Tips on Determining Talent Rates Accurately

Determining what an actor or model costs is about as simple as advanced trigonometry. There are many variables that must be factored in before setting a rate. Typically you’ll be working with an agent who represents the talent, and you’ll have to provide that agent with a lot of information before you can even start. Plus, many actors, actresses, and models are SAG or AFTRA members which means you’ll pay even more in order to cover the union dues. Also, you’ll want to remember that most agents add 10% on top of an actor’s fees. In fact, Variety magazine has dubbed agents with the nickname “10 Percenters.”

Hiring Talent for Video

How will the video be used? Is it for television, web, internal corporate meetings, a convention floor, in-store? It may be one of these or a combination of many of these. The price can go up with each format.

How big is the audience? For a television ad you must convey if your production will air locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally with the price going up for each. For web videos, it may be required that you provide an average “visitor” count.

What is the length of the video? Is this a 60 second spot or a 30 minute show? If it’s a web video or corporate presentation, where you’re not required to meet an exact time, you need to have a rough idea of the total running time or TRT.

Are there any conflicts? This is a question you need to ask the agent. If you’re producing a spot for a bank or a hospital, those clients may require exclusivity rights with an actor, meaning an actor or model may not appear in commercials for competing brands.

Speaking or non-speaking role?  Speaking actors are paid more than non-speaking actors. And extras, people who fill in the background with no specific actions for camera (such as dancers on a dance floor, people walking by on a street, etc.) are paid even less. In fact many people will volunteer to be extras for free!

How long will the video be running? Is this a 13 week run? Do you need it for a year? This needs to be determined as well. However, you do have options if you don’t want to commit to a finite amount of time. You can request a “buy out” which means you pay a higher price for use of the video indefinitely. Also, if you commit to a year, but after a year you decide you want to continue to run a spot, you need only contact an agent and renegotiate.

Hiring Talent for Print

With print you’re looking at many of the same parameters. However, usage fees are usually in addition to an hourly rate.

How will the image be used? Is this for packaging? A billboard? Magazine or newspaper ad? Website?

How long will you be using the image? The running periods for print are different from that of television. Typically agencies will negotiate usage fees for 1, 3, 5, and 10 years. Again, it is possible to get a buy out agreement, or a limited buy out where you can use the images forever but only within specific applications.

Hiring Voice Over Talent

VO talent has its own special set of guidelines.

How long is the script? Is this a 30 minute show or a 30 second commercial.

Are there cutdowns? A cutdown is a shorter version of a commercial. So if you start with a 60 second commercial, you may also cut a 30, 20, or 10 out of it as well. 

Are there tags? Tags are different endings applied to the same spot. In the case of television promos, you might hear different tags like “Tonight at 8:00,” or “Coming up next.”

Some agencies may charge you for each tag as well as each cutdown. However, if you plan to use the same VO talent for many projects, you may be able to negotiate a flat rate for a promo or commercial package which includes any amount of cutdowns and tags for one spot concept.

Even once you’ve filled in all the blanks, there are other factors which can affect an actor’s pay such as the prestige or reputation of the agency, how popular a particular actor may be, and how far a talent travels to get to a job.  Just remember the basic rule of thumb: “Bigger usually means more expensive.” A bigger role, a bigger audience, a bigger running time, a bigger script all drive the price of actors and models up in your production so budget accordingly. And remember to always get a release form and keep it forever!