June 8, 2016

Here's What Cast and Crew Really Earn on a $200 Million Blockbuster Budget

Ever wondered where all that money goes?

Hollywood accounting has long been a black box. In fact, until the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack in November of 2014, there was next to no verified information on blockbuster salaries available to the public. (That didn't stop journalists from positing up a storm.)

Now, thanks to Vanity Fair, you can rest assured that the Hollywood hierarchy is alive and well. In the video below, VF estimates the breakdown of a $200 million blockbuster. Unsurprisingly, above-the-line talent scores the biggest paycheck; Lead Actors 1, 2, and 3 comprise 9% of the film's entire budget. But the director, producers, editor, DP, and lead writers don't fare too badly, either, each earning $1 million or above.

Some surprises: CG artists can make nearly as much as the executive producers, if not more ($1.2 million), with modelers and animators not far behind (around $900k). But don't confuse the modeler with the model-maker, who appears to earn the least amount of below-the-line dough ($7k).

While $200 million is a fair calculation of the average blockbuster budget, it's worth noting that budgets can vary wildly. Pirates of the Caribbean 3, the most expensive film made to date, cost $378 million. Meanwhile, each movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy cost around $93 million. Films that are not part of a franchise, like The Grand Budapest Hotel, Southpaw, and Sicario, tend to clock in closer to $30 million.

Movies that do cost $200 million are notable job creators. Monsters University ($200 million) created 1,117 jobs. Similarly, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug ($225 million) created 1,153 jobs.

Studios calculate production overhead at 15% of final production costs.

The breakdown

  • Director: $4 mil
  • Executive Producers: $1.1 mil
  • Producers: $1 mil
  • Writers (3 tiers): $3.2 mil, $900k, $250k
  • DP: $900k
  • Production Designer: $779k
  • Editor: $924k
  • Costume Designer: $315k
  • Original Score/Composer: $800k
  • Lead Actor 1: $12 mil
  • Lead Actor 2: $4.5 mil
  • Lead Actor 3: $1.5 mil
Credit: Vanity Fair
Credit: Vanity Fair

Your Comment

25 Comments

Wait... you mean even after Jennifer Lawrence's little tirade against inequality, all actors STILL don't get paid the same? And the top star of a movie -- who works for 2 or 3 months and is responsible for the income of no one other than his accountant and publicist -- makes as much as the CEO of General Motors (who is responsible for the entire corporate well-being and livelihood of hundreds of thousands of workers worldwide, millions of sub-contractors and vendors, and millions of investors)? And yet no one makes memes about the inequality of an actor's pay compared to a PA?

June 8, 2016 at 3:04PM, Edited June 8, 3:08PM

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Zan Shin
395

You get to earn that much when you pull in nearly a billion dollars in revenue over two weekends. No one would see the film in the first place if it didn't have someone that everyone knows in it.

Yes, they are in a way responsible for a great many people. Every person that works on the film benefits from them lending their star power to it. Is that a bit crap? yes. But them's the facts.

June 8, 2016 at 3:46PM, Edited June 8, 3:51PM

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RobT
88

"No one would see the film in the first place if it didn't have someone that everyone knows in it." - So nobody saw The Blair Witch Project, Super 8, Napoleon Dynamite, Paranormal Activity??? The list goes on. Some people want to see the film because they want to see it, not because it has someone everyone knows. Look at all of Johnny Depp's flops such as Rum Diary, Mortdecai, and The Lone Ranger. And all of De Niro's flops, and again, the list goes on.

June 10, 2016 at 8:21AM

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Daniel Wiles
Writer
140

Creating a film with an enormous budget 10's-100's millions is a huge gamble from the studios POV. Every decision they make can impact the films success. With that being said, the likely hood of a film with an A list actor and/or director flopping is far less likely then one with a no name talent. Regarding your list I have no clue why you put Super 8 that was directed by J.J and produced by Spielberg next to the other films. Also those films you mentioned were all created for far less then a million dollars. Blair Witch and Pananormal were made for under 100k. The success of those films was a total fluke

June 11, 2016 at 7:02PM

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Emil
Content
148

I think he it ironically because Jennifer Lawrence was saying she was getiing paid less because she was a girl. No, you get paid less because you said yes and signed the contract. You need to barter to get paid more. And if your name and face is worth it, they will pay you more, man or woman. But you can't just accept the first offer and then complain that you got less because you were a woman.

June 20, 2016 at 7:01PM, Edited June 20, 7:02PM

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1) Every film is it's own animal. And this Vanity Fair video is very very very random in it's numbers. There are MAYBE fifteen actors/actresses in the Western World that get that much money. This whole exercise is with out proper context or perspective. You should take it with a grain of salt.

2) If you have issues with how much anyone gets paid to do anything, you issue is with the free market system. Not the profession itself.

June 8, 2016 at 4:03PM

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mrv
81

Yeah, these are super random numbers. I feel like Vanity Fair didn't even do any homework on salaries in the film industry.

June 8, 2016 at 4:45PM

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Wynton Marsalis spoke at my graduation a number of years ago. He said when he was touring with Dizzy Gillespie and just before a show one night, he decided to complain to Dizzy about what he was getting paid. Dizzy pointed from the wings out at the audience, and said, "Wynton, look out at that crowd. How many of those people are going to leave if you don't walk out on the stage to play tonight. . . . Now, how many of them are going to leave if I don't play tonight. That's why you're gettin' paid what you're gettin' paid."

June 8, 2016 at 5:28PM

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Michael Markham
Actor/Filmmaker
972

I think you got wrong about modelers and animators. The amount of money is for the whole crew of modelers/ or animators, not just one guy.

June 8, 2016 at 3:17PM, Edited June 8, 3:19PM

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You're right, I mean have we already forgotten the green screen protest in support of the VFX artists of Life of Pi? These guy barely make anything.

June 8, 2016 at 3:43PM

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yeah, that's definitely the billed modeling or animation BUDGET that the VFX house billed. That figure is split over upwards 200-300 people.

And even that figure doesn't go directly to the artists. They get paid either a yearly salary or contract wage and are let go after the show. Yearly income for a VFX artist floats around mid 5 to maybe, maybe low six figures for a senior artist.

June 8, 2016 at 3:49PM

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RobT
88

Yea it's usually a salaried position. Plus they VFX house is running 2, 3, 10 projects at the same time? So it all overall goes into the pot. From there the pay is spread out.

June 8, 2016 at 5:15PM

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Timur Civan
Director of Photography

I don't know where they go some of the information but I've been working as a CG modeler for the last 20 years on blockbuster movies and I can tell you that no modeler makes 840K. 84k is more likely. And that's for mid-level. Senior level can go up to 120k but no way 840k.

June 8, 2016 at 4:22PM

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yep - these VFX numbers are WAY off...and having listings for "Digital Artist" and specific jobs doesn't make any sense - "Digital Artist" is a catch-all, usually on shows that had VFX studios that are a part of unions (because if you are a "Technical Director" the DGA doesn't like that - so you get called a Digital Aritist)...other shows just list the people within their proper category.

June 8, 2016 at 8:00PM

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Michael Goldfarb
Senior Technical Director - Side Effects
237

Missing a few major key positions on big shoots like these. DMX Board Op and DIT I Did not see. They Usually get close or over 100K

June 8, 2016 at 4:38PM

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Mike Mack
DMX TECH
166

Hmm, a cat makes $12,000 dollars on set. I guess I should spit in everyones coffee tomorrow and tell them all to **** off because I'm gonna be the biggest cat in hollywood baby!

Edit* Oups nevermind a cat makes $13,000 not $12,000. My mistake

June 9, 2016 at 3:16AM, Edited June 9, 3:19AM

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Frogy
Director / Shooter / Cutter
358

Give that man a cookie :)

June 9, 2016 at 3:43AM

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Benjamin Del Castillo
Visual Artist / Filmmaker
81

nice post google

June 9, 2016 at 3:19AM

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whatev.

June 9, 2016 at 9:26AM, Edited June 9, 9:52AM

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owen
81

No way a 1st AD and stunt coordinator are making the same. The gaffer makes half a 1st AD. I just don't see it. I appreciate the effort.

June 9, 2016 at 3:07PM

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Taylor
Producer
88

Not sure this information is completely accurate or relevant, 'cause there are far bigger earners in the picture. Financing costs are usually 40-60 percent of a blockbusters budget. So before anything has started/the first day of principal photography, agents and bankers and so already have gotten their fair share.

June 9, 2016 at 4:31PM

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Rene Hazekamp
documentary filmmaker
81

So do amounts like $315k for the costume designer also pay for whatever team she hires or is that a separate line item?

June 10, 2016 at 4:20PM

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I'm curious to see how it breaks down into an overall hourly rate for each position. How much time was spent behind the scenes in prep or post. How many movies per year do these people need to work on to survive?

We like to complain about lead actor salaries, but we don't take into account the extreme emotional, mental and physical stress they endure for a role. It's far more complex than simply showing up and doing a job like most of the positions off screen. I developed a healthy respect for them after some college acting classes and learning the risks they take for our enjoyment. Rip on Tom Cruise all you want, but the guy has some guts.

June 11, 2016 at 12:26AM, Edited June 11, 12:37AM

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Ryan Gudmunson
Recreational Filmmaker
299

What I miss are the shooting days and the rates per hour. To read a breakdown properly you have to know the daily rates and shooting days. An excellent book about Filmbudgets is from Deke Simon and is called Film + Video budgets.

Harry Dzumhur

June 11, 2016 at 5:13AM

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Harry Dzumhur
Actor/ Filmmaker/ producer
1

Amazing amounts of money they pay.....never knew you would earn almost 1 million dollars as a main Editor or over 170k as a Steadicam operator. Crazy lol.....the diffences in the amount paid are really huge.

June 12, 2016 at 3:39PM

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Lutte Kikker
Photographer
244

I knew that a good steadicam operator could charge 2000 to 3000 Euros per day even in television and commercials. However a good rig is pretty expensive, too, so...
I also knew that the big shot editors at Arri in Munich can get about the same 2k to 3k Euros per day, but only on bigger projects.

June 20, 2016 at 6:53PM

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