How Much Does a New Actor Make?

by Johnny Kilhefner
Most working actors aren't rich and famous, but they do have the opportunity to make a good living.

Most working actors aren't rich and famous, but they do have the opportunity to make a good living.

Becoming an actor doesn't necessarily mean fame and fortune, but new actors do enjoy certain working conditions and compensation if they're members of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Actors perform in theater, radio, television, film and video games. Job stability is a problem; many new actors have trouble finding steady work or work irregular schedules. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, actors held 56,500 jobs in 2008, mainly in New York and Los Angeles, and earned an average $29.05 an hour.


SAG-AFTRA has more than 165,000 members, including actors, announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers, news writers, directors, program hosts, recording artists and voice-over artists. The union commits itself to organizing work for its clients under its own terms, providing optimal wages, working conditions and health and pension benefits. New members must pay dues calculated annually and paid in two installments. SAG-AFTRA provides a loan of $3,099 to pay its initiation fee in monthly payments ranging from $142.18 to $150.17. All members pay 1.575 percent of their contract earnings to SAG-AFTRA on contracts of $500,000 or less, as well as an additional annual fee of $198.

Membership Benefits

New actors may benefit from SAG-AFTRA membership, despite its hefty fees, via access to vital resources. For instance, members have access to the SAG Conservatory and acting lessons from professionals working, or who have worked, in the industry. Actors also get access to casting workshops where they learn to read scripts for auditions and work with actual casting directors. Members may also organize low-budget productions using union and nonunion actors through the SAGIndie service.

Performer Rates

SAG-AFTRA secures the best minimum wages for its performers. Day performers, who work on a production for a single day, earn minimum rates of $490 to $609.50 a day. Performers working for a half-day earn from $318.50 to $396.50. Three-day performers earn between $1,233 to $1,520.50 total for all three days. Actors working on a weekly basis, for five days, earn $1,721.50 to $2,131.50. Guaranteed overtime rates are $968.50 for day performers, $2,906 for three-day performers and $3,228.50 for weekly performers.


New actors who worked on a TV production that re-airs or is released on DVD, pay TV, broadcast TV, basic cable or new media earn residual payments. Residuals are payments beyond initial compensation based on the actor's contract and reuse of a production. Film actors earn residuals when a movie's released on DVD or Blu-ray, cable, pay TV and new media.

About the Author

Johnny Kilhefner is a writer with a focus on technology, design and marketing. Writing for more than five years, he has contributed to Writer's Weekly, PopMatters, Bridged Design and APMP, among many other outlets.

Photo Credits

  • Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images