Pension payoff, and the sacrifices to get there



I sadly have been neglecting this blog, as I have been religiously blogging weekly on my coaching page. It’s not that I don’t have anything acting/modeling to talk about – but it didn’t seem like I had enough to report of any real value.

Two great things to report: I’m back on stage at the end of the year in Philly, with an Equity Contract (obviously), playing the same role with the same theatre that gave me my Equity Card five years ago. I am so excited to get back on stage. Artistically, I’ve felt dead as I have focused on cranking out days toward my SAG Pension.

Second great thing to report: The soul-crushing work has paid off and I am now vested in my SAG Pension. No, it’s not a lot. But it’s SOMETHING. And I can always add to it. I must admit, this is a HUGE weight off my shoulders. I no longer feel trapped into taking mindless work because of my pension. Now I have more CHOICES. Choices are always good.

Which, I suppose is the purpose of this blog. When I first started doing extra/stand-in work, my experience level, current situation, understanding of the business, etc. were completely different from today. In truth, I learned A LOT from being on set as a piece of “moveable furniture.” I think anyone who wants to act on film, or wants to know what a day in the movies is like can learn a whole lot from being on a set. Standing-in and photo-doubling, I learned more. HOWEVER, it is VERY easy to get sucked into the comfort of consistent work, and to even fool yourself into thinking your role is “important,” or god-forbid: “ACTING.” The awful truth is that neither are true. It does not require any training to walk down the street on “background action,” or to sit at a table and “mime eating.” If you are not available, or do something wrong on set, they will simply replace you. All production needs is a body with a pulse to fill the space.

Standing-in and photo-doubling requires more intelligence, focus, and understanding of how filming works. However, you are still easily replaceable. And sure, you are perhaps considered “higher up” than those background folks doing crosses, but you also don’t really fit into any department of the crew. And once again, you are NOT acting.

As you can imagine, actors who dabble with this type of work will end up going one of a few ways: they’ll get comfortable and settle into a career of long-term background work, building a nice pension and leading a financially stable life. They also are really no longer “actors,” but as long as they are happy – hey, it’s a living. Or: they’ll balance some background work when money is tight, but otherwise avoid it like the plague. Agents and managers do NOT want their clients doing this type of work, and so actors who are routinely being sent out to castings will often work a different type of job to fit the bills. Or: they’ll suck it up to get vested in their pension, and then distance themselves from background work, and try to focus of fulfilling ART. ACTING. AUDITIONING. Or figure out another job that has purpose, gratification, and makes you happy.

Folks, being an actor is tough. But I have to say that in my experience, the hardest part has been being treated like a piece of moveable furniture, while “first team,” is treated like a valued human being. Nothing makes me closer to having an identity-induced, mental melt-down. For me, I cannot stomach it. I know I am just as good as that person, so I cannot stand to be treated like a miming, crafty-hoarding, desperate actor.

That’s not to say I’ll never take background work again. I will. I’ll happily take it on commercials. In fact, I’d love to do MORE of it on commercials. I also may take another long-term stand-in gig on a film or tv show, but I see it having an “end-by date.” Stand-in work at least has a specific purpose, and at times I really enjoy it. No, it’s not acting. But I can find something beneficial with doing it now and then.

As 2013 comes to a close in a few months, I will be singing and dancing on stage – bringing smiles and laughter to children. Don’t be fooled, I will also be healing my artistic soul, which I have put on the back-burner for way too long.

My hope is that in 2014, I can focus more on auditions and print work, my coaching business, and grabbing days on commercial sets, or standing-in to fill the void. No more being sucked into the routine, or the never-ending cycle I was once part of. After all, I don’t want to wake up when I am 40 years old, having done little with my life because I was doing mindless crosses in front of the camera every day. img_7084-editsmall


~ by Elizabeth on October 12, 2013.

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