What do commercial actors get paid?
October 28, 2009 2:53 PM   Subscribe

What do actors in nationally televised commercials typically get paid? Do they get paid each time it airs or a flat fee up front?

An example: An actor in a Flomax commercial...he's on TV probably once every hour--if he's getting paid per air, he's probably raking it in...I just have absolutely no context for what he'd get paid. I guess if people know how the salary might differ for just voiceover, that'd be helpful too.
posted by arm426 to Work & Money (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, they get paid residuals per airing. This was the dispute in a strike a few years back.

You can probably find the minimum salaries on www.sag.org.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:57 PM on October 28, 2009

A lot of US national commercials are shot in Canada, in which case the rates would be here.
posted by twistofrhyme at 3:08 PM on October 28, 2009

Voiceover is a bit different in my experience--maybe about a $500 session fee, and you often to two-four or more versions of the ad (30 second, 60 second, etc) and you'll get a session fee for each one--and then you'll frequently get a buy-out in lieu of residuals, which is often %100-150 of the session fee. So you can walk out of a 1-2 hour voiceover session with 2 to 4 thousand dollars.
posted by stray at 3:12 PM on October 28, 2009

I will say that, unless you have a commercial role where you have a sort of...association with the brand, like the subway guy, or the apple commercial people--you know, like you're a commercial "star" and therefore have some bargaining power, you're probably not exactly raking it in. Probably somewhere between one and ten thousand dollars in the end after the trickling residuals come in. But then i'm in Canada and can't tell exactly what it's like in the states.
posted by stray at 3:16 PM on October 28, 2009

you'll frequently get a buy-out in lieu of residuals

Is that a choice or compulsory if it's offered?
posted by smackfu at 3:25 PM on October 28, 2009

My boyfriend is a commercial actor in L.A. Yes, he gets paid. He can get a buy-out (i.e., lump sum, no residuals) for certain types of commercials (on preview: no, as I understand it, it's not a choice -- you can take it or leave it), and a day rate + residuals for other types of commercials.

The rate and residuals depend on a whole host of factors -- whether the commercial is going to air on cable or network, whether it's for regional or national markets, whether its cycle is expected to be long or short, whether it will reur from year to year, etc. For example, a few years back, he did a Wendy's commercial that aired in a few regions on network TV for a very short time around the 2008 Olympics. His earnings for that commercial were different than for the commercial he shot several years ago for Johnsonville Brats that shows up on cable all over the country every summer; those earnings are different from what he gets for the Walgreen's commercial that only runs on local stations in Chicago right before Christmas. (There are also additional things he can get paid for on a commercial shoot beyond his regular fee, per union regulations -- working overtime, obviously, but also using any of his own clothes for wardrobe is considered a reimbursable expense, for example.)

And don't get me started on SAG; in my opinion, the union isn't nearly strong or protective enough of its working commercial actors. There are major problems with the way the union tracks these things -- basically, a few years back the union conceded to the advertisers that they (the advertisers) can essentially use an honor system to report how often and in what markets the commercials are aired. You will be shocked -- shocked -- to hear that advertisers systemically underreport these things, which has resulted in the systemic loss of millions of dollars of revenue for low-level working actors over the past several years. (I assure you, the A-list celebs who do Lexus ads do not have to worry about these things.) Thanks, Half Pint!

As for actual numbers: I'm at work and he's not answering his phone right now, so I can't tell you what the union's daily minimums are. In terms of his income, I do know that his commericals usually bring in a few thousand bucks up front and a few thousand dollars every year in residuals -- which might sound like a lot until you factor in that he goes on auditions regularly, week in and week out, and considers himself lucky in those years where he books more than one commercial. (I've also seen his residuals from one of his movies in the '80s, which occasionally shows up on cable; let's just say we can go out to dinner on one of those checks, but definitely not a fancy dinner.) He's been working fairly steadily for 25 years as an actor and has made dozens of commercials, and still supplements his income as a bartender and handyman.

The jackpot for a commercial actor is a major, ongoing national campaign -- think the Mac vs. PC or Verizon "Can You Hear Me Now" campaigns. Those guys are definitely making a very solid income (and good for them; I don't begrudge them a cent). But that's not the case for the vast, vast majority of commercial actors.
posted by scody at 3:26 PM on October 28, 2009 [6 favorites]

smackfu: It's a negotiation, just like any other contract. You could refuse the buy-out and ask for residuals, and the client can refuse you and hire another voice actor. As stray says, you have more leverage if you're publicly associated with the brand. Otherwise, they are prepared to pay a certain amount and are unlikely to go for much more.
posted by zachlipton at 3:43 PM on October 28, 2009

I knew two people in the 90s who were set for life (this may not be the case after recent market activity) from doing a single national ad campaign's commericals that ran for a couple of years.

One of them was a stupid commerical for a household product and he had no lines - he made face while animated things happened around his head.

I'd guess that Jane Lynch makes more money from her (combined) TV spots than from any other work she does.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:14 AM on October 29, 2009

FYI, here's the SAG contract & rate card page for commercials. Good luck making heads or tails out of the rate card if you're not in the industry, but it gives you some idea of the minimum (scale) rates.
posted by dersins at 1:04 PM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

dersins, thanks -- I knew the pay structure was byzantine, but I had no idea just how crazy it really is.
posted by scody at 2:23 PM on October 29, 2009

« Older Seeking guided relaxation / meditation cd's /...   |   I am looking for excellent, quick reads... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.