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Actors devotedly refine their craft, exhibit boundless creativity, and demonstrate commendable grit as they pursue their careers—and yet earning a living as a performer still presents considerable challenges. With all that talent and potential, it’s important for thespians to think like an entrepreneur. Enter working actor Kurt Yue, the founder of the YouTube channel Acting Career Center. In his “10 Ways to Make Money Acting” video, the resourceful Yue details several ways actors can earn income using their unique skill set. Let’s take a look.


Film and Television jobs

Starting with the obvious, the coveted starring roles on TV and movie productions can reap tremendous financial rewards, but such jobs are exceptionally rare to land (though not impossible). More often, actors can bring in a paycheck with smaller supporting roles. These kinds of jobs also enable performers to gain valuable credits and add fresh performances to their demo reels, increasing their chances of landing more paying gigs in the future. 

“In the United States, the major movies and television shows are under a SAG-AFTRA contract,” Yue says. “And what that means is there’s a minimum-based pay that is prenegotiated for every time that you are on set.” In 2020, that amounted to about $1,000 per day. What’s more, each time the show plays (whether it be reruns, DVD releases, online streaming releases, or playing on airplanes), the actor will receive monetary compensation (aka residuals) per his or her contract. “So this is why most actors really want to get into movies and TV shows, because the more work that you get in these types of projects, the more money you can make—not only on the days that you work but also potentially in residuals years and years down the line,” Yue explains.



SAG-AFTRA members collectively earn over a billion dollars working on commercials each year. According to SAG-AFTRA, “Union commercials pay residuals… for as long as your commercial is airing. Residuals account for most of the earnings in union commercials, and they can add up to a very nice chunk of change.” 

Non-union commercial jobs, on the other hand, do not pay residuals. You can learn more about the differences between union and non-union commercial jobs here


Stunt Performer / Special Skills / Live Performer

Stunt performers are a hot commodity in the action-packed movies of today. Such risk-takers might find themselves working on a Marvel movie one day and on a television series the next and, like actors, pull in residuals. Actually, actors can be hired on set for any number of special skills; anything that has the potential to open doors for the actor such as being able to choreograph a realistic fight scene or serve as a horse-riding expert can keep an actor coming back to set and establishing valuable relationships to expand their acting horizons. And employment need not rely on big productions. Live performers who work, say, as a Star Wars character or a magician at kids’ birthday parties on weekends have the potential to pay the monthly bills.


Background Actor

Working as an extra in a television show gives actors an opportunity to be on set, learn about the cast and crew, and witness how movie magic is made. While the money is more modest than principal roles, it does enable actors to start adding work to their resumes. 

“When you get to the point where you’re starting to book speaking roles, then you might want to start pushing background work out of your career,” Yue advises.


Stand-In Work

A stand-in is a person who takes the place of a principal actor for lighting setups, camera blocking, and sometimes rehearsals. Some stand-ins need to resemble the principal actor they’re representing in height, weight, build, and hair color. Other times a stand-in may be called to stand in for various actors in the same production to assist the crew in working on the timing of a scene. Because stand-in actors never appear on screen, this job allows the flexibility to audition for a role on the show at hand as opposed to actors who do background work.


Theater Productions

Theater work often requires many rehearsal hours from actors to be ready for live performances, and it does not generally pay actors as much as film or TV. According to the professional theater actors’ union Actors’ Equity Association, of its 51,000 members, about 20,000 worked in 2019-2020. The members who worked in theater had a median income of approximately $11,000 per year. However, the average theater contracts were 13.5 weeks long. Regardless of the pay, if you love acting, the experience and training gained in theater are invaluable.


Industrial Videos

From Home Depot to Boeing, corporate employees need to be trained for best practices in the work environment, and actors can help them learn. Industrial videos include safety or human resource training videos, and they are created for the company’s internal use only. Acting in industrial videos won’t help an actor gain exposure, but performers can help pull in a decent paycheck between acting gigs. 


Voice Acting

Voice work opens employment avenues in film, television, radio, cartoons, commercials, industrial videos, video games, and audiobooks. Stage and screen performers are increasingly installing voice-over studios in their homes as technology has become more accessible. Voice actors need a professional demo whether it be for commercial, narration, animation, or gaming purposes. The work requires a specific skill set and training as well as audio technical skills, so it’s wise for actors to find a mentor to help guide them with the business and to assist them in making a demo. 


Commercial Print

When people think of commercial print work, glamorous models often come to mind. But commercial print gigs also include upbeat, appealing, or professional individuals to advertise a product or service. Think about the people seen in Target ads or bank posters. Besides a specific look, actors bring to the table an ability to effectively express emotions fitting to the scenario. 


Standardized Patient

In an effort to train medical students to properly diagnose patients, medical schools hire actors to act as patients exhibiting specific symptoms. In this circumstance, the actor is provided a script with a set of symptoms such as those experienced when exposed to carbon monoxide or when suffering a heart attack. Actors can know their work as a standardized patient is potentially helping to save the lives of others.


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