The Actor Wage Gap

This isn’t news to anyone who’s been at this acting thing for more than a minute: There’s great disparity between the “copy, credit, meals” stage of one’s career and the level at which celebs land deals for $10M a picture.

Of course, not every actor will get to that highest tier of our business, being a series lead with producer credit, thereby earning many millions of dollars over time, but even the working actor earning overscale wages is a long way off from the $100/day actor.

This is what’s called a wage gap. And while the phrase is most often used to refer to the difference between what women and men tend to earn for doing the same job, I’m using it here to discuss what we as creatives can do to help close up a bit of that disparity between the stage at which we work for free and the stage at which we’re being paid for our reputation rather than our actual craft.

We start by not being afraid to talk about money.

As artists we’re conditioned to believe that we should have to starve, struggle, even donate our storytelling services. We’re considered crass if we talk about getting paid or if we work on our brand so that we’re more marketable as storytellers. Somehow there’s this opinion that putting emphasis on commerce, branding, marketability somehow diminishes the purity of the art.

I call bullshit on that. Identifying the collective of people most likely to be excited by what I offer (targeting) and being sure my message is clear and focused (branding) does not make me less of an artist. Nor does getting paid for what I’ve created. Getting paid makes me a professional. It’s that simple.

There will never be an end to people who will ask you to work for free. And sometimes you will. There will be times that it’s absolutely worth it to go “copy, credit, meals” status or donate back your paycheck. What needs to stop happening is this shame-throwing that some folks do when an actor wants to ask for gas money on a freebie gig. We need to bring an end to making people feel bad about upgrading their marketing tools so that they’re more attractive to targeted buyers at the next tier. Our willingness to have conversations about how to negotiate for a bump in rate quote needs to grow. Understanding the power and pitfalls of incorporating should be on the table.

As soon as artists stop shying away from tough conversations about money and its role in our lives we can begin to see a beefing up of the space between working for free and being “offer only.” There is a lot of territory between those two statuses but many actors may never earn more than union scale for a handful of projects and that’s more the fault of the artist than the producer.

Producers are always going to try and keep costs down. Our ability to insist upon having an exchange of value for value — which is ALL getting paid *is* — is what’s required first. Once we stop buying into the idea that branding is dirty, that marketing is manipulative, and that getting paid for our storytelling abilities is tacky, we can begin to see the wage gap lessen.

Resources I recommend for getting your mindset in better shape for these tough conversations of VALUE include:

And of course, if you’d like to jam with me and your fellow SMFA ninjas in our Facebook group, we’d love to get real about defining VALUE and not being afraid to talk money — and celebrate getting paid — with you there.


Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!


Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/002005.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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