German Star Salary Report Sparks Debate

"Oh Boy" star Tom Schilling is among Germany's highest-paid actors.

The German actors association criticizes the publication of top star salaries as misleading and designed to “create envy.”

COLOGNE, Germany – The publication of salary details of some of the country's top TV and film stars has sparked a public debate here about Germany's system of taxpayer-supported culture.

This week, top tabloid Bild published a list of some of the best-paid German actors and actresses. The list showed that TV favorite Maria Furtwangler earns up to $20,000 per day shooting local hit crime series Tatort and that the daily quote for rising star Tom Schilling (Oh Boy) is between $5,000 and $8,000.

Bild's report has been picked up by multiple publications and used by some to suggest German actors make too much. “Even comparatively poorly paid actors earn more in a day than many citizens do in a month,” snapped an article in the online edition of news magazine Focus.

The issue of actors' pay is potentially controversial because ordinary German taxpayers are often footing the bill through a TV tax they pay to finance public broadcasters and indirectly via the country's generous film subsidy system.

In France, Wild Bunch co-chief Vincent Maraval ignited a media storm early this year when he published actors' salaries in an article for Le Monde. Maraval blamed the sky-high fees demanded by French stars such as Dany Boon and Marion Cotillard with threatening the economic viability of French cinema.

So far at least, no one is making that argument in Germany. The actors named by Bild are mostly TV stars, and homegrown cinema plays a much smaller roll, economically and culturally, here than is the case in France.

Still, the German film and TV actors association, BFFS, has sharply criticized Bild's report, saying it is designed to stir up salary envy and is completely unrepresentative. In a statement released Friday, the BFFS pointed to a 2010 study that found more than two thirds of German actors make less than $40,000 (€30,000) a year and fewer than 5 percent earn $132,000 (€100,000) or more annually.

But the issue of "overpaid actors" could play well ahead of next month's German election, fitting nicely with calls by several opposition parties for higher taxes on the rich and a fairer distribution of the country's wealth.