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Demanding to Be -gulp- Paid What You’re Worth

September 28, 2012

Sometimes a project comes across my transom that I’m interested in and appropriate for but the pay rate is shockingly low. In film/TV/commercial work, my agency generally has already negotiated the rate and to increase it substantially isn’t really an option. Everything can be negotiated, though, so recently I responded to my agent that I would be interested in a project, but that the pay was simply too low to justify the time I would be investing in the project.

It has taken me more time than I’d care to admit to get to the point where I can say, “If you want me, you need to come up with more money.”  Nick Wyman, the current president of Actors Equity Association, wrote a great article about how he decides whether or not to take a job; I recommend reading that article for an idea of how to create your own checklist to determine whether or not to pursue an opportunity.

What puzzles me is how stingy companies can be with the cash while being so demanding of what they want out of their talent. Let me explain.

Company A is a pharmaceutical company and is creating a new marketing campaign. Understandably, they want to use talent who are not featured in another pharmaceutical marketing campaign for a competitor’s product. Consequently, when you commit to doing the commercial for Company A, you agree that you have not appeared in another pharma commercial, and that you will not appear in a pharma commercial for a given time. Standard practices can range from one year to “in perpetuity.” So, here’s my deal: if you want me never to appear in a commercial for any other pharmaceutical product, ever in my entire life, then you need to pony up some serious usage rates that include royalties. Especially in my market. (Where I am based, the bulk of the work comes out of the health care field.) If I agree to let you use my image, likeness, and good name for your product, I am cutting myself out of a potentially lucrative project further down the line. Therefore you need to pay me for my time and my future time.

Here’s my algebra for determining if the pay rate for a given job will work:

r(h) – (l+t) > $0

My Minimum Per Hour Rate (r)– factored by the rate at which I am turning a profit from being on set as opposed to being at home.

Number of Hours for the Shoot (h) – usually put forth in the casting notice.

Location of the Shoot (l) – if I have to take drive two hours each way, I need more per hour to break even, because I am paying for an additional four hours of childcare just to get to the set; conversely, if the shoot is in town, much less of my time is invested in just getting to and from work.

Travel Pay (t) – again, if I have to travel, then my per hour rate is going to increase or you will need to provide some sort of stipend to cover the cost of traveling to the set.

Sometimes I will agree to do a job for a rate that doesn’t meet the standards I’ve outlined above, but that occurrence is rare – mostly because I’m not likely to get giddy about doing an insurance commercial “just for the exposure.”

We only have so many hours in a day, and certainly taking some losses for networking opportunities and good karma is good business practice. The key is to make sure the ledger is in the black at the end of the year. You are an actor, your talent and expertise are worth something. Believe that!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 28, 2012 8:50 pm

    Great post! It’s good that you are respecting yourself as an artist by asking to be paid what you are worth!

  2. September 30, 2012 6:43 pm

    Love your fancy formula 🙂

  3. May 17, 2013 9:12 am

    This post is so important! In the theatre world especially, actor’s are becoming increasingly underpaid because someone else is ready to jump in and do it for less. We really need to band together as a union and as a profession to demand more.


  1. Sunday Summary — September 30, 2012 « The Green Room
  2. Flashback Friday: Demanding to Be -gulp- Paid What You’re Worth | The Green Room

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