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Reported by Joe Bel Bruno, Paul Bond, Rebecca Ford, Mia Galuppo, Carolyn Giardina, Lesley Goldberg, Marisa Guthrie, Jonathan Handel, Natalie Jarvey, Borys Kit, Pamela McClintock, Brian Porreca, Bryn Elise Sandberg and Tatiana Siegel.
Once upon a time, certain A-list film actors could command $20 million to $30 million up front to sign on to a project. Of course, that almost never happens now (the "almost" being Jennifer Lawrence, who got $20 million for Passengers). Today, Leonardo DiCaprio and Dwayne Johnson arguably are the best-paid leading men in Hollywood, surpassing Robert Downey Jr. (who lately has been coasting on Iron Man appearances in Avengers films). But even The Rock is having trouble cracking into the $20 million club. He is said to be getting only — only! — $19 million for his Jumanji remake. Keanu Reeves once was making $15 million upfront per film, plus a cut of the grosses (the Matrix movies earned him about $250 million). Today, he's being paid a mere $2 million to $2.5 million for the John Wick sequel (and got even less — $1 million to $2 million — for the first Wick film). On the bright side, Reeves will get an ownership stake in the picture — the route more top stars are taking to bet on themselves — rather than just a percentage. Vin Diesel, who gets paid tens of millions for the Fast & Furious movies, recently cut a similar deal for XXX3; sources say he's getting $1 million up front plus an ownership stake. "More and more of these deals will be happening," predicts one producer who works in the studio and indie worlds. "It's smart and modern."
“The deals are now so convoluted,” says a top producer. “Gone are the days when you had a Scorsese and he always got his quote. Seldom do you see anyone get their quote anymore.” It happens — Christopher Nolan is said to be getting $20?million upfront and 20 percent of the gross for his upcoming World War II epic Dunkirk, the richest deal since Peter Jackson got the same for King Kong. But even a director as esteemed as David Fincher can find himself getting nickeled and dimed when a studio is less certain of a project’s future; Fincher lost Steve Jobs to Danny Boyle because he wouldn’t back down from his $10 million asking price (plus, he wanted control of marketing). The average director salary for a studio film is in the $750,000 to $1.5 million range, depending on the number of past credits. As a second-time feature filmmaker, Angelina Jolie got $1 million for Universal’s Unbroken. But Sam Taylor-Johnson, who had directed several films before Fifty Shades of Grey, received more than double Jolie’s fee for the S&M picture. Lately, the studios are pushing for smaller upfront fees in exchange for more generous backend (after the film hits cash break-even, of course). “That’s the big trend — the increasing distinction between what a director gets upfront and the overall payout,” says the same producer. But, as The Devil Wears Prada director David Frankel’s lawsuit against The?Weinstein Co. illustrates, those deals are filled with pitfalls. Frankel claims he cut his directing fee of $6?million to $1.2 million to direct the 2013 opera comedy One Chance in exchange for a larger slice of the gross. But TWC barely released the film — it made a total of $90,000 in the U.S. — leaving Frankel short $4.8 million.
Remember first-dollar gross? There still are a handful of industry heavyweights — Scott Rudin, Lorenzo di Bonaventura — who (sometimes) get it. But for the most part, those super-plum deals that used to spew out tens of millions of dollars now are all but extinct, replaced by stingier cash break-even contracts, where producers don’t get paid until the studio recoups its production and marketing budgets.That hasn’t exactly impoverished the profession — top producers like Rudin make as much as $2.5?million in upfront cash, plus his percentage of box office, while others like Nina Jacobson, Michael De Luca and Mary Parent (before she became an exec at Legendary) earn between $1 million and $2 million upfront. And when a movie hits the jackpot, the percentages of the grosses can still add up to huge numbers: Simon Kinberg is said to have raked in $2 million upfront to produce Deadpool, then another $38 million after the movie made $782 million worldwide. Even low-level producers on midbudget pictures can expect to take home about $350,000. Still, the occupation is not quite as exuberant as it used to be. “The bottom has come up a bit,” explains a source who’s worked on plenty of producing deals. “But once you get to the top of the food chain, you hit a ceiling.”
When Swedish gamer PewDiePie — the most popular YouTube star, with 48 million followers — revealed he made $4 million in 2013, it seemed like a lot of money for an internet personality. Today, he's probably earning three times that much. Elite online talent makes up to $15 million a year nowadays, partly through advertising (about a quarter of their income) but also through brand sponsorships, with companies paying as much as $75,000 for a single video that features its soft drink (or whatever) prominently. More complex deals, with multiple videos or cross-platform promotion, can reach high six figures. "We're very much in the Wild West in respect to brand deals," says one rep. There's also ancillary income from live shows, book deals (with six-figure advances commonplace) and merchandise. And new moneymaking opportunities are constantly popping up — like Facebook recently paying YouTube star Ray William Johnson $224,000 over 5½ months to provide video content for its new Facebook Live feed.
The good news is screenwriters still can strike it rich with a single script — or maybe two. Simon Kinberg is said to have made a record $8 million on each of his two X-Men movies. And top writers can make millions more by rewriting other people's scripts. Kinberg, for instance, makes $350,000 a week doing rewrites, and he isn't even the highest-paid script doctor (Michael Arndt, who worked on drafts of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, makes $400,000 a week, as do Phil Lord and Christopher Miller). The bad news, though, is on TV, where scribes are starting to get squeezed. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon have spawned a glut of new writing gigs, which has created a bigger pool of writers and driven down rates. These days, networks are paying at the lower end of the Writers Guild scale, which for the delivery of an original teleplay is between $71,000 and $134,000. "I now have to sell three or four times what I sold 10 years ago to make the same kind of living," says one writer who works on a show for one of the streaming services.
Studio Chief (And Other Execs)
Base salaries for studio chiefs like Disney's Alan Horn, Fox's Stacey Snider and Sony's Tom Rothman remain at about $5 million a year. Stocks and bonuses easily can double or triple compensation, but those bumps are tied in part to performance at the box office. One bad summer can cost a studio chief millions. Bonuses also go to executives lower down in the studio ranks (where salaries generally range from $250,000 to $850,000 and above). But with studios greenlighting fewer and fewer films these days, some suits have been feeling the pinch. "There was a time when you would see three movies go in a year," says one studio veteran. "Now we're lucky if one goes. It's not the time to be a studio exec."
The people who slice the carrot sticks and stock the Red Vines earn $38.26 an hour, up 6.1 percent from 2014, to take home about $65,800 a year (this assumes a 40-hour workweek with no overtime during the course of a 10-month working year).
With the exception of the superagents — such as CAA's Richard Lovett or WME-IMG's Ari Emanuel, both of whom earn $10 million-plus a year — the average agent's fortunes are tied directly to his or her clients. When the clients have a good year, the agent has a good year. Base salaries for new agents start at between $50,000 and $80,000 but break through six figures after a few years, with most garden-variety agents earning upward of $200,000 to $250,000. But bonuses easily can double those numbers. Veteran agents for top stars earn between $500,000 and $1 million, plus bonuses. Says one, "Actors feel loyalty toward the agent, not the agency, so smart companies make sure to keep their reps happy."
CEO salaries are up over the past five years, just not quite as much as one might expect. On the average, the eight major entertainment chiefs' paychecks have grown only about 10 percent since 2010 — although it's a bit of a roller coaster arriving at that number. Disney's Bob Iger, for instance, got a 52 percent salary jump since 2010, from $29 million to $44.9 million. Time Warner's Jeff Bewkes received a 20 percent raise, up to $31.5 million, while Comcast's Brian Roberts got a 16 percent boost, to $36.2 million. On the other hand, Viacom's ousted CEO Philippe Dauman's last paycheck was down 36 percent from 2010, from $84.5 million to $54.2 million, while CBS' Leslie Moonves made 2 percent less, a measly $56.8 million. "Hollywood CEOs are paid more than executives at comparably sized companies in other sectors because film and TV had higher profit margins than the average S&P 500 companies," says R.J. Bannister, who leads the Willis Tower Watson consultancy’s survey of media and entertainment salaries. "The insatiable global demand consumers have for content has supported this level of compensation."
The people who cover up stars' blemishes — and occasionally apply fake blood — now are earning $46.22 an hour, up 5.1 percent from 2014. That's about $79,500 a year.
Paychecks for boom operators — the below-the-line crewmembers who hold the mic — have risen 6.1 percent since 2014. They're now making $47 an hour, or about $80,000 a year.
This election cycle has been a boon for ex-campaign managers looking to cash in as cable TV talking heads: Former Trump aide Corey Lewandowski picked up a $500,000 contract with CNN — double the usual pundit salary — just three days after he was fired from the campaign (for manhandling a female reporter). In fact, pay on cable news never has been better, especially at Fox (the No. 1 cable news channel), with Bill O'Reilly raking in $20 million a year (up from $10 million in 2012) and Megyn Kelly possibly nearing that sum when she renegotiates her current $10 million contract. "If I were her agent, I'd be asking $41 million," quips one TV news exec, referring to the $40 million Fox paid Roger Ailes on his way out after his sexual harassment scandal. Still, the real money remains on network airwaves, particularly in the morning. Today's Matt Lauer reportedly is pulling in $25 million, while Good Morning America's Robin Roberts is making $18 million. CBS (where in the 1970s Walter Cronkite was paid a then-astonishing $1 million a year) is cutting the smallest checks. Its highest-paid anchor might be Scott Pelley, at $6 million a year.
Supply and demand has pushed up per-episode fees — there just aren't enough stars to fill 400 original scripted shows. The influx of film actors also has driven up television paychecks. Fargo alum Billy Bob Thornton received $250,000 an episode for David E. Kelley's Amazon drama Goliath, while Dwayne Johnson (Hollywood's highest-paid film actor) is said to make $450,000 per half-hour of HBO's Ballers. On the broadcast side, the usual TV-star deal remains in the $125,000-per-episode range (though A-listers like Kerry Washington and James Spader make more). And talent from high-rated shows in syndication — such as The Big Bang Theory — also are seeing fat paychecks (Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons earn $1 million an episode, and new contract talks begin this season)
You'd need an electromagnetic microscope to spot the difference, but assistants' paychecks are getting slightly larger. Most earn a dollar or two more than minimum wage, which in January got bumped to $10 an hour in California and will continue to rise a buck a year until it reaches $15 an hour. All the talent and management agencies pay pretty much the same. But studio executive or celebrity assistant jobs, while fewer and more difficult to get, sometimes can pay considerably more. One of Amy Pascal's assistants when she ran Sony Pictures was making $300,000 per year, and Oprah Winfrey once reportedly offered her assistant $1 million to stay on. Still, the vast majority of assistants live on something like $30,000 a year, which isn't easy in a city like Los Angeles. "The concept of 'savings' becomes a little foreign," says one assistant who supplements her income by moonlighting in a very similar field — babysitting.
Animators' paychecks generally are holding steady at such majors as Disney and Pixar, while wages at the smaller independent production houses, which used to pay much less, finally are catching up to their larger competitors. A 2015 Animation Guild wage survey found 3D animators' salaries range anywhere from $1,100 to $4,750 for a 40-hour workweek, with an average of about $2,021 (or about $105,000 a year), while 3D modelers make less (about $87,000) and 2D modelers are the poorest of the bunch ($77,000). But like Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff, animators are feeling a little bit up in the air at the moment thanks to NBCUniversal's purchase of DreamWorks Animation and the 200 mostly corporate layoffs at DWA announced following the acquisition. "The question is," says one worried animator, "what's going to be the fallout? Right now the jobs are in Glendale. Will they move somewhere like Oriental DreamWorks in China?"
The Sony hack revealed in 2015 that Vince Gilligan was getting $50,000 an episode to run Better Call Saul, though a business manager with high-profile showrunner clients thinks that number might be a bit low. "The trend is upward," he says. Yet with more than 400 scripted TV series on more channels and streaming services than ever, showrunner salaries tend to be all over the place. "You get paid more to be a showrunner on network, but on the other hand, if you get a 10-part series on Netflix, they'll pay you more than anyone," says a prominent producer with a series on cable and a streamer. One TV agent who just booked a first-time showrunner a network series says his client is getting in the high $30,000s per episode — whereas other TV bosses (say, Game of Thrones' David Benioff and D.B. Weiss) easily can make more than $100,000 an episode, plus backend, which can be lucrative (or not lucrative at all if a streamer like Netflix buys out all global rights). Another insider notes that while showrunner fees might be up, studios have cut back on the price of overall deals. "With all the cable and streaming stuff, you don't have to pay a lot," says a money manager for several TV stars. "It's just pure economics."
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