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The Big Bill

Hollywood's history is thick with legendary tales—some true and some apocryphal—of hopeful young starlets and dashing young leading men packing up their meager belongings in their beat-up old suitcases, buying Greyhound bus tickets or hitchhiking from Pella, Iowa, or Sandusky, Ohio, or Bayonne, N.J., and heading west to seek their fame and fortune in the movies. These stories seem to always end in success—Lana Turner getting discovered at Schwab's luncheon counter, that sort of thing. But that's because you never hear much about the ones who aren't successful. If you didn't know better, you could easily believe that everyone who dreams of Hollywood stardom achieves it. We all know how untrue that is.

Still, year after year, people move to L.A. with exactly the same plan. And why not? You never know unless you try. But how much money do you realistically need, in 2009, to pull up stakes, relocate to Los Angeles, and set yourself up with the actor basics?

Getting Here

Plane fares vary, obviously, based on where you're coming from and the luck of timing (Allegiant Air recently had a shockingly low $29 fare from Wichita, Kan.). But fares usually hover (pardon the pun) in the low hundreds. If you're flying, remember to factor in such costs as cab fare to the airport and from LAX and the bill for shipping your belongings.

If you're coming by car, don't forget about fuel. Going the U-Haul route is another option, and if you're bringing lots of stuff, that might make the most sense. A message board poster, "bez," recently made the move, spending $1,200 for a U-Haul truck and towing his car. "Gas was like $500–$600 to get here from the East Coast," he reports.

A Roof Over Your Head

If you're going to become a big celebrity, you'll need someplace to have your fan mail delivered, so finding a place to live is a priority. Living near centers of showbiz activity is advisable, but that's one of the variables you can play with. If you're willing to commute farther, you can save money on rent by settling in a less-expensive area.

According to—which updates its data weekly­—rental rates in several popular actor areas average $1,084 for a studio, $1,339 for a one-bedroom, and $1,744 for a two-bedroom. But there are deals out there. These days, if you do a bit of hunting, you can get a decent studio in a decent area for as little as $800 per month and a two-bedroom for as little as $1,000. Recently a two-bedroom Spanish cottage in Beverly Hills was listed on Craigslist for $700 a month, but keep an eye out for scams.

Obviously, sharing can make good financial sense, as long as your roommate isn't a deadbeat. If he's not paying his half of the rent, it seriously diminishes the financial advantage. Most landlords will also require first and last month's rent and/or a security deposit. And remember to factor in utilities, which could run a few hundred per month.

Wheels on the Ground

Although it's possible to take public transportation to auditions, meetings, and your day job, it's highly challenging. L.A.'s vast square mileage—among the most of any U.S. city—makes it a difficult place to live without a car. This is truer for actors than it is for those who commute to and from the same job five days a week. We often need to visit several neighborhoods in a single day, as we zip from audition to meeting to class. And the scramble to fit everything into our ever-changing schedules doesn't always allow for slower modes of transportation like buses or bicycles. A car is more or less a necessity if you're going to seriously pursue an acting career in L.A.

Mark Scott, senior manager of media relations for Auto, says, "For an actor looking to get set up in L.A., where a car is both mode of transport and a statement, a person should expect to spend at minimum between $3,000 and $6,000 for a decent car with some style—assuming this actor does not have an unlimited bank account. If you get much below $2,500, you're getting close to the price ranges where people are selling cars to chop shops and salvage yards for parts, which means that the car probably doesn't have much life left in it, and you could be facing some high repair bills in the near future.

"Generally, if a deal seems too good to be true, it likely is. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people eager to take advantage of people, and a young actor looking to make it in L.A. who comes across a crazy cheap 'deal' on a hot car might just end up with more problems than they bargained for—and less money than they had to begin with. When looking to purchase any used car, ask to take the car for a test drive and for permission to take it to an independent mechanic for an inspection. This may cost you a couple hundred of your own dollars, but it's a worthwhile step, as most mechanics can quickly spot major issues."

Jon Quade of AutoMotivators says, "In my educated opinion, a reliable preowned car or truck should run in the $5,000 range, provided the buyer researches and shops carefully. This figure, of course, would be on the low end of the scale. If money were less of an obstacle, a vehicle in the $15,000–$20,000 range would be newer, safer, have lower miles, and likely better fuel-economy ratings."

Remember, with a car comes the additional cost of car insurance. According to Eric F. Caruso, renewals manager for Survival Insurance, "Auto insurance for liability in L.A. ranges from $50 to $100 a month with a clean [record], $120–$200 [a month] for full coverage, depending on the car, age of the driver, tickets, accidents, and driving experience. Things that can help the rate are multicar discounts, good-student discounts, and maintaining the coverage for one year and getting the renewal discount." There's also gasoline, which currently averages $3.05 per gallon, and any repairs that come up.

"Nightrider" writes on, "Here is a loose budget based on my own lifestyle: $600 moving expenses; $1,000 studio monthly rent ($850), including all utilities; $2,000 first/last, deposit; $350 initial outlay (kitchen, additional furniture); $500 food and drink (this is a generous figure and very doable); $150 vehicle expenses; $90 clothing/other equipment/random."

Head for Headshots

To compete in L.A.'s large pool of actors, your materials need to be their best. That includes first-rate, professional-looking headshots. And the photos that were perfectly fine back home may not be right for this market. So, unless you're sure the shots you have are great, plan on getting new ones taken by an L.A. photographer. The average price tag is $400–$600, but as with everything, you can pay much less or much more. If you go too far in either direction, you'll be wasting money.

Reproduction Deductions

The growing reliance on the Internet has been good news for us actors when it comes to reproducing photos and résumés. More and more often, casting people are accessing these materials online and printing them out themselves, so these days you'll need fewer reproductions.

Still, you will need hard-copy headshots and résumés for those who still require them. Many actors choose to go with lithographs rather than photo prints, which saves money on an item often tossed in the trash. There's a range to the prices, of course; I've seen $75 for 100 photos and $75 for 250 photos. "Miss Stone" on seems to have scored the best price: "$95 for 300-plus."

In the Mail

Most new arrivals will do a large mailing, sending their photos and résumés to agents and casting directors. And if you get into a show, you'll want to do a post card mailing to let people know about it. Postage for an 8-by-10-inch envelope is $1.05. Small post cards cost 28 cents to mail; larger ones cost 44 cents. On our website, "bookme" breaks it down thus: "Say you make either one big 50-piece mailer to a group or send 50 individual submissions via hard copy to casting directors for various projects. You're paying approximately $75 total for the supplies and postage."

Subscriber Services

Certain resources are virtual necessities for today's aspiring L.A. actor, including, of course, a subscription to Back Stage and "Miss Stone" says you'll spend "$68 for Actors Access; $120 or so for Now Casting, depending on which package; $140 for LA Casting; $175 for Back Stage plus Ross Reports." (Ross Reports is now known as Call Sheet.)

"Bookme" says, "I pay for all three submission sites. It costs $208 per year for me, save photo addition/management costs. These costs do add up, however, and a reasonable expectation for these costs (including incidental script downloads, etc.) can be estimated at $30 per month."

Class Act

There are all kinds of educational opportunities for actors in Los Angeles, including classes in scene study, acting technique, cold reading, auditioning, singing, dancing, voiceover, marketing, and the list goes on. You'll need to continue your training after the move. Some sample numbers are below, courtesy of the actors on our message boards:

Acting: $800 for 12 weeks.

On-camera: $200 or more per month.

Improv: $300 or so for eight weeks.

Scene study: Around $250 per month.

Union Unity

If you're not a member of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, it's a good idea to join. These days many projects are under AFTRA's jurisdiction. The initiation fee is $1,300. If you're not already a member of the Screen Actors Guild, be prepared to join once you're eligible. That fee is $2,300.


This is a town where lots of things get done over food and drink. If you don't have the funds to hang out with fellow actors after class or after rehearsal, you might miss out on connections that will be valuable to your career.

Thinking Annually

Message board poster "hex02" was kind enough to share his list of annual expenses from his tax return:

Classes: $2,914 (a regular scene study class, an eight-week cold reading
class, and a Shakespeare summer program).

Casting director workshops: $515.

Subscriptions: $402 (Back Stage,
LA Casting, Now Casting, Actors Access,
IMDb Pro).

Website: $247.

Scripts/acting book: $251.

Headshot photo session: $650
(including makeup).

Headshot prints and retouching: $386.

Internet service: $539.

Cell service: $650.

Rent: $10,410 (a studio in Santa Monica).

Gym: $348.

Gas: $2,059.

Car insurance: $1,027.

Car repairs/maintenance: $3,551
(it was a bad year; other years more like $1,700).

DMV fees: $110.

Office supplies: $207 (planner,
envelopes, résumé paper, ink).

Postage: $121.

Groceries: $200–$250 a month on
average, eating out not included.

For perspective, the approximate grand total of only the above basic expenses is between $25,000 and $30,000.

The Bottom Line

Clearly, a lot of variables affect the cost of relocating and setting yourself up to pursue a career in Los Angeles. Your bottom line will depend on where you're coming from, how you're traveling, and what your needs are. Are you shipping your belongings or selling everything you have and starting from scratch? Will you be buying a car or do you already have one? Will you need an apartment or have you recently inherited a modest Bel-Air mansion? These are questions you'll need to ask yourself as you assess the monetary feasibility of the big move. Plan carefully, and be sure to include in your plans as much of a financial cushion as you can manage, knowing that the one expense we can always count on is the unexpected one. Welcome to Hollywood!   

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