This story first appeared in the Oct. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
By Austin Siegemund-Broka, Paul Bond, The Hollywood Reporter
“People in this business are always looking at other people and comparing,” says a top Hollywood attorney. “I always have clients calling me and saying, ‘Am I being paid enough? Should I be paid more?’ ”
Luckily for all, there’s lots of comparing to do in THR’s second annual What Hollywood Earns report. To research the salaries of everyone from key grips to movie stars, the magazine consulted with executives, producers, payroll service companies, the industry guilds and others who have inside information about how and where the money is flowing in 2015 (including a horse farm in upstate New York that “FedExes” its animal actors to Hollywood shooting locations). This year, thanks to North Korean cybercriminals, there were other sources as well — the thousands of emails and employment contracts that spilled Hollywood salary secrets all over the Internet during last November’s Sony hack.
The takeaway? TV producing fees are up (to as much as $75,000 an episode), Meryl Streep gets rich even from flops ($5 million for Ricki and the Flash?), and extras love it when it rains.
WHO MAKES WHAT ON THE LOT
Studio Tour Guide
Yukking it up with tourists around the lot pays $26 an hour, but only after a training period during which compensation is $20 an hour.
Newcomers can expect to earn just $15,000 to $20,000 per episode on a network or cable series. Experienced actors take home as much as $75,000 to $100,000 an episode, and bigger stars can earn $150,000 to topline a series in its first season. Raises (usually about 4 percent) come each subsequent season (James Spader made $160,000 per episode for season two of The Blacklist; Jeff Garlin made $84,000 per episode on season two of The Goldbergs), but the real money comes after contract renegotiations (usually for season 3). In breakout success, the stars of hit shows eventually can earn as much as a cool $1 million an episode (The Big Bang Theory’s Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons).
Established movie scribes can make $1 million a script, plus a bonus if they get final credit. Selling a spec screenplay can range from the low-six figures to $3 million (what Sony paid James Vanderbilt for White House Down) or more. The most lucrative work can come via rewrites or touch-ups, where bankable script doctors can make $500,000 for just a few weeks of effort.
Dispensing celery sticks and Twizzlers to the cast and crew earns these workers about $1,200 a week.
Staff writers can start at WGA scale — $37,368 for an hourlong script, $25,408 for a half-hour — or earn $7,000 to $15,000 an episode in weekly fees. Seasoned scribes also get episodic producing fees of $20,000 to $30,000, even for episodes they don’t write. Raises come in subsequent seasons.
They make $45 an hour and work 10 to 15 weeks per film.
On-the-lot overhead deals have been squeezed, but for a studio release, seasoned producers can make $1.5 million to $2 million upfront and often much more in backend (though first-dollar-gross deals are nearly extinct.) Will Smith and James Lassiter’s Overbrook Entertainment made $2 million for producing last year’s Annie.
A unit publicist hired by a studio earns about $2,750 a week, or $41,000 per film. Personal publicists employed by stars earn much more, with some making $400,000 or more a year.
TV Show Creator
They make most of their money in producing fees, with raises in subsequent seasons. Vince Gilligan got $50,000 per episode of Better Call Saul, Jon Bokenkamp earned $37,500 per episode for season two of The Blacklist, and Adam Goldberg got $50,000 per episode for season two of The Goldbergs.
A-list stars still can make between $5 million (Meryl Streep’s pay for Ricki and the Flash) and $20 million (what Denzel Washington got upfront for The Equalizer) to much more with backend (Robert Downey Jr. reportedly made $50 million for The Avengers). Supporting actors don’t fare as well (Kevin Kline made $350,000 for his part in Ricki).
First assistant directors get paid about $8,000 a week and generally work 15 to 20 weeks on a major shoot, for a total of $120,000 to $160,000 per film.
They get paid about $40 an hour and typically work 12 days on an hourlong TV drama, taking home $7,000 an episode.
Sidekicks, next-door neighbors and other nonstarring TV roles pay in the mid-five figures per episode. Jonathan Banks got $65,000 per episode on Better Call Saul’s first season, and the kids on season two of The Goldbergs earned $20,000 to $25,000 each.
Those super-pumped comics who keep studio audiences entertained before TV tapings get paid $3,000 to $5,000 a show.
Running a studio pays a base salary of $3 million to $5 million (what Jeff Robinov reportedly got at Warner Bros.), but bonuses can bring the amount to the mid-eight figures.
The director of photography makes $10,000 to $20,000 a week on a 15-week shoot. A few, like Roger Deakins, earn much more ($30,000 or more).
Studio paychecks range from $500,000 (what newcomer J Blakeson got for The 5th Wave) to $3 million (what Sony offered Danny Boyle for Steve Jobs) to much more (Michael Bay reportedly earns $80 million from backend on Transformers movies).
They earn about $60 an hour and work about 14 weeks per film.
Lead camera operators make $75 an hour, or about $8,000 for an hourlong drama episode (which takes eight days to shoot; sitcoms are about five days and pay less).
Directors of hourlong dramas make about $42,000 an episode; sitcom directors earn $35,000. But direct a pilot and you’ll get paid for every future episode, even if you never set foot on set again. Joe Carnahan, who directed the pilot for The Blacklist, got a $5,000 check for every episode of the latest season.
TV Studio Chief
Sony’s Steve Mosko earned $2.8 million (plus bonuses) as president, with execs that oversee both a studio and a network potentially making more.
Head of Distribution
Typical base pay is nearly $1 million (plus bonus). The person with this title at Sony, for instance, makes $885,000.
The top bean counters earn a lot of beans: Sony’s financial chief makes $900,000 a year, not including bonuses.
He or she usually earns about $1 million a year, though Michael De Luca was making more than his Sony co-worker with the same title, Hannah Minghella ($1.5 million vs. $900,000).
The top attorney at a studio can expect to earn in the high-six figures. Sony’s top lawyer earns a base salary of $800,000 plus bonuses.
Head of Marketing
The job usually pays about $1 million a year. Sometimes more if the executive is heavily recruited.
… AND ON LOCATION
They earn up to $1,000 a day ($500 for a “background horse”) but can cost studios much more in transport fees (the farm in upstate New York that provided horses for The Patriot and Winter’s Tale says they’ve even “FedExed” horses to sets).
Most get paid $889 a day, or about $50,000 a film, if they work every day of a 12-week shoot (and don’t break a leg). But they pay for their own insurance.
Second Unit Director
The director responsible for shooting stunts and other supplementary footage, usually on location, earns about $20,000 a week.
These unsung actors earn about $150 a day, or $200 if they’re wearing a hairpiece or working in rain or smoke.
The craftsman who gives Bruce Willis and Nicolas Cage full heads of hair gets paid about $1,500 a week.
They make about $3,000 a week but work many more weeks than most of the crew and cast — as many as 30 weeks per film.
Piloting a StarWagon pays between $30 and $36 an hour.
The person in charge of the fake swords and alien artifacts makes $45 an hour, usually working 20 weeks on a film (including preproduction).
Pay rates range from $3,000 a day up to $12,000 or more, depending on the size of the film and the experience of the designer. Renee Kalfus earned $6,500 a week for Annie, while David Robinson got $4,500 a week for The Equalizer.