How to Determine if You’re Getting Paid Fairly
Getting paid your worth is an essential element of any acting contract, regardless of the project scale or where you’re currently at in your career.
Established actors often have agents and quotations automatically sent to interested production companies. If you’re only getting started, you can start with unions.
Unions have pay scales, so whether you’re looking to join one or not, it’s a good idea to check at union minimums to obtain a general idea of the reasonable rates. To get a sense of size, see if you can find any public information on the production budget or what the corporation recently paid other performers.
You may compute your rate by the hour, day, or week—whatever you choose, strive to earn more than your last job. Ask reputable friends and coworkers with comparable experience what you should be asking for. Consider what you would likely gain from the arrangement—will it advance your career or dramatically broaden your exposure?
And understand how the production firm thinks—in the film and television industry, production companies will typically base their offer on what an actor did in a recent movie (sometimes an increase of 10 or 15 percent).
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If there is an exclusivity clause, consider if the money you’re getting is worth the opportunity cost (potential opportunities to work for competition).
If you expect to be acknowledged in a certain way for your performance, make sure it’s in writing as well—sometimes projects are bought mid-stream, and a new firm coming in won’t be bound by verbal promises made by the previous production company.
Another item to look out for in an acting contract? Implicit commitments. Before signing, a performer should always know the duration of time they’ll be committing to a specific project. Understand that “perpetuity” effectively translates to “forever,” but an open-ended time commitment might be just as unclear if that term isn’t mentioned in the contract. (And ambiguity is something you don’t want in a contract.)
If there is a back-end provision or the contract specifies you will be paid in a “reasonable duration” after the job is completed, proceed with caution. What else should you look out for in this sentence? “To be determined later” or “to be negotiated in good faith.” “TBD in a signed contract is typically a red flag in our books.
Instead, strive to be paid upfront. Suppose that isn’t possible, and it’s a film or television production. In that case, we’d recommend making sure you’re included as a party (or at least a beneficiary) under the Collection Account Management Agreement (CAMA).
This agreement stipulates that gross income from production be gathered into a production-specific financial account; once agreed-upon expenditures, commissions, and advances are paid out, the remaining profits are distributed to producers, investors, and other beneficiaries (like actors).
Short acting contracts should be avoided since they are likely to lack necessary provisions and indicate that the production firm might not be as credible as you think. Anything less than two pages is questionable. And if you’re a union member, don’t let a conventional union contract read the papers from top to bottom.
Companies will sometimes include “riders”—additions to the conclusion of a contract—to amend the agreement. What happens when a contract is signed? Ensure that you obtain a final copy of the agreement once both parties have signed.
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If you’re feeling pressed to sign on the spot or concerned about losing the opportunity, don’t give in. If the company doesn’t respect you enough to wait a reasonable period for your decision, there’s a high possibility you won’t be treated too well once production starts.
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