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Quendrith Johnson

Quendrith Johnson is Los Angeles Correspondent covering everything happening in film in Hollywood... Well, the most interesting things, anyway.
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Wolf of Wall St. Paid $60K for Jonah Hill & Other Disparities, Plus Tom Hanks' 2 Cents


by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent


In the 1920's, Louise Brooks (Pandora's Box, Diary of a Lost Girl) famously took a 50 percent pay cut to work with German director G. W. Pabst, from $1000 a week to $500 a week, and flew to Berlin to make the best movies of the Kansas-born actor's career. In 2014, Jonah Hill cheerfully admits he accepted scale, around $60,000 USD, for a chance to be directed by Martin Scorsese in Wolf of Wall Street, for which he, along with Leonard DiCaprio, received an Oscar nod.

Cate Blanchett, during the 2014 SAG Awards when accepting for Best Actress (Blue Jasmine), alluded to the Costume Budget "of.. $1.99!" Within the lines here, there is an implied metric as to what she received for her titular role as Jasmine for Woody Allen.

Also this year, Jennifer Lawrence's salary for the first Hunger Games was accidentally released. She was paid $500,000 for a role in a multi-million dollar kick off to one of the most successful female-driven franchises of all time. Her payday for the sequels is much higher, "somewhere in the $10 M USD" range according to the Hollywood Reporter. Plus a fraction of the gross, possibly. But the initial lowball $500K is staggering, even with the alleged bonuses for box office performance. 

Lawrence's film total receipts exceed $1 BN USD, this means the sum of all movies in which she played a role have rung up that total in sales worldwide. (Note: X-Men is included in that figure from The Numbers report.)

While Kristen Stewart's payday on the first Twilight installment was reportedly negligible, again compared to gross Box Office receipts; she and her reps negotiated upwards to $12.5 M USD plus %7.5 gross points on both Twilight sequels. For Snow White, Stewart was paid roughly $9.5 M USD.

In contrast, Robert Downey Jr. collected $50 M USD for Iron Man 3, and the top male actors have dominated the so-called Bankability Index for years. To break into that list, a minimum $20 M USD payday is the bar, plus points in the top tier. This elite number at the pinnacle of earnings power represent about less than 1% of all actors in the business.

A ballpark of $52,000 USD per year is still the average payday earned by "Middle-Income" actors. General Background Actors are paid $148 per day, only a six dollar increase since the 2011 figure of $142 per day. Stand-Ins receive $163 per day, up also a mere six dollars from 2011's rate of $157 per day. Special talent background, or atmospheric talent, such as Swimmers or Skaters or others with demonstrated athletic talent receive $342 per day, up from $328 a day in 2011. All of these stats come from SAG/AFTRA rates of record for 2013.

During the salary/strike imbroglio of 2008, Tom Hanks remarkably stepped up to the plate with "Look, there are hard-working, middle class actors who go off and try to make a living, which $300 bucks a month is gonna make a huge difference. The difference between being paid 30 cents a mile or 50 cents a mile. So there are issues out there that we would all strike over. Solidarity right across the line." 

Hanks went on to underscore the complex factor of digital entertainment, saying, "There’s other issues in there that are theoretical, more than practical, and we have to understand — there is not just HBO, and the “z” channel — there’s YouTube. And by the way — you and I, if we wanted to, could go on the internet right now and be entertained by stuff that is not paid for. Anybody who wants to right now, can go on any laptop can be entertained for free: on stuff that is not paid for (as far as artist compensation). Just stuff on there."

Hanks' box office cum, just as an actor, not for other roles as producer, is a stunning $8 BN plus worldwide. But he seemed to grasp the issues better than the union negotiators at the time. "We have to understand that we have to be even better, get an even better product (films, TV, filmed entertainment) so they will be willing to pay or willing to tune in for the time," he said, "or who are willing to click on a certain place, to be entertained." (These quotes come from my interview with Tom Hanks for Fancast/

The 2013 SAG/AFTRA ratified contract includes provisions for "Made for Internet & Made for New Media" product, even "Crowdsourced" and "User Generated" media, but the worth of actors is still a puzzle for most - including the actors themselves.

Lindsay Crouse, a veteran actor and child of a Broadway legend, seems to offer the best perspective. "I was very young when I was cast in "Slapshot" (with Paul Newman)."

"My agent said 'we are going for co-star billing.' This was the third movie I was in. I thought 'I could not do this (demand the billing).' It was shocking. I think people really earned their stripes back then."

"With these huge salaries today I don't think people know what they're worth anymore. When you work by the sweat of your brow, and you see audience increasing incrementally, there is a sense of yourself. Now I think it is a free-for-all. I think a lot of the heart and joyful effort has gone out of it. In the theater, not connected to a movie studio, I think it still somewhat exists. You have to have the chops, or else everyone knows it. The theatre has a built-in self-protection." (Quotes courtesy of

Now it is up to the current generation of actors to put a reasonable metric in place, for their worth in an indie, webisode, or franchise, but also for their self-worth off-screen as well as on camera.


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