If you are starting to wonder how to make a living while either being on set with your child all day or running all over town to get them to auditions, you are getting in touch with one of the central challenges of being a stage parent. I know a few who somehow manage to actually make a living while their child works on a regular basis, say on a TV show—but these people are almost all self-employed in ways that are exceptionally flexible, and all of them admit that it is incredibly difficult.
The most ideal situation is if you have a two-parent family, and one parent can support the whole family financially while the other one devotes or himself or herself to what is essentially an unpaid, full-time job. Do not gloss over the financial realities of this. Countless families go into deep debt or even bankrupt themselves because they are not realistic about what it can take to actually support the fledgling career of a young actor.
I’ve talked to a number of actors in their twenties who are wistful that they had to go the more “normal” route to acting—i.e. waiting until they were eighteen to head to Hollywood, or going through a university or professional training program first, arriving in LA at twenty-two or twenty-four. They wish their parents had been willing to uproot the family and support them in pursuit of their dream—how much easier it is when someone else is paying the rent and other bills, and even managing all the confusing aspects of a career! But it just is not realistic or appropriate for most families. Los Angeles is expensive, and the uncertain schedule of an actor (and the parent of a young actor who must drive them to every audition and stay with them on set when they do get a job) makes earning a living exceptionally difficult.
We were fortunate that I had a large chunk of savings (from cashing out my half of a house and business in a divorce) and that is what we lived on while Dove established herself. It took much longer than I expected before she got her first job—a full year from the moment we landed. And then another eight months before things began to really happen, with those eight months filled by frustratingly near misses. Granted, she could possibly have gotten some commercial jobs if we had been more desperate financially but that wasn’t what we had come to LA for and I didn’t want to go that route unless we had to.
Every family is different. Some people aim directly for commercials. Whatever you do, I recommend having a plan that both parents and kids agree to before embarking on this adventure. In our case Dove and I agreed that if she didn’t “make it” (whatever that means—looking back I think we should have been more specific) by the time she was eighteen, that she would enroll in fashion school or college, and try a different direction. Arriving when she was fourteen, that seemed reasonable. Somehow we made it to eighteen, and she has, fortunately, clearly broken out into what probably anyone would call a successful career. Whatever follows her current projects, I suspect she will be able to make a living as an actor as long as she cares to. Which is all you can hope for, I think, because that is really the dream. That, and a healthy, grounded life.
I think it is much more difficult for the people who have just a little success, but not enough to be clear in terms of whether to hold on a little longer, or to fold and go home. This is dangerous financially and emotionally as well. It can be so hard to let go of a dream. But if you remember that this is not just a dream but also a business, you will realize that all businesses must close when enough time goes by and demand is not high enough to sustain them. This is where having an agreement made long before that point is crucial. Talent is only one component of making a successful career in Hollywood, and luck is another huge part. This town is full of talented people who won’t “make it” because the odds are simply stacked against anyone making it. What matters ultimately is that your family stays intact and your kid stays healthy and happy. No career, real or hoped-for, is worth sacrificing that.
Some people keep their hometown residence and add on a second small apartment in LA. If you are here for very long, a basic apartment will be cheaper than a motel. But carrying the expenses on two households can quickly get expensive. What if your child actually lands a regular role on something? Are you prepared to stay? Can you afford to? Remember: California state law says that a child’s earnings belong to them only—not to the family. This can make things really challenging financially. I did not have the financial resources to keep one foot in our old lives while attempting to create a new one, so we simply made the full leap and moved here.
NEXT: How Can You Survive While Chasing the Hollywood Dream? Part 2
My book, The Hollywood Parents Guide, available on Amazon contains everything I wish I’d known when Dove and I started this journey, and will save you untold amounts of time, money, and stress. Full of information you MUST know, it also features stories from parents of other kids who’ve made it!
Or book an hour consulting with me to come up with an individualized plan that takes your own unique needs into account. For about the cost of an hour with a professional acting coach, you can get your questions answered and a road map to help you move forward toward your dream.
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