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Hollywood Salaries Revealed, From Movie Stars to Agents (and Even Their Assistants)
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edited December 2014 in Lights, Camera, Action!
by THR Staff-10/2/2014
This story first appeared in the Oct. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
How bad is the decline in actor salaries over the past decade? Despite the huge sums still being raked in by such superstars as Robert Downey Jr. (his $75 million comes from his 7 percent, first-dollar slice of Iron Man 3, as well as his $12 million HTC endorsement deal) and Sandra Bullock (a 15 percent, first-dollar deal on Gravity and about $10 million more for her summer hit The Heat), most actors are feeling a definite squeeze, especially those in the middle.
"If you're [a big star], you're getting well paid," says one top agent, "but the middle level has been cut out." Sometimes with a hacksaw. Leonardo DiCaprio made $25 million (including bonuses) for The Wolf of Wall Street, while co-star Jonah Hill got paid $60,000. Granted, that's an extreme example — Hill offered to do the part for scale (and got an Oscar nomination for his trouble).
But studio cost-cutting has meant that mid-level stars are being nickel-and-dimed in ways that would have been unheard of in the gilded '90s (i.e., Marvel Studios' reportedly offering Mickey Rourke a mere $250,000 to star opposite Downey in Iron Man 2). Before breaking out the violins, though, remember that even mid-level stars are far better off than most other actors. According to the most recent SAG statistics, the average member earns $52,000 a year, while the vast majority take home less than $1,000 a year from acting jobs.
Like everyone in Hollywood, the talent agencies have been tightening their belts. "Your biggest concern used to be, 'Would I get a $100,000 bonus or a $200,000 bonus?' " recalls one veteran agent wistfully. "Ha! Things have changed." Those bonuses still happen, they just require a hot client (or five). CAA generally pays more than WME, UTA, Gersh, ICM and Paradigm, yet salaries increasingly are tied to what an agent brings in. And an agency will overpay to lure a top agent (and his clients). Generally speaking, though, starting agents can expect to earn $50,000 to $65,000; more senior agents make around $200,000; partners make $400,000 to $700,000; and board members — like CAA's Bryan Lourd and WME's Patrick Whitesell and Ari Emanuel — can earn as much as $10 million. In rare circumstances, bonuses based on client earnings can turn mid-level agents into $1 million-a-year employees. In short, top talent breeds top salaries. Tracey Jacobs at UTA is said to be earning upward of $9 million — and she reps Johnny Depp.
AGENT'S ASSISTANT $10-$13 AN HOUR
At most agencies, you start in the mailroom, hope an assistant's desk opens up, then dream of ascending the assistant ladder so you can be on the receiving end of middle-of-the-night email rants from top agents. At CAA, though — where Richard Lovett has five assistants and Kevin Huvane has four — you start as an assistant and move up to the mailroom agent-training program.
ANIMAL ACTOR $5K-$108K
Crystal the monkey earned $108,000 in 2012 for appearing in nine episodes of NBC's Animal Practice. That's more than most of the below-the-line talent featured in this story and twice as much as the average actor, who earns $52,000, according to SAG-AFRTA. But most animals work for peanuts: The day rate for a dog or cat in Hollywood is $400, with most earning $5,000 to $10,000 a year.
CINEMATOGRAPHER $5K-$30K A WEEK
Top directors of photography, of which there are probably about 10 to 15 in the industry, can command $25,000 to $30,000 a week on movies that shoot up to 12 weeks — maybe even a little more, according to insiders. That select circle of top cinematographers would include 11-time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins, Gravity Academy Award winner Emmanuel Lubezki and Martin Scorsese's frequent collaborator Robert Richardson. On a big-budget studio movie — say, $80 million or more — an experienced cinematographer can expect to earn $10,000 to $20,000 a week. On a low-budget indie fare, DPs often take home $2,000 to $5,000 a week. On TV productions, the range is $5,000 to $8,000 a week.
FILM DIRECTOR $250K-$20M A PICTURE
"The middle range doesn't exist anymore," one studio executive says of the current financial landscape for feature film directors. "Either you're paying for a modern master, or you're paying a lot less. The days of paying $3 million or $4 million, knowing they're just doing the job, that doesn't exist."
The going rate for modern masters? Between $7 million and $10 million for auteurs like Paul Greengrass and Ridley Scott, more if the film is considered a tentpole. Christopher Nolan is said to have made $20 million against 20 percent of gross for Interstellar. Backend is otherwise rare these days for the non-A-list.
On the other end of the scale, emerging directors can expect $250,000 to $500,000 for their first big studio feature, but there are exceptions (one European auteur was said to have recently have been paid $1 million for his first Hollywood blockbuster).
TV DIRECTOR $25K-$42K AN EPISODE
TV directors, of course, are an entirely different species, and get paid in a different way. The base DGA rate is $25,145 for a half-hour episode and $42,701 for an hour. But unlike writers, directors sometimes helm all 22 episodes of a season — it's just too much work. But some big-name pilot directors (David 🤬 , Jason Winer and Pam Fryman) get an executive producer credit and a stake in the show, which is how Bryan Singer is said to have made tens of millions for directing the pilot of House M.D.
ENTERTAINMENT LAWYER $2M-$6M
Maybe more, if you're Skip Brittenham, who is rumored to take home $10 million a year. After a practice builds up, a lawyer can receive 30 percent of what the firm earns from his or her clients. With a big enough list, that easily can add up to millions. But even first-year attorneys can do OK, earning $135,000 to $165,000 (enough to pay off law school).
EXTRA $148 A DAY
But there's a "bump" of $50 a day for wearing a hairpiece, or if you're working in challenging conditions (rain, smoke). There's also overtime — a full day of pay for every hour after 16 hours — which has been known to happen on movie sets.
GAME SHOW HOST $1M-$10M
Quiz masters make between $25,000 a week (for a syndicated show) to upward of $75,000 a week (for a primetime program). Unless, of course, you're Alex Trebek, Jeopardy!'s 30-year host — in which case you take home the $10 million-a-year jackpot.
LATE-NIGHT TALK SHOW HOST $3M-$30M
Late night's recent round of musical chairs hasn't changed the pay all that much — unless you're Stephen Colbert, said to be in line to earn a bit more as David Letterman's replacement on CBS than the $15 million a year he gets from Comedy Central. The Daily Show's Jon Stewart remains the top earner at $25 million to $30 million a year. Jimmy Fallon is said to be making a little less annually than Jay Leno's$15 million for hosting The Tonight Show (and a lot less than the $25 million Leno made before he took a pay cut). And Seth Meyers barely can afford an applause sign at $3 million.
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