Trish and Harold's Weblog

News, information, and random thoughts from the busy lives of Trish Egan and Harold Phillips.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Gettin' In Gear and Stayin' Organized

Well, it's that time of year again. April 15th is just around the corner, and (if you haven't already) it's time to get your receipts in order and get those taxes filed.

This time of year can be especially nerve-wracking for we actors, since our income isn't generally steady, and our working lives aren't the usual "punch-a-clock-get-a-paycheck" kind of lives. As actors, we all run our own businesses: We're the CEO, CFO, Middle-manager, Clerk, and Janitor for Me, Inc. Our tax forms are often a mix of W-2 wage income from our day-jobs (and, if we're union members or just lucky, some production companies that pay us as employees) and Schedule C's (for 1099 "independent contractor" income. As PDXBackstage subscribers know, there's a lot of debate as to whether actors should or should not be paid as Independent Contractors, but it happens and we have to report it).

A couple years back I wrote a post with some tax tips for actors... if you're quivering at the approach of April 15th, you might want to check it out. I want to be clear, though, that I'm no tax professional - don't take my advice in this post as gospel. If you have questions, go see a certified tax preparer (like Sandra Vincent, Trish and my tax person. She's awesome!).

No matter how we're paid, a professional acting career is a business and needs to be run as such. There are (deductible) costs associated with running that business, but you have to be able to document and produce them in case you get audited. There are things you need to do to make your business grow (i.e. get more work), too, like network, communicate with directors and producers, and keep your schedule organized. Staying organized and on top of things helps at tax time, and during the rest of the year when you, the actor, is hustling after the work.

For the past two years I've been using a computer program called ActorTrack from Holdon Log. Some of you have probably heard me sing its praises to anyone who listens. It's a perfect out-of-the-box solution for staying organized and on track as you build your acting career. I just heard some very exciting news about a new version of the program that's due to come out in the next couple months, and I'm like totally psyched about it, dudes!

Before I go any farther, I want you to know that I don't work with Holdon Log, the producers of ActorTrack. The only relationship I have with them is my status as a very very VERY satisfied customer. As most of you know, when I find something I think my friends, neighbors, or peers can benefit from I'm happy to share that information. This is a completely uncompensated testimonial - I've just really loved using this program, and I know it's helped me build the number of jobs I've gotten over the past few years.

(If you already know about the program and want to skip straight to the news, you can click here. If you want to find out more about why I love it so, however... keep reading)

Ok, now that that's out of the way, what's so great about ActorTrack? Well, the program lets you keep track of your entire business in one place. Contacts (it's not what you know...), auditions, booked jobs, income, expenses and schedule are all accessible from the home page (set up to replicate one of Holdon Log's log book products) with tabs for each area.

Each area has a number of detailed fields to be filled out which, at first blush, can seem needlessly complicated. Who cares which headshot I used or who I met with at that audition, right? Over time, though (and with the VERY useful help file full of industry tips), you come to realize that this data is very valuable, as it helps you keep faces and names straight.

The data you fill into these areas is all cross-linked. For example, contacts can be linked to particular jobs and auditions, and expenses and income can be linked to a particular job as well. Everything gets linked to the Calendar tab, so you can see all your appointments at once.

At the end of the year (or whenever you feel like it, really) you're able to print out reports from the "Breakdowns" section on how many jobs you've booked vs the number of auditions you've gone on, your career income and expenses to date (or for a given year), which headshots and clothing choices have worked best, and more. This is useful information for tax time... but there's an intangible value as well. Many actors feel like they keep going and going, but never seem to get anywhere in their careers. These reports put it all in front of you in black-and-white: how many jobs you've worked in a given year, what you've made... in essence, it's a year-by-year record of your success.

For a more formal view of ActorTrack's features, take a look at HoldonLog's online tour of the software at

I have to say, though, that one of the most pleasant surprises ActorTrack has given me in the past couple of years is their commitment to their customers. Holdon Log is, for the most part, made up of working actors. They understand the wild and wooly life we live, and they've tailored their software and their service to our bizarre existence. I've had a software glitch here and there, and my emails to have always been responded to promptly by the same person (the company assigns one support tech to you when you begin your use of the program). He set up a phone call for a time that's convenient for me (even Saturday at 11pm), calls me (Holdon Log eats the long distance) and helps me work through the problems. Because my "rep" is the same guy every time, we get to know each other on these support calls... I ask him how his stand-up career is going, he asks me what new projects I've got in the works. From time to time he'll even pass on industry tips that he's learned along the way.

It was on one such support call this weekend (he called me back at 11am on a Sunday. I mean, come on, what small company does that for its customers?) that I heard some exciting news about the new version of ActorTrack due out this year.

Holdon Log is creating a new web-access version of their software called PerformerTrack, set for launch later this year. As the name implies, they've opened the program up to other performing artists besides actors; they want to make these tools available to dancers, comedians, musicians, and any other performing artist.

Because the software will be online, it can be accessed from any computer with an internet connection (unlike ActorTrack, which is licensed to a single computer). This means that if you take a gig out of town, you can access and update your information from anywhere. The current version of ActorTrack has a PalmOS conduit, but this also opens the software up to access from IPhones and other PDA's with internet browsers.

Perhaps best of all, having the software online allows HoldonLog to make updates to the software quickly and easily. If you see a category missing from one of the areas, you can contact them with a suggestion... and your suggestion may well show up in the system within days.

They're also planning on adding a host of features to the Contacts, Booked Projects, Income & Expenses, and Breakdown sections.

I'm really excited to see where this software is going; as I said above, it's been a great tool for me over the past couple years in building my career. I can only assume that it's going to get better with this new version. Holdon Log is planning on making FREE presentations (see in a number of cities around the country to support the launch of this new product; I'm working to convince them to add Portland to their tour (Portlanders, go here to sign-up: If you're reading this from outside Portland and are interested in seeing a presentation come to your town, then go here You can also receive launch news about PerformerTrack by stopping by

I'll post more info about this as I find it out... and for you actors out there (or friends and family looking for a gift to give the actor in your life) consider taking a look at ActorTrack. It'll probably make next year's taxes go a lot smoother.

**UPDATE: I mentioned to my Holdon Log Rep that I was going to make this post, and he suggested that I pass along Promo code JXT8 to my readers - they're grateful for my testimonial, it seems, and want to give any of you who want to try out the software 10% off the purchase price. So, if you're interested, save a few bucks and use the promo code :)