When Should an Actor Work For Free? A Guide to Getting Paid

Should an Actor Work For Free?

Are YOU thinking about acting job that’s work for free?

As aspiring actors, we know the importance of networking and building our resume. But it’s not always as simple as being introduced by a friend to the casting director at your local theatre company and getting an interview for their upcoming production. Getting started in this business can be tricky, especially if you don’t have any industry contacts or auditions coming up soon. It’s not impossible though!

If you want to get into acting but are struggling to find opportunities, working for free might seem like a good way to gain experience and meet people who can help boost your career in the long run.

Working for free can be a great opportunity for actors, but it’s also something most want to avoid at all costs. Case in point: whenever someone asks if you want to work for free, your first instinct should probably be an emphatic no. But the real world isn’t so black and white, and there are actually some benefits to working for free – especially when you’re just starting out as an actor.

If you have the right motivations, working for free can help launch your career and give you a leg-up on the competition. Here is our definitive guide to getting paid as an actor; when it makes sense, you have the right fashion for auditions and how you can do it without sacrificing your dignity.

When You’re Just Starting Out

When you’re just starting out in your career, you’re going to want to jump at any opportunity to get some experience under your belt. Working for free is a great way to build your resume, meet people and get a foot in the door. However, you still need to be careful not to over-extend yourself. It is extremely common for actors to take on too many projects at once and spread themselves too thin.

If you over-commit yourself, you’re not going to be able to do any of them justice. You’ll probably end up embarrassing yourself and hurting your chances of getting hired again. You don’t want to spend all your time auditioning for tiny roles that pay nothing, either. Many new actors make the mistake of thinking that they’re not worthy of a speaking part, but that’s not true. Of course you’re worthy! The real question is do you – as an actor – need to work for free?

In Hollywood do you work for free?

Related Reading: How to Find Acting Classes for a Beginner

Networking Events

If you’re invited to a networking event or open call, you should absolutely attend and try to meet as many people as you can. However, you should never feel pressured to work for free just because you need to “show your gratitude” or because “you never know who you might meet!”

If you don’t have any decent auditions coming up, chances are you’ll be asked to perform a cold reading for an unpaid role. This is a big red flag; the people organizing the event should be paying you for your time and effort. If you really want to attend an event like this, bring a friend and make sure you don’t feel pressured to do anything you’re uncomfortable with. If you really want to get noticed, show up, network and be friendly with everyone you meet. Don’t be pushy and don’t be annoying – just be yourself.

Auditions for Educational Purposes

Many schools and universities have drama students audition for them to get experience and help them prepare for upcoming shows and exams. If you get invited to one of these auditions, you don’t have to do anything except show up, do your best and go home. You don’t have to worry about being billed or expected to perform the same role again – you’re just there to help the instructor run the audition, and then you’re done.

While you might be tempted to do these auditions for free to “get your name out there” or “build experience,” you should remember that you have a life outside of this business, too. You have bills to pay, groceries to buy and a social life that would be negatively impacted if you spent all your time auditioning for free. Plus, there are lots of other ways to get noticed and build your resume.

Equity Chances

This one is definitely a tricky one, and we’d love to see it change in the future! If you’re invited to an equity chance – whether you’re at drama school or a professional production – you should definitely accept it. However, there’s a chance (pun intended!) you’ll be invited to play an “extra” role for no money. Often, when a show wants to cast students or unpaid actors, it will ask them to provide a “friend” or a “mugging” partner to help with the choreography.

However, if you’re invited to a paid role but you have to provide a friend for free, you should politely refuse. Equity members have to follow strict rules, and extras have to be paid at a certain minimum standard. Equity members have to pay a “minimum daily” payment, which is usually $80. The amount varies depending on the city, but it’s definitely not free. Your “friend” probably won’t get paid anything at all, and definitely won’t be able to pay you anything.

Charity Events

If you’re invited to a charity event and asked to work for free, you should always ask what the proceeds or donations raised will go toward. You might feel guilty turning down the offer, but you’re the one who will suffer if you don’t make an effort to protect yourself.

If they’re not sure how much the event will raise, or if they’re not sure what the money will go toward, you’re better off turning down the offer. Sometimes, actors are invited to charity events because they’re a great way for non-profit organizations to raise money. In this case, you don’t have to worry about whether or not you’ll be taken advantage of – you’re helping a good cause, too!

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Freelance Jobs

If you’re offered a freelance job, it’s usually because the person offering it can’t afford to pay you. You might feel like you owe them something, but you don’t. If they can’t afford to pay you, they can’t afford to pay you. You might find these types of jobs online, they tell you when you show up for an audition or even in person, but it’s always better to stick to the actor castings for legit listings. Places like Actors Access can be a great resource for paying gigs!

If you take a freelance job and you aren’t getting paid, you’ll need to set boundaries and make it clear that you won’t be working for them again. If you do a great job, they’ll hopefully be willing to pay you in the future. If they try to get you to work for free again, politely decline.

Short Film Commitments

If you’re invited to a short film commitment and you don’t have any auditions coming up, you’re probably going to be asked to work for free. That’s just how these things work. In these situations, it can be tempting to say yes because “it’s good experience,” but we really don’t recommend it. If you can’t afford to work for free, but you really want to be a part of the project, look for ways you can help out without getting paid.

Can you transport actors to and from set? Can you edit the movie together? You also need to be careful not to take on too much if you’re not getting paid – you don’t want to risk damaging your reputation, your health or your social life.


Working for free is often a tempting proposition, but it’s important to remember that it’s not always in your best interests to say yes. If you’re just starting out in your career and want to make connections or gain experience, you should always ask yourself if you’re in a position to be giving something away for free.

If you’re invited to an event and it’s clear that you’re expected to work for free, don’t be afraid to politely decline. If you’re invited to a commitment that doesn’t pay, do whatever you can to contribute without getting paid. And remember: if you’re not sure, ask!

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