It's nearly impossible to go about your daily routine without some form of advertisement flashing across the screen trying to convince you to buy everything from razor subscriptions to life insurance. And, if you've ever thought to yourself, "I can do that," then you may be surprised to find out just how much commercial actors make. According to ZipRecruiter, the national average salary for a commercial actor is approximately $60,145 as of July 2020. However, if you have your sights set on the bright lights of Hollywood, you should know that how much you can expect to earn as a commercial actor will vary greatly depending upon several factors.
Union vs Non-Union Actors
Spend any amount of time looking into becoming a commercial actor and you'll likely run across the terms union and non-union. What used to be two separate labor unions that represented actors and other media personalities (the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) merged in 2012 to create SAG-AFTRA.
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According to its website, "SAG-AFTRA members make over a billion dollars working on commercials every year." Union actors are guaranteed certain benefits, such as access to health insurance, contributions to their pension plans and safer working conditions. However, SAG-AFTRA does acknowledge that recent years have seen an increase in non-union commercial gigs.
A non-union actor is just that: One who is not represented by a union. While non-union jobs are plentiful, you will typically not be paid nearly as much for a job as a union actor would. When you work in a non-union capacity, there is no established minimum amount you can be paid, so there is a risk of exploitation. Union actors, on the other hand, are guaranteed a set minimum compensation for their work that is generally much higher than a non-union rate. You also will not have benefits such as the opportunity to enroll in a healthcare plan or pension when you are a non-union actor.
What Are Residuals?
Commercial actors make a bulk of their salary with residuals. When you appear in a commercial, you receive compensation every time the commercial airs. Also known as royalties, residuals are calculated using formulas that factor in the type and length of the contract, production type and the market where the commercial airs, among other factors. If you are a non-union actor working on a non-union production, then do not expect to receive any residual payments as you are only entitled to your initial compensation.
SAG-AFTRA Pay Rates
When you're a union actor, you are guaranteed a minimum amount of money you must be paid for any given commercial or production. There are many different SAG rates, and figuring out which rate applies to you can be tedious. To find current SAG rates, you can use the search function on the SAG-AFTRA website. Entertainment payroll management software company Wrapbook also has a useful, comprehensive guide to all the various SAG rates for 2020 grouped according to contract type.
Celebrity Commercial Actors
The holy grail of commercial acting – nationwide recognition and residuals – can be extremely lucrative for an actor, with the top commercial actors earning well into the six figures and above. For example, Stephanie Courtney, better known as "Flo" from Progressive, has a net worth of $6 million dollars as of 2020. Likewise, Dean Winters, who you may recognize as the AllState "Mayhem" actor, has a reported net worth of $6 million, as well. While Winters has had other roles in Hollywood, his role as Allstate's "Mayhem" has attained him nationwide exposure and repeated airings of the commercials he appears in.