Big (and little) bucks on the big screen

Thanks to streaming and the golden age of TV, Hollywood’s pay structure is undergoing quite the change.

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Big (and little) bucks on the big screen


The Future. Thanks to streaming and the golden age of TV, Hollywood’s pay structure is undergoing quite the change. While the big blockbuster features are still cash cows for the studios, most of the money has migrated to television — especially for actors — and that boom shows no sign of ending anytime soon.

Behind the scenes
The Hollywood Reporter got the inside scoop on what everyone in La La Land gets paid.

  • Most career actors bring in $1 million to $4 million per feature film, while the unknown quantities bring in about $65,000. But rising episodic fees in the TV world give most actors around $40,000 per episode and stars up to half a mil, which seriously adds up.
  • Feature directors start at $450,000 right away, and that number only goes up with time, with vets earning anywhere from $1 million to $5 million per feature and the Scorsese’s of the world getting $20 million or more. TV directors receive anything from $150,000 to $500,000 upfront for the pilot and then a standard $30,000 to $60,000 for each episode after that.
  • Rookie feature writers bring in $75,000 to $100,000; the old sailors can fetch $150,000 to $600,000, while big hitters break a million. TV writers can get $15,000 to $75,000 per episode, depending on experience.
  • Showrunners receive bonuses on top of this pay based on their show’s longevity and critical acclaim, with financial rewards increasing every year. Season 1 may pay them less than $100,000, but if the show is popular, they could be getting upwards of $1 million to $2 million in bonuses.

Studio heads reap the classic C-suite fare of $2 million to $20+ million annually. Agents, as commissioned workers, live (or die) off their clients’ success, with annual compensation ranging anywhere from $65,000 to $4 million.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint
The real windfalls aren’t coming from big scores so much as lots of little ones with ample back ends — i.e., the TV world. Syndication and per-episode pay increases are what it’s all about, which is great news for the acting industry because there are way more roles in TV than in film.

As always, there’s nothing better than recognition and resumé; the known get rich, and the rich get richer.

Luke Perrotta


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