Actors Deserve to be Paid

I know a lot of actors, and many of them have degrees in theatre or film.  Many have advanced degrees in acting from respected programs.  Even more have 5 to 10 to 15 to 20 years of experience.  In other fields, these qualifications would guarantee a commensurate salary, but for some reason actors are often under compensated for their work.  I’d like to hear from everyone on why they think this is the case.  Right now, I’m not going to speculate on “why” the situation exists.  I would like to focus on why this situation should change.

Many directors will tell you that casting accounts for somewhere between 75% and 90% of directing, but for the casting of an off-off Broadway play or an indie film, often times the casting (including actors salaries) is one of the smallest numbers in the budget.  Obviously, I’m biased, as a casting director I think that casting professionals should be paid a suitable salary and it is much easier to land talented actors when payment is involved.

However, the issue goes deeper.  The fact that so many projects pay little or no money, in my opinion, devalues the craft of acting.  Actors who have spent their lives committed to making good work will work for peanuts in order to have a nice meaty role, and I think some people in the business exploit that.  I know from producing off-off Broadway that slim budgets often make it difficult to compensate the actors accordingly, and in full disclosure, I have cast, directed and produced shows that have not paid accordingly, but it seems to me that we need to place a higher price on acting.

When it comes down to it, everything else: the intricate sets, glorious lighting, an engaging script, imaginative direction, and  beautiful music cannot compensate for a mediocre cast.  Paying the actors does not guarantee the perfect cast, but it opens doors to a higher quality of actor.  Also, paying the actors allows them to focus more time on the work and less time scrambling to make ends meet.  So now, I’d like to hear your comments on how we might be able to make this a reality and get actors and for that matter, all creative professionals, the compensation they deserve.

3 thoughts on “Actors Deserve to be Paid

  1. kelsey. says:

    this is a tough issue because, as you’ve said, many actors are willing to work for little or no money to be involved with quality projects or those projects we believe to be quality. [or sometimes just to work!]

    there’s also an influx [in LA at least] of inexperienced, untrained fame-seekers who will hop into any role they think may get their faces on tv, into a film or on the internet even.

    i don’t know what the fix is. you can’t tell every actor not to take any work that doesn’t pay fairly. sometimes it truly is an investment in a long-term career to take that work. and if you don’t take it at the given rate, until you’re a name talent, someone else will.

    and as much as you can urge productions to compensate a non-tactile asset the way you would a quantifiable talent, the business-minded will always know that if you can pay less for something, you should.

  2. Destiny Lilly says:

    Thanks for the comment ,Kelsey. I totally see where you’re coming from, and for the most part I agree with you. Where we differ is the idea that not paying actors is good from a business perspective. As a casting director, I know that when there is no money for actors that often means that there is no money for PR, marketing, and other important tools that can lead to exposure for the production and the actors. Also, without some compensation for the actors, you’re going to have a much smaller and less experienced talent pool to work with.
    It’s a difficult topic, but one I’d like to keep discussing.


  3. kelsey. says:

    i don’t actually believe it’s a better business move. i just think it is easy to see the bottom line of, the less we have to pay, the better.

    when you skimp, you lose. any good manager knows that your employees are where you should invest your real money. they are the face of your business.

    i think the solution lies in making acting a quantifiable talent. not sure how to do that, of course, but that’s my esoteric answer.

    glad you’ve brought it up!

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