Quite often people have asked me, “How much can you really make as an actor or commercial model,” and it’s always a very difficult answer to give. It’s kind of like, if someone asked me if I want to open up a garage and become a mechanic, how much money can I make?
Well, there are a lot of factors involved, and people make various amounts of money depending on a whole lot of different things. So let me at least try to break some things down for you to give you a general idea of what kind of money you could earn. But just as an overall statement, one of the things that I also always mentioned to people in my workshops is that wouldn’t recommend venturing into the acting or commercial modeling industry based on money.
There are many other ways that you can earn a living, and quite often, find much easier ways than in the acting and modeling industry. But if this is something you really love to do, and you want to look into it further, then absolutely, check it out. So, let me give you some of the numbers. If you are interested in commercial modeling, which, is modeling for sometimes beautiful but also regular looking people, it will depend on where you live as to how much you can actually earn.
In New York City, and that’s where commercial models would get paid more than in any other city in the world, you can earn up to $250 an hour. Even though the standard going rate is $250 an hour, that doesn’t mean that you’re always going to get that for every job that you are booked for. I can tell you that there are times where the agent will contact me and say, “Look, the client can only pay a $175 an hour or they can only pay $200 an hour. Or, you could be offered a flat fee for the day.” Everything is negotiable.
There’s no Union involved with commercial modeling so there’s no way of knowing how much you are going to get. Now, in other markets the modeling fees vary. You might be getting paid $50 an hour, it could be $75. In some of the larger but still secondary markets, you can be looking at anywhere between $100 and $150 an hour as a commercial model. And also don’t forget, this is something that I discuss in my book “How to Become a Successful Commercial Model”, and also my workshops there’s something called a “High Exposure Format”.
Those are commercial modeling jobs that end up on billboards, posters, on the side of the bus, on the Internet, on a package. Typically when your ad is running in a “High Exposure Format,” you’re going to get a bonus. This means you will get a separate fee on top of your hourly or day rate. So, you can earn more money when you are in a “High Exposure Format.”
Now, in the acting world, the payments can vary quite a bit as well. It will depend partially on – whether or not you a member of a Union? The two biggest Unions for actors are SAG-AFTRA, and Equity, which only covers theater actors. I’m just going to talk about SAG-AFTRA since it the larger Union. As a Union member…you will earn more money per job as opposed to non-union actors.
Every feature film you see, all the principal actors are SAG-AFTRA members. The same holds true for most television shows – aside from reality shows. I have found that in most smaller markets (outside of L.A. and New York), you’ll find a tremendous amount of non-union work. For doing non-union work, you really have no idea how much you’re going to earn because you could do a television commercial and be offered $50 or if it’s a national TV commercial, you could be paid a $1,000 or $1,500 for the commercial. Everything it’s up to the agent to negotiate and you never know how much you’re going to get until the client talks with the agent and they work things out. The same thing holds true if you’re doing extra work and you’re a non-union actor.
You can be paid anywhere from $50 for the day, maybe $75 for the day. I have heard of non-union actors getting paid more than that. It does happen. It’s not the norm, but certainly it will happen especially if you’ve had very long hours. Now, if you’re a member of SAG-AFTRA, you will at least know the minimum on how much you are going to be getting paid.
So if you do a TV commercial it’s almost $600 for just the session fee and then you get paid more money depending on where the TV commercial airs. If it is airing in New York, L.A., or Chicago, which are the three largest markets in the U.S., then you will make more money than if it is running in smaller markets. Every city has a certain amount of units attached to it. Union actors are paid around $20/unit, so the larger the city the more money you’re going to earn.
You never know with TV commercials. I know people who’ve made a quarter of a million dollars from one television spot. They were very fortunate. In order to earn a lot of money, your commercial will need to be a national commercial. They will also need to run for a very, very long time. But, you never know. If it’s a local TV commercial maybe you’ll make $900 or $800, or somewhere in that ball park, but that is how much you will earn every 13 weeks.
If you’re doing a film or TV show and working on it for one day, you’re looking to earn in the $800 range.
But once again, you really have no idea how much you’re really going to be able to earn as an actor or a model. Most people that I know who do this work, don’t do it full-time, like I do. They might be a full-time student or have another full-time job, and they periodically will take time off, rearrange their schedule, change shifts with somebody else, and be able to do the acting or modeling job.
So the fact of the matter is, there is no way of knowing how much you’re going to earn. Part of it depends on how hard you have worked at being very skilled, how much time you’ve put into learning how to market yourself, how well you have done your research and found a really great agent to help promote you and submit you for jobs. So, a lot of the money that you earn really is going to be based on you, and how hard you are willing and want to work in the industry.
I have said this before and will probably say this 20,000 more times, I would not recommend going into the acting or modeling industry if making a lot of money is your only goal.
You’ve got to be passionate about it. You’ve got to love what you’re doing. But, as in any business, you must do everything you can to help prepare yourself, be as skilled as you possibly can, and that will give you, your best chance of getting paid work.