I haven’t written in a couple of weeks – life has been hectic and stressful and some days were just downright crappy. All my time seemed to be focused on getting through whatever was the crisis of the moment – so thinking up creative new ways to simplify my life has definitely taken a back seat.
One of the hardest things about being an actor – any kind of freelancer, really, is the cash-flow issue. For most commercial or voice over work, there is typically a big lull between when you do the job, and when you actually get the money for that job. Theatre is a kinder business, especially if you’re Equity – you get paid consistently every single week. But since most of the work I’ve had this year has been commercial/voice over work, I’ve been dealing with the lull, and it’s impact has been pretty brutal.
I did a national voice over radio spot back in early March. It ran in a lot of different states, and when that happens, it is very, very good news, because you will be getting paid for all those markets. I called my agent after I completed the job and asked what the estimate was for the recording session plus all the markets. When she told me the number, I almost dropped the phone.
A little over $7,000.
It’s jobs like this that make me keep pushing forward in a career that is so fraught with rejection, struggle, and disappointment. Because to make that amount of money, for a couple of hours of your time, and to really enjoy doing it, just can’t be beat. I was elated. And of course, I mentally had every penny of it spent on our debt as well as some expenses we’ve been putting off due to necessity. I also planned to put some aside to cover monthly expenses in case my theatrical dry spell continued. My excitement and anticipation for receiving this money was equivalent to the excitement I felt on Christmas morning when I still believed in Santa.
But weeks passed, and then months, and even though I eagerly watched the mail every day, there was no check. I sold some more jewelry. I put off getting my hair cut. I bought the bare minimum of food I felt we needed to get by. I repeatedly said no to going out with friends in situations where I would need to spend money. I paid only minimum payments on my debts, which did nothing to lower the monthly interest charges. I accepted even small paying gigs just to have any kind of income. Ron and I stayed home and watched TV every night instead of going out, except on our birthdays, and in those instances we used a coupon for one dinner and went somewhere inexpensive for the other. The charges on my bank statement began to solely reflect payments made for parking and gas, and nothing else. Near the end of each month, I lay awake at night fretting about what I was going to do at the beginning of the upcoming month, when bills were due. after about 75 days I called my agent to see if she knew when it might pay, and she assured me that while this was a “slower paying” client, they always did in fact pay, and she would send them a reminder.
It was stressful. It was depressing. And maybe more than anything, it was infuriating.
If I pay a bill late, I am hit with a late fee. And the threat of being cut off from my credit. And the even bigger threat of a long-term poor credit rating. But in my business, clients are in a very advantageous position. If they feel like paying late, they can get away with it. On union jobs, they may get a late fee, but if they have a lot of money, they just shrug, pay the late fee, and pay you when they feel like it. In the end, the fact that you did the work, and they are using the work, and profiting from it while you consider selling plasma to afford food, has no effect on them. They simply don’t care. And your agent has to be careful about getting too pushy with them, because the client could pull their business from that agency, and go to some other place that is eager to have them. It’s a crappy situation.
90 days passed. Still no check.
And then, finally, on Tuesday of last week, my agent called. She said the job had paid, and wanted to know if I wanted to pick up the check in person, or have it mailed. I elected to pick it up. And 99 days after the job was completed, I finally put the money into my bank account.
Was it a happy moment? Absolutely. I am thrilled to finally have the money. I will admit though, it was also undercut with a teeth grindingly resentful “It’s about F*CKING time.” Because 99 days is a very, very long time to wait when you are already desperate for money. But for the most part, I was overwhelmed with happiness and relief.
If you are considering leaving your consistent paying day job to be a full-time actor, heed my advice: Build up a really, really good savings account. Stay out of credit card debt. Be prepared to wait to be paid, and to be nice about it, even if some days it makes you want call your agent and weep, or post scathing comments on social media (don’t do either of these things). Have a plan B for what you’re going to do if the money doesn’t come through that month. Be honest with people about what’s going on for you financially and why you have to say no to some things. And while you’re waiting, keep working, and keep hustling.
The best part of all this? I paid off my credit card in full. I am now debt free on all my personal cards, and I’m going to keep it that way, barring any horrific emergencies. Now I will start putting all my financial energy towards helping Ron pay of his credit card, and once he is debt free, we’ll attack our joint credit card together. We are a long way from being out of debt (Ron’s card and our joint card both had higher balances than my card, so this will be no small task), but I am starting to believe that if we stay the course, by this time next year, we really might be completely out of debt. The thought of it gives me that Christmas morning excitement all over again.