Most everyone has had the dream of being a film actor — that is, to be rich, famous, and have their names spoken by millions, all for playing a part in a movie. Suffice to say, making it is quite difficult, with the main obstacle being the earning of enough money to support oneself.
There are many different ways in which an actor can be paid. A bit actor (AKA a walk-on) earns a little over $100 for one day’s work. The rules are a little different for true-blue movie stars, for whom the two most common forms of compensation are based on “net points” and “gross points.” Both are used to determine the amount of money that an actor will make, with net points subtracting production costs before arriving at the profit figure from which the actor’s paycheck is derived.
Of course, the major studios are renowned for cooking the books so that actors are paid as little as possible. A prime example was the 1988 movie Rain Man, which starred Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. Made for a budget of $25 million, the film went on to win multiple Oscars and rake in over $350 million. The studio (in this case, the now-defunct United Artists) fudged the accounting so that the net points were worth almost nothing. Actor/comedian Eddie Murphy has referred to net points as “monkey points” to emphasize their uselessness. Anyone who had net points on Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit or Tim Burton’s Batman would surely agree, as those were all relatively small-budget movies that went on to make hundreds of millions of dollars while never technically turning a profit on paper.
Gross points, on the other hand, are a percentage of the gross, or total, revenue. These apply to the revenue after the theaters take their share of the ticket sales. Gross points come into effect before studio costs and also apply to profits from DVD and merchandise sales. Deals with gross points can be broken down into two types: cash break and money in advance. A cash break deal is a combination of gross points and net points. With this type of deal, an actor stands to earn a sizable percentage of a movie’s revenue. A money-in-advance deal is basically what it sounds like; instead of gross profits the actor gets his or her share up front based on the expected earnings of the film. The risk is, if the movie does better then expected, the actor will make less than he would have in a cash break deal.
No actor in recent memory can out-do Robert Downey Jr. and his payday for The Avengers. According to press reports, Downey earned $70-$80 million for the movie thanks to several factors in his contracts, including the one from the first Iron Man which stated that if he were to reprise the Tony Stark role in any future films he would be given a percentage of the box office gross. Let’s say hypothetically that he was given a paltry 1 percent of the box office revenue; The Avengers grossed around a billion dollars, which after the theater’s cut, makes that 1 percent worth at least $5 million!
Great work if you can get it.
Davis Johnson is a creative writing major at Eckerd College with a dual minor in mathematics and literature. His ultimate goal is to write novels, but he is also an avid movie buff (nickname: “Muvico”), and loves getting together with close friends to watch a flick or two — that is, when he’s not spending his time swimming after eight-foot Galapagos sharks. —Matthew Drozdek