work shops.  Shouldn’t they be working for the clients they have? Submitting them for roles?  Making calls for them?  How do they have the time?

When I worked for Hawaiian Tropic what I liked about the model search is that they never charged an entrance fee to compete.  It was a model search. To find models to work for the company.  The girls competed for prize money.  Sometimes I used to pay girls even if they didn’t place.  Everyone knew we were making money from the location to have an event.  These girls took their time and energy and showed up for me.  I can’t even imagine charging them to help me make even more money.  It would have been just wrong. (* side note- Little Miss did charge fees- different thing- don’t condone it either though.  Wasn’t my thing)  .  Actors/ models starting out have no money.  How people can take money from them to make their jobs easier and profit boggles my mind.

The counter argument is that so many productions have moved out of LA casting Directors, agents and managers need the money.  Well they they should get a part time job that does not involve taking money from actors.  If you are saying that there are less jobs in LA then what do you even hope to offer these actors?  These actors are getting part time jobs just to do workshops.

Every day more and more e-mails flood my inbox with people wanting money from me…. to “help me”.  I think I’d rather help myself.  There are sooooo many opportunities now that were not available in the 90’s.  You couldn’t shoot your own webseries or sketch. You couldn’t submit yourself to projects on line.  There was no LAcasting or Actorsaccess.  I had to go through the productions listed in LA weekly and Backstage, figure out mailing addresses by getting a booklet from Samuel French book store and self submit via THE MAIL a head shot and resume blindly, hoping that the production even had a role that would fit me.  Call your friends, use your phone to video sketches.  I do.  Build your own reel.  Take real classes from real teachers not from ones who had a recurring role on Miami Vice in the 80’s and hasn’t worked since, but real teachers who will help and guide you… who have helped and guided other actors who are now working.  I personally feel like there are more opportunities now than ever before with how far technology has come.  The problem is people don’t understand how much power they have just in their own selves.  Make work for your self.  Make it so agents and managers seek you out.  I actually have a manager now who tells me: “Vanessa you are so talented… slow it down… your pictures are just horrible and you look like a hooker.” ( I got new pictures..again).  Someone believes in me….. other than my mother… Its CRAZY!

If you are a woman its gonna be even harder.  There are more parts for men and less men actors than women.  Its not fair.  (Its mostly my men friends I hear getting called in from CD workshops, but I could be wrong).  This is it for me.  I am an actor.  I am not ever going to give up.  I will make my own work if I feel like I havent been busy enough or do a sketch show or start an improv team.  I have a long way to go. I figure AT least 7 more years to even hope to work somewhat steadily and actually get out of the negative.  But, I know I will get there eventually. Everyone can.  Just dont give up.  There is a part for everyone.  You just have to find it.


About Vanessa Bednar

I am an actor, a writer, a producer, a mom, an adventurer.

11 responses to “Paying to not get paid

  1. Nice post Vanessa! I think I agree with you on every point. I tell my actor friends all the time that there are opportunities to self-produce content and that if they really want to “work”, (in the context of getting stuff done) then they can do that every single day.

  2. I hear ya! Everything you say is right on. I understand where you are coming from. Been there, done that…. Still doing it…

    I was a Hawaiian Tropic Girl. Represented Alabama in National’s in 1990.

    Best to you always:)

  3. Jeez Vanessa! I never do those CD workshops. I think they’re scams as well with only a few exceptions of CDs who actually teach.
    I’m not casting anything at the moment but feel free to send me your demo electronically via my website.

    Good on ya for writing this!

  4. We love you over here kiddo & can’t wait to shoot your show.

  5. Silvia

    You are awesome!!! I did 3 workshops with 3 different CD’s but felt during my first experience, I have to do at least Two or Three with the same CD. Yes I know crazy 🙂 The reason why I’m saying this, is because during my first workshop experience, which I was sooooo excited about since I got to meet the CD for Criminal Minds, I felt 1/3 of the attendees were already buddy buddy with the CD. Ha and I, Miss Naive, thought I found the key to success by attending this One single workshop. Did this mean, I have to take a few of those with him again and again and pay $75 a pop? What was also weird, that the first thing out of the CD’s mouth was ‘I cast from people I know’ and held up all of our Head Shots. Ha ha ha … like He keeps them and actually organizes them by name or gender in some file so He can pull from it. I of course felt that I would actually get called in. I didn’t know He did about 3 of those workshops a week. There’s no way He keeps them. The real question would be: If they see x amount of actors each workshop times 3 a week, times that by 4 for the month … you really think they will go through the HS’s and see if you fit a part or remember you? In addition how can a CD be an acting teacher? I’m super blessed to go the Actors Studio here in LA and watch Martin Landau guide actors, the work is amazing. How can those CD’s and forget about Assistants be teaching and charging that kind of money ?

  6. Pingback: Paying to not get paid | Vanessa Bednar

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