How Do Actors Get Paid? - Fame Motivated (2023)

So you want to be an actor? That’s great! But, how do actors get paid? It’s not as easy as it appears on TV.

There are many different ways actors are compensated, but they all come down to three key factors: The size of the production, their contract, and AFTRA (the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists).

Often, there are many reasons to consider seeking representation. Besides having connections and experience, these professionals help actors negotiate deals and secure more money for themselves.

While the average actor can’t afford an agent, having money opens many doors to earning more money.

Everybody wants to be an actor but not everybody sees how actors get paid. There is a misconception among some that only the top 10% of actors get paid.

Fortunately, this is a huge fallacy created by the media and entertainment companies to make more money because people are trying to come up with ways to break into the industry.

While some actors earn $5,000 per episode on a hit cable show, others at the other end of the spectrum may have to be satisfied with $4.00 for appearing at a children’s birthday party. So how do actors get paid?

Listed below are several tips to help you secure a lucrative career as an actor.

SAG minimum salary

SAG’s minimum salary for actors is a standard set of pay for actors. It is determined by the SAG constitution.

The performers agree to adhere to the rules as a condition of membership, so they are not permitted to appear in non-union projects.

In 2002, SAG changed the name of this rule to Global Rule One. A new SAG contract requires all performers to be paid a minimum salary every week for all productions within its jurisdiction.

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The SAG minimum salary for actors is set by the union, so actors on cable or streaming shows should budget up to 15 percent above SAG rates.

Likewise, extras on shows with budgets of up to $700k should be paid at least $130 a day. However, premium talent like A-list actors and film producers often pay more than the SAG minimum.

Nonetheless, the SAG minimum for actors is important for both actors and producers.

SAG and AFTRA have been in existence since the Great Depression, and their combined organizations have helped to ensure that actors are paid a fair wage in the entertainment industry.

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This is because they control the casting of productions, and no one wants to risk being boycotted by the SAG or another union.

Hence, actors join a union as soon as they get an opportunity to work.

If they’re able to land a good production, they will earn far more than if they don’t join a union.


If you are an actor, you have probably wondered how actors get paid for overtime.

Thankfully, they aren’t independent contractors!

They are employees of a production company, and they are not required to submit 1099 tax forms – only independent contractors do!

Instead, they should receive a W-2 tax form, which will include withholdings for unemployment insurance and social security.


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Actors often receive substantial income from agents and managers, and it’s often a big mystery as to what percentage they should pay these people.

Unfortunately, the IRS is increasingly aware that most actors do not pay a full 10% of their total income as a commission.

This is because performers sometimes have different agreements with their managers that don’t permit them to pay the full amount of a commission.

The commission is also often not included in the actor’s gross income or net income, and it’s difficult to determine if it’s actually a real amount.

Talent agents generally take a certain percentage of the actor’s earnings.

Although this percentage is required by law, agents often make smaller commissions when actor hires their own agent.

If an actor works with a talent manager, they can get a higher commission, but they typically won’t ask for more than 10 percent.

Actors shouldn’t expect to pay their agents upfront, as some agents may justify asking for these payments by promising specific work, which is often unethical.

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Actors typically pay a commission of 10% of their day rate or hourly rate.

The day rate includes all money paid by the production company to make the actor available.

A day rate is often higher than the union minimum, and may not cover all the costs of acting on set, or it could even be lower.

Despite these restrictions, actors are often compensated for their acting skills.

A day rate is a minimum required for union membership, but often a higher amount is negotiated with the agent.


Freelance acting offers many benefits. Freelance acting is an excellent option for smaller projects and the cost of these projects is lower than if you were represented by a casting agency.

As an added bonus, the website Guru offers payment protection, which is a shared account that an Employer funds before starting work.

This way, the Employer can release payment once they are satisfied with the actor’s work.

How actors get paid for freelancing depends on their experience and skill level, but there are ways to make an extra income through freelancing.

  • Consider joining online or offline discussion forums.

Online forums are a great way to meet other actors and learn about their pay rates.

Whether you are new to the industry or have a wealth of experience, these forums are a great place to network and gain an understanding of the industry.

In addition to freelancing, actors can also make money by writing for others’ websites.

You’ll learn from the opinions and experiences of others to find out how to get the best jobs and get the best pay.

  • While formal training is not required, freelancers often look for actors with academic qualifications.

A Bachelor’s degree in acting or related fields such as theater, improv, or dance is preferred, but not required. You can also get a diploma in acting through a performing arts institute in India or elsewhere.

Once you’ve established a solid reputation, you can start looking for freelance gigs!

If you’re interested in freelance acting, check out Guru or any other websites that hire freelancers.

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The average actor makes between $40 and $50 million per film.

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Of this, about half of that is taken as taxes. In addition to federal and state taxes, actors may also have to pay local and state income taxes for some states.

After taxes, another 15-20% of the actor’s salary is used to pay for agents, lawyers, and accountants.

In some cases, the actor is also paid a portion of the film’s budget.

The difference between these amounts is often paid out to the actor in the form of a percentage of the film’s gross revenue.

While the studios don’t pay actors the difference, many actors choose to take the royalties. They will receive a small percentage of the movie’s profits as royalty.

A well-known actor might also negotiate for assistants, hotel accommodations, and private jet transportation.

If the film’s budget is $200 million or more, this could be enough to buy labor for two movies.

Another way to earn money in films is by performing in streaming services.

Streaming services like Netflix have become popular among viewers. Ryan Reynolds and Will Smith have become household names with their movies.

If you’re an actor who has recorded audiobooks, you might be wondering how you can get paid for them. You can also receive residuals from SAG-AFTRA.

Those earnings are lumped under television exhibition and supplemental market use of theatrical motion pictures and are split 50/50 by actors.

However, the supporting cast does not get royalties.

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While some TV actors get a healthy residual check, others make very little at all. Many receive insufficient residuals or none at all.

Others are relegated to cushy trailers and wait for their next big scene.

But for the latter group, it’s the love of performing and acting that matters.

Here are some tips on how actors get paid for TV:

  • The first thing you need to understand is that television actors don’t live like royalty by collecting royalties.

They are paid on residuals, which accrue when a show goes on reruns, is sold to syndication, is released on DVD or streams online.

The TV industry leaves the calculation of residuals to the trade union SAG-AFTRA. It distributes the residuals among its members. The average television actor earns about $48,000 a year.

  • Another thing to know about your paycheck is how long it will take to get it.

TV shows have long been giving movies a run for their money. Thanks to streaming services, many actors are now receiving seven-figure salaries.

Even big-time TV stars, like Jason Sudeikis and Kevin Spacey, earn well over $1 million a year.

These salaries are well above the average in other fields, including movie stars.

Most actors belong to a union, SAG-AFTRA. This organization helps members get health insurance and contribute to a pension.

They also earn higher rates because they can be brand ambassadors and be viewed by billions of people without any complicated logistics. And they have more opportunities for monetization outside of acting as well.

They can also appear in short commercials or TV shows. This means they can make even more money!

So now you know about the different types of roles for actors and where to find them, how do actors get paid?

The main difference in how actors get paid is by auditioning for a part versus getting cast for a part.

Auditioning simply means that an actor shows up at the auditions (which are usually held in rooms, like any other job interviews), and the casting director picks who lands the role.

This may leave some actors disappointed because they put a lot of effort into becoming a good actors, only to not land any parts.

The best way to avoid this is to just try to go out for parts that you are getting along great with in audition rooms.

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