How much do movie non-stars make?

IMdB says (and other sources confirm) Hilary Swank got paid $3000 to star in Boys Don’t Cry.

Yet I have a friend who has appeared in several movies. His biggest role was as “Sandy-haired man at table in restaurant.” (But he was not an extra.) He bought a house and quit his day job (administrative assistant) after his second movie, when he was merely “Man with mustache outside school.” He basically makes a living with not very many bit parts so he can spend lots of time surfing and traveling.

Either that or he is secretly a hit man or a master thief or something. Is there an average salary? I thought there was some kind of mandatory minimum, or else Hilary Swank just got exploited (which doesn’t seem likely).

I don’t know this for a fact, but I believe there’s a set “day rate” for actors in the Screen Actors’ Guild. I know that extras are sometimes paid a small fee, but that varies from film to film.

Could Hillary Swank have agreed to take the role in Boys Don’t Cry for a reduced fee as an artistic statement or in exchange for profit-sharing or something?

I just checked, and according to Wikipedia you are correct with that $3000 sum (she got $75 per day).

I know that SAG and Equity both have rules about payments - but if I am not mistaken, for smaller independent films, you can pretty much work for free and hope to get some money if the film makes money down the line…then again, with the creative accounting they use on films, that could easily be never, even if the film is a hit.

Then again - Hilary doing Boys Don’t Cry is proof that sometimes doing a film for a pittance pays off in the end.

$3,000 is bizarrely low for a role that won an Oscar. I doubt if any other Oscar winner in the past forty or fifty years was paid that little. (In fact, I think $75 a day is less than Guild minimum, so I don’t understand how that’s possible.) Most of the actors that you recognize and remember from small roles in a number of movies and TV shows make about $100,000 a year. If an actor is good enough that casting directors like to use him in various small roles in films and TV (even if they’re only a couple of minutes in each film), it’s likely that he is making a decent living from those roles, supplemented with some theater roles. On the other hand, if it’s an actor whose not recognizable from his small roles, then it’s more likely that he can’t make a living from acting and just acts part-time.

I don’t know what Screen Actors Guild agreements were in effect in 1998-1999 when Boys Don’t Cry was made, but $75/day doesn’t seem plausible. That film’s budget was about $2 million. According to the current SAG contract:

For a “low-budget” film, the SAG minimum salary for a weekly performer (5 days) is $1,752; for a day performer, $504.

There is an “ultra low-budget” category for films whose budgets do not exceed $200,000 ($500,000 including deferrals), for which the daily minimum is $100.

This front page of this article from the SAG’s Screen Actor magazine confirms that Boys Don’t Cry was filmed under the SAG low-budget agreement.

I now suspect that, despite the claim in various newspaper articles and in the Wikipedia entry, Hilary Swank did not make just $3,000 for Boys Don’t Cry. Even given that Boys Don’t Cry was a low-budget film (and not an ultra-low-budget one), she would have had to have been paid at least twenty times that. I don’t know why somebody put out the story that she was paid so little, but I don’t see how it can be true. Hilary Swank wasn’t even remotely an unknown actress at the time she was cast. She had already done a lot of TV and movie roles, including 16 episodes of Beverly Hills, 90210 and the lead in The Next Karate Kid. Even if she was paid about $60,000 for the role, that would still probably make her the lowest paid Oscar winner in the past thirty or so years.

I was involved in the pre-production for an indie movie(that never actually happened) a couple years ago.
Bruce Campbell was contracting at 10k a day, and Michael Madsem wanted 6k a day then to give some idea. There were also some stipulations on minumum days worked, and bonuses and crap. For our indie, the lead was looking at 5-7days.

Entertainment contract law is seriously complicated, and the union regs don’t help much.