The Meat of the Deal
In a contract, “compensation” only refers to the session fees and residuals...the actual money. It does not address the rest of the package (accommodations, working conditions, etc). Your compensation is made up of the following:
Session fees: You want the highest session fee you can get, because this number is also used later in the formula that determines your residuals. Union minimums are called “working for scale”. If you have an agent, they should always be getting “scale plus 10%” (for their 10% commission, so that you are not working for less than scale as provided by the SAG contract) but I have been AMAZED at how many agents don’t ask for this! At least get scale plus 10% on any job! Don’t assume. The fee you got on your last similar job (TV for TV, feature for feature) is called your “quote”. For kids, it is common that a producer will NOT meet your quote, but it is usually where negotiations begin.
Residuals: Normally, the residuals or the money paid each time the project is shown again is governed by the union contract. Be VERY sure of the specific union contract you are working under. Knowing it is SAG or AFTRA is not enough. You must be aware of the specific contract within the union. It is possible to negotiate plus 10% for residuals as well.
• Ex. It is very common for kids’ shows, particularly Disney and Nickelodeon to be using a new AFTRA contract that allows them to effectively pay NO RESIDUALS due to "exhibition windows" (that's contract talk for periods of time when they can show your episode for free). That’s a really big deal...you may be accepting a lower session fee with the idea in your head that there will be lots of re-runs so you’ll make money later. What if there are NO reruns??? Make sure you know. That “career making” series deal may turn out to be a nightmare.
• Ex. SAG ‘s last television contract allows for NO RESIDUALS to be paid to series regulars for the first few reruns of a series within a specified time frame. The idea was that series regulars benefit from allowing the series to “find its audience”. Sure can be a rude awakening for the actors though, since it means they lose several thousand dollars!
DVD/Video Residuals: In union projects, actors split a portion of the profits (specifically about 4%, once the film/TV show surpasses 100,000 units sold or $1M in sales). At that point, residuals are calculated by a point system formula that takes into account the actors’ session fee and number of days worked. Then divide those points by the number of actors (and their points) in the project. In other words, actors who get paid more and worked more days will get a bigger piece of the 4% pie. Also means—better to be in a smaller cast of a small movie than work a day or two in a big budget epic with 200 credited cast members.
Back-end Deals: A percentage of the profits distributed long after the movie is released. These seem to be common at opposite ends of the spectrum---stars often work for scale in exchange for a back-end deal (because they know a blockbuster with their name on it will pay well later—and they can afford to wait 2 years for the paycheck). In these cases, you often see the star with “producer” credit. At the lower end, in low budget independent films, actors will also work for a back-end deal hoping the film will be sold at all. It is a gamble. Here’s a great article by Bonnie Gillespie called The Back-End Deal, May 8, 2006: http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/2006_05.html
Automatic Bumps: It is common place for an actor to get an automatic bump in pay for the second or third season of a TV show, and for syndication. Usually 5%.
Box Office Bonuses and Award Bonuses: Higher level deals might include a bonus payment of say, $20,000 if the daily box office gross listed in Daily Variety (aka DBO) hits a certain amount--usually starting at about $130M (a blockbuster hit in other words). Similarly, there can be bonuses given if the film gets an Academy Award nomination.
Usually in terms of weeks, these clauses specify how many weeks or episodes they are guaranteeing you will work. Often you will work more, but this is what the producer is willing to commit to. For films it may be “5 weeks” or for a series it may be 7 out of 13 (the smallest that is considered a series regular—guaranteeing you will work 7 episodes of the 13 they produce) or 13 of 20, all produced, etc.
This is absolutely negotiable. Options include At Producers Discretion aka APD (which is to be avoided if possible—it means you didn’t negotiate, and you will take whatever you are given), Front end (opening credits at the beginning of the show), Single card or Shared card (how many names are on the screen at the same time as yours), etc. You can be very specific. If you have to settle for shared card, ask for the top position on the shared card.
It is also possible to negotiate this by comparing it to other actors. For instance, if you are a supporting character that is 3rd in importance on the cast list, you might negotiate that “no actor will be credited higher than the undersigned actor, with the exception of the actor playing “Susie” and “Bill”” (the actors who are more important than you are).
Although union contracts generally provide for set education, it is important to negotiate the specifics of that. A studio teacher can make your life a living hell or a complete joy. They also have direct contact with your child for 3 hours a day, some control over work hours and conditions, and have the direct ear of the producer when you aren’t around. It is perfectly acceptable to negotiate for your choice of a studio teacher or for approval of the studio teacher. Other specifics might include the number of children allowed in school with yours (you may prefer to have a limit of not more than 3 students of like ages for instance).
Merchandising vs. Promotions
It is fairly rare, but some children have been successful in obtaining rights to merchandising (of their image action figures for example). Hilary Duff was involved in a high profile legal case with Disney over this issue. As of this writing, the actors in the Lord of the Rings trilogy are in court battling over their share of profits (they claim they are owed millions, New Line Cinema has paid nothing). Note: Be aware of the semantics: merchandising is things like action figures and books that are SOLD. Promotions are things like Happy Meal toys and the like. The area is gray and it usually makes merchandising and promotions clauses easy for producers to wiggle out of. If you think your project has this potential, best to consult an attorney.
This means your trailer or wherever you are staying on set. Be careful of being too specific...it can get you less than you would have gotten. Be aware if your project is shooting on a sound stage on a lot (the best dressing rooms are typically inside the stage) or on location (where you are talking about the size of the trailer—a triple banger, double banger, private etc.)
Anything on location requires special negotiations. “Local hire” means the production is unwilling to pay travel or per diem expenses—you are on your own. Normally, the union rules specify the per diem amount (cash you get each day for food). BUT...it is possible to negotiate per diem and hotel accommodations even when the project is in town. Since this money is usually taken out of a below-the-line type budget and not a cast budget, sometimes you can use this to increase your salary. For instance, on a 10 week studio film, if you negotiated for an apartment and per diem for mom and kid, you would have saved yourself gas money driving from home AND pocketed an addition $9,000 or so in cash.
Also, be wary of foreign locations and specify in the contract what currency the per diem will be paid in. This can get you more or less money depending on the rate of exchange. Union rules require per diem to be paid to the parent/guardian, but it is always a good idea to have reps confirm this in advance, especially if the location is remote. Also, make sure to include per diem for the guardian if the child is over 16 (see below).
Lastly, consider asking for an extra hotel room or a suite for long shoots. Especially with older kids who need their space. This can save your sanity (sometimes you just have to get away), and it also allows for a separate place to have school.
Note that although you are required to be present with your child by SAG rules and by law in some states, the SAG contract does NOT require producers to pay for you. It has been standard procedure for production to pay for the parent's transportation and double per diem for decades, but in 2010 we are hearing of film makers who are going by the letter of the SAG contract. And it doesn't REQUIRE them to pay for you. That means you MUST negotiate.
If your child is 16 or over, you will need to negotiate that the parent will travel/be on set with the teen, since the labor laws and SAG rules do not generally require it. Remember to ask for per diem for the parent in this case as well—it won’t come automatically. Never, ever negotiate away your right to be within sight and sound of your child if they are under 16. You could be accused of child endangerment.
It is unusual for children to be able to determine their work hours (i.e. only working Tues-Saturday, etc). However, it is possible and it can’t hurt to ask if there is some logical reason it is necessary (for instance, if a child is working as an adult but is home schooling to finish high school, they will not be allowed time for school on set. They may request school time on set, or 5 day work week in order to catch up on studies each week).
Many stars refuse to do publicity for their own movies because it is exhausting, involves a lot of travel in a very short time, it doesn’t pay, and they are onto filming other projects by the time the film comes out.
Sometimes they limit the number of personal appearances in the contract. This can be a give and take in the area of back end deals though---it is to the actor’s advantage if they have a back-end deal to promote the film as much as possible.
Kids generally don’t have any control over publicity. However, one area that IS commonly negotiated is the photo approval—the right to approve any photos of your child that are released in relation to the project. This is very important in light of pedophilia concerns and photos being sold on eBay. The savvy parent will ask for this approval to make sure no suggestive photos are released and so that they can control the child’s image as much as possible.
Generally in series regular deals, it is customary for a studio to have approval of all other jobs you might accept while on contract with them. Sometimes the contract will come right out and ban you from work for a competing network (i.e. Nickelodeon will likely ban you from any work for Disney). This can be tolerable but it is NOT to the actor’s advantage. It allows the studio to keep you from working anywhere else if they choose. It can keep you from working on films during hiatus. If the contract is requiring exclusivity, it is at least deserving of more money—since they are keeping you from all other work.
- Ex. Some Nickelodeon kids shows have a short shooting season (13 episodes), with no residuals. But the series regulars are on an exclusive contract. So they are barely making a living wage and can’t work for the rest year to make up for it. Not to mention they become typecast, since they are not allowed to explore other roles. Not a great deal.
You can also limit the exclusivity by eliminating commercials from the exclusivity portion of the deal.
Voiceover actors almost never accept exclusivity in their contracts.
*Drops and pick-ups
This refers to the policy of starting to work on a film, then having a week or two off, then getting called back to work (kind of a forced vacation). In the normal SAG contract, they can only do this once since it means that you really can’t accept other work during that time. After that, the normal pay you whether you are working or not. HOWEVER, in the low-budget contracts, this clause has been removed so they can work you every other week if they want to. Again, it pays to know your contract!! Being stuck on a location and NOT being paid on a low-budget film is a big bummer—and can easily eat up all your earnings in hotel costs.
It is not a “given” that all the actors in a film are invited to the premiere. In fact, it is VERY common for children NOT to be included. Note that once a film is done, it is handed over to a distribution company who handles premieres and publicity---it is not a matter of the director “liking your child” or the production company being “nice”. The people handing the premiere usually don’t even know you—they only know what was in everyone’s contract—outside of that, they will invite movie stars that will bring red carpet publicity to the film—that’s all. It isn’t about “fair” or about a “reward for a job well done”. Kids will be likely be invited to a cast and crew screening, but that isn’t the same (no publicity) :-) Lots of little hearts have been broken as a result of misunderstanding the purpose to a premiere. To prevent this, you MUST negotiate for tickets (a specific number—like 4) to the premiere (not the screening). Make sure to ask for travel in case the premiere is on the other side of the country. If you are the star of a studio film, you may be able to get as many as 8 with travel and accommodations.
It is possible to negotiate a cash bonus in the case that the project or the actor is nominated for, or wins, an Emmy or Academy Award, normally a flat rate. A nice perk if you can get it—very tough to get.
*Location Expenses: Production Cell Phone, trips home, etc.
This comes up on location shoots, especially. On long film shoots taking several months, you can negotiate a certain number of airfare tickets to be used at your discretion (for you to go home for the weekend, or for family to come visit you). Cell phones can be provided by production, especially in cases out of the country where your local phone won’t work. Ask for WiFi on the set and in the hotel.
There are SAG regulations about this, but studios often ignore them. Kids can do stunts, but it is up to you to define your boundaries. Do you need a stunt double? If a stunt is performed, make sure they provide a stunt coordinator per the SAG regulations. On a short term job, make sure you get a bump in pay for doing stunts.
You can usually negotiate to get free outfits or first refusal at purchasing the wardrobe from the film. Studios these days sell the wardrobe on Ebay as collectibles, but it is possible to get a chance to buy it at 50% of the cost before that point. Same goes for series regulars, but they won’t sell it till the end of the season. It’s a fun souvenir, and they make great charity donations later.