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Film Vs.Television: Salary Edition

Entertainment, High Life
Film Vs.Television: Salary Edition

These days it is common to see film actors on the small screen. On the other hand there are actors who became famous on television have gone on to have successful film careers—witness names like George Clooney (net worth today $160 million) who became famous on the television show “ER” and Jennifer Anniston (net worth today $150 million) who got her start as a star on the television show “Friends”. In terms of financial and notoriety both of these actors have made the transition to film with great success.

Pay per episode

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With the growth of cable networks and the evolution of better and even excellent television production becoming more available, many film actors are jumping from from the big screen to the small, lured by big pay checks, leading roles and weekly public exposure. Charlie Sheen and his walloping $1.2 million per episode salary for “Two and A Half Men” is gone from the sitcom, replaced successfully by Aston Kutcher. Kutcher earns $700,000 per episode for the show and at 22 installments for the season that makes for a very healthy salary not to mention a much larger fan base. Then there is Hugh Laurie on “House” who will earn the same also for 22 episodes in the season. Mariska Hargitay in what may be her last season on “Law & Order: SVU” will be paid $350,000 per show.

Average hours worked on TV

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In most cases an average 30 -minute sitcom requires actors to work approximately 60 to 80 hours per week. The week typically begins with Monday meetings, when writers and producers have what is known as a table read of the script. Tuesdays are spent with wardrobe; hair and makeup issues and then rehearsals begin and continue all day Wednesday. Some shooting is done on Thursdays and most shows do their final shoot on Fridays, in front of a live audience if they have one. So Fridays are usually a minimum of 12 hours of work. Over the weekend sitcom stars must familiarize themselves with the next week’s script so they are ready for the table read on Monday when the week begins anew.

Television’s highest paid stars

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The highest paid daytime television star is “Judge Judy” Sheindlin who earns $47 million for her syndicated daytime show. Other daytime salaries are Matt Lauer of “The Today Show” who earns $22 million; Katie Couric of “CBS Evening News” $15 million; Barbara Walters $13 million and Ellen Degeneres at $5 million. Late night hosts Jay Leno and David Letterman each earn $20 million. They all seem to be doing quite well.

Working in film

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The highest paid big screen actors make from $20-30 million, but they can earn substantially more by deferring all or part of their salary against a percentage of the movies expected gross. In the industry this is called, a “profit participation” agreement.

While working on a movie, it is typical for an actor to put in a 12-17 hour day for perhaps 3 months and this will include a two-week break. It usually depends on how much filming needs to be completed in one day. If scene set up is very involved or difficulties filming occur due to weather or other issues, it can add time to a day’s shoot. Costume and makeup can add overtime to a production, depending upon how intricate they are. The actors rehearse the script and also do blocking (their actual positioning). A typical day’s shooting begins with an actor showing up at a specific call time, after set construction, set dressing and lighting have all been arranged. There can be several takes on scenes and many times they are shot several times at different angles. Once the day of shooting has wrapped, the director, producer and sometimes the cast will watch the footage (called dailies) and review their work. Call sheets are made and then distributed for the following days filming schedule.

The “win-win” choice of film stars coming to television

File photo of Kiefer Sutherland at a screening of the season finale of "24" in Los Angeles

Motion picture actors have discovered that they do not have to give up fame and fortune in order to join the ranks of small screen actors. It is not quite as “lowbrow” a transition as it was once thought to be and the money and exposure are not bad for their careers either.

Kiefer Sutherland (of the film, “Flatliners”) did very well for himself with the television series, “24”. Glenn Close (“The Big Chill, “Air Force One”) has also joined the small screen ranks with roles on “Damages” and “The Shield” both of which brought her Emmy nominations.

The highest paid stars of film

Robert Downey Jr. Photos

According to Forbes, Robert Downey Jr is currently the highest paid film actor with an estimated $75 million in earnings between June 2012 and June 2013. Downey has starred in six box office hits including “The Avengers” and “Iron Man 3”. Second on their list is Channing Tatum at an estimated $60 million in earnings. Hugh Jackman comes in third with an estimated $55 million in earnings, again from June 2012 to June 2013 and much of that is banked from his work as Wolverine in the “X-Men” movies.

Summing it all up

Though motion picture actors receive greater acclaim and large salaries, there is much to be said for the benefits of working as an actor on the small one too. Salaries for television actors can be very lucrative and steady, particularly when shows are renewed season after season. Also television is varied, with different genres such as prime-time dramas and sitcoms, made-for-TV-movies and even daytime work. Suffice to say, actors are going both ways and most of them are finding that trying something different really is paying off.

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