How do people who work in movies and TV get paid?

Not just actors, but the directors, technical/crafts and administrative people too – who pays them? Is it the production company? Do they get paid weekly, monthly, when the project is finished for the season? Who gets paid when shows go into syndication and when the DVDs come out? Is it determined by contract? Do non-actors ever get residuals?

Is there a standard way this is done or are there wide variations?

A sort of related question:

Liz Taylor just turned 78. She has a few recent IMDB credits (voice stuff) but I don’t think she’s drawn a movie-star paycheck for many years. It’s weird, what with all the serious stuff I should be thinking about, but I can’t help but wonder how she (and other aging big name actors) support themselves. Does she get a dollar every time somebody buys Cleopatra or when TCM shows Raintree County?

The boyfriend’s worked as a PA. You better damned well believe they get paid regularly and not when, like, the movie makes some money. It’s a job like any other for PAs and grips and catering and such - you definitely don’t get residuals.

There are some very powerful unions on the production side of film-making, by the way. IATSE represents a lot of people, there are a ton of Teamsters on sets, etc.

As I understand it, they do generally get residuals from their old works. How much, I really don’t know. I expect that the smarter of them have invested earnings, and use that for income, as well.

I doubt Liz get residuals from any of her films. Back in her day residuals for anyone, actors or big directors, was pretty much nonexistent. In fact, in the really early days all actors, even stars, just got contracts which paid them per year regardless of how many movies they made (the so called ‘stable system’).

Eventually the biggest stars (Liz included) could get large up front paychecks per picture, but percentages, or ‘points’ as they’re called, of the box office were still very rare. That didn’t really even become an option until the 70s & 80s.

Nowadays the union people, which is usually all of the crew, get paid by the hour. With actors it can vary greatly, but most sign a contract for a lump sum upon completion (not release) of the picture. Very big names can get a very big lump sum, or points, or even both. Plus they can sometimes throw a part of DVD sales in there too, but again that’s rare.

Television is usually quite a bit simpler. Again the crews all are paid union wages Every actor gets paid according to their contract. With a new show it may be a lump sum for the first so-many episodes then a prearranged salary if the show gets picked up. Or they may have to renegotiate a new contract. Once the show becomes a hit TV actors will try to get a per episode salary asap because then they not only make the most money they have more control over the show.

One thing about TV: Nobody but the owners of the show ever, ever gets significant residuals from reruns, syndication or DVD sales. When shows get really really big their stars will sometimes make percentage of show ownership a demand when renegotiating their contracts for that very reason.

Depends if it is a union or non-union shoot. I only have experience with non-union, so this applies to that.

Most below-the-line crew get a day rate, or sometimes a weekly rate. This is because a day of production is usually a 12-18 hour day and in California by law you have to pay overtime for anything over 8 hours. Production companies get around that by offering a day rate. Above-the-line (director, producers, actors, and screenwriters) might get a salary that is either weekly or a lump sum for the entire project.

I don’t know about “significant” but TV actors in the UK get residuals. Mrs Marcus’ uncle was an actor, never famous but had speaking parts in a number of TV shows and series, and he gets a cheque each year through his agent for reruns - no idea if he also gets something for DVD releases. This more than ten years after he retired.

I think there are agents who will find ways for the Liz Taylors to earn money. As recently as 2004, James Dean’s estate was earning $5 million per year, according to “Forbes” magazine. And he’s been dead for over 50 years.

I don’t know if Hollywood actors are similar to retired baseball players by Zev Chafets has some interesting financial things in “Cooperstown Confidential”. An executive at Steiner Sports Memorabilia told him that Robin Roberts earns in the low six figures with signings, corporate gigs in Philadelphia, etc. More recent stars like Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken can get maybe $50,000 a speaking gig. Their earnings went up 30-40% after getting elected to the Hall of Fame-and they will get more gigs. Even a dead crook like Shoeless Joe Jackson earns $75,000 a year for the holders of his intellectual property rights,

Besides, how much alimony did Taylor get with all her divorces? Her husband of two times, Richard Burton, was famous for buying her huge diamonds.

As long as the star’s financial manager isn’t a crook, big stars make enough money from their films that they can live well on the interest from their investments.

Good residuals for TV shows only go back to around the late 60s, before that actors did not make much if anything off residuals.

Thanks, everyone. :slight_smile:

That’s something else I wondered about. Would a high-earner like Liz be awarded alimony? If I remember right, none of her divorces were particularly acrimonious – she’d just meet someone she liked better.

I forgot about her perfume line, and maybe she has some income from Mike Todd’s estate, and Richard Burton’s. Oh, and one of her divorces was from a Hilton.

Yeah, I guess she’s done okay. I’ll stop worrying about her. :slight_smile:

Elvis made way more money after he died than when he was alive. His estate was pretty small when he died (for a big star) but all of his stuff rakes in a lot of money now.

And wasn’t the phrase, “He died? Great career move!” coined by someone significant upon hearing the news about Elvis?

One of the reasons why the Writers’ Guild of America went on strike in 2007-2008 was because of residuals writers get – or rather don’t get – on DVD sales and what’s termed “new media” such as webisodes. Writers were seeking to double their residuals per unit on DVD sales, from the 0.3% negotiated in 1985 (when VHS tapes were selling at around $50 each) to 0.6% on DVDs and Blu-Ray that cost half of that even as a new release. So yes, non-actors get residuals, and in practice, they aren’t going to make anyone rich.

This is true. Actor Joshua Malina has recently posted photos on Twitter of two residual checks he’s received from DVD sales of Sports Night and The West Wing, which were both less than $2.

SAG has required payments of residuals for films since 1960: SAG-AFTRA |.

ETA: “Points” usually refers to a percentage of box office, not residuals.

I guess that depends on what you consider significant. The basic residual payment for a primetime, network rerun under a SAG contract is about $3,500 or 100% of the actor’s original compensation, whichever is lower. (Scale for day players is about $800.) Syndication and daytime residuals start at 100 percent but drop off dramatically after that, bottoming out at 5%. Now that may not seem like a lot, but if you were making more than $3K and you’ve got 5 episodes airing each week, it’s a nice chunk of change – not enough to keep you in hookers and blow for life, but a better return than most investments these days. On the other hand, for a struggling actor who made $800 for one episode and hasn’t worked for a few months, it could determine whether or not you pay your electric bill and not.

And SAG’s basic agreement is a minimum pay scale. A desirable actor with a sharp agent could theoretically negotiate a higher residual percentage.