How Hollywood Salaries Really Work

Should Hollywood actors be paid 1. a fair wage for the work involved, 2. a percentage of what the movie makes, if they were hired for their star power, 3. whatever it takes to hire that star power, or 4. as little as the studio can get away with? At one time or another, all these methods have been used to set movie stars' pay for a Hollywood film. How much the actor brings to the project sometimes has little to do with their compensation. For example, Marilyn Monroe made $18,000 for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1953, while Jane Russell made $100,000. Monroe had more star power, but she was under a studio contract. Things are different now, and much more confusing. A recent Hollywood story told how Mark Wahlberg made $1.5 million for the reshoots for All the Money in the World, while Michelle Williams got $1,000 -for a larger role. So how are Hollywood paychecks decided these days?

In Hollywood parlance, an actor’s “quote” means the base amount of zeroes it will take to get above-the-line talent—shorthand for a film’s creatives—to show up on set. (Below-the-line workers, i.e. crew members and those who work on technical aspects like hair, makeup, and special effects, receive a salary based on union rates.) In a communication leaked during the 2014 Sony Pictures e-mail hack, then-Columbia Pictures co-president of production Hannah Minghella mused about what to offer Wahlberg for an un-produced film called Uncharted. “Mark was paid 17M on Transformers but before that his highest quote was 12M (which we paid him on The Other Guys),” the e-mail reads. “We think 12M is the number.” The “M,” naturally, stands for million.

But blockbusters with a $210 million production budget, like Transformers: Age of Extinction, are quote anomalies due to simple box-office math: Transformers brought in more than $1 billion worldwide, while Guys topped out at $170 million. That’s why in this case, Wahlberg was being offered his previous high-water mark of $12 million. Michelle Williams—who favors artier fare and has yet to star in a franchise—likely has a quote well below Wahlberg’s, despite her reputation and four Oscar nominations. Prestige and awards don’t necessarily equal a raise for actors.

But that's only the beginning of negotiations. There's also percentages, points, and perks. Read about the complicated business of assigning value and salary to movie stars at Vanity Fair. -via Metafilter


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