We know blockbuster movies come with huge budgets. But where does all that money actually go?
To make that movie a blockbuster, a lot goes into advertising, to be sure. And sets, costumes and high-tech gadgets don’t come cheap, either.
But a lot of that budget goes into the hands of the people involved, too — more than you might guess.
Vanity Fair recently broke down how much everyone working on a $200 million movie earns, based on a hypothetical blockbuster budget, and presented it in the most epic way possible.
Vanity Fair notes this disclaimer: “Not every budget breakdown is the same, and some roles are subject to wider fluctuations than others. This is here to serve as approximations based on a hypothetical film which has never been made.”
If you’re not sure what a $200 million movie looks like, here are some reference points: This summer’s “Ghostbusters” reboot comes with a $154 million price tag, “Batman v. Superman” cost $250 million, “The Jungle Book” $175 million and “Finding Dory” is estimated at Pixar’s typical budget between $175 million and $200 million.
You won’t be surprised to learn there’s a huge range in actor pay, even among the leads. The top-billed talent can make or break a movie, and the people negotiating their pay know that.
The top three actors in this hypothetical blockbuster earn $12 million, $4.5 million and $1.5 million.
The range for supporting actors is just as wide, from $10,000 to $400,000. The “best friend” role is listed as earning $75,000.
Day players — supporting actors with small speaking roles who are hired by the day — earn between $2,000 and $20,000.
Extras earn $148 each, just a little over a typical day rate around $100.
Some fun surprises: One day player is listed as “had a scene with the female lead but was cut,” earning $1,920. Kind of a bummer, but not a bad paycheck for a day’s work.
There is a cat listed in this hypothetical film, who made $13,000, in case you were wondering if there’s a way to get your pets to earn their keep.
Writer, Director and Crew Pay
What about the faces behind the scenes? Some roles you probably recognize earn the most:
- Director: $4 million
- Producers: $1 million each
- Writers: $250,000 to $3.25 million each
- Editor: $924,000
Even those positions you rarely think about when choosing which movie to see — unless you’re a major movie buff — earn a pretty penny from these films.
- Production Designer: $779,688
- Costume Designer: $315,000
- Camera operators: between $50,000 and $100,000 each
- Assistant Editors and apprentices: about $100,000 each
If you’ve ever spent a minute skimming the credits, you’ve probably seen some of these weird titles that sound a little risque but totally are not. Here’s what they do and how much they make:
This hypothetical film’s Gaffer — chief electrician on the set — makes $125,468.
The Best Boy, second in command to the Gaffer, earns $64,475. I’m just going to throw this out there, Hollywood: “assistant gaffer.”
The Key Grip — who supervises the grips, who are team members responsible for building and maintaining the equipment that holds the cameras — makes $113,920. Grips make between $20,000 and $60,000.
Production Assistants (PAs), the entry-level players who do everything from paperwork to crowd control to hauling equipment, will earn between $15,000 and $30,000.
This blockbuster’s Parking Coordinator, who organizes the PAs who keep the streets clear for filming on location, earns $35,040. However, those parking PAs are among the lowest paid on the set, making about $125 for a 12-hour shift, the New York Times reported in 2006.
How much can you make working on a movie set? These blockbuster numbers are pretty spectacular, but they’re not typical of most workers’ pay in the business, even in Hollywood.
Compare these numbers with the scale pay for actors set by the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG-AFTRA). A day player would earn a minimum of $933 per day, with a longer contract earning a weekly performer $3,239 per week.
For a low-budget film, cut those rates almost in half. Still, even for a 12-hour day, that rate comes out to about $40 per hour.
Show business isn’t the worst business to be in… as long as you’re working.
Your Turn: Have you ever worked on a movie set? What was it like?
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).