Actors, producers and directors each play different roles in the creation of a play, film, radio-television program or other performance. Actors interpret a writer’s script and play characters. Producers are in charge of the production from a business standpoint and sometimes pay for the project. Directors supervise the performance details, including cast selection, sets and the actors.
A few actors and directors become famous for their work and earn huge salaries. Many struggle to earn a living from the profession and often must take on outside jobs. For an actor, winning a role even in a small production can be fiercely competitive.
The pay of actors, producers and directors is based on their ability to land projects, their personal power to attract audiences and the part of the industry in which they work.
Despite the huge income of a few Hollywood stars, most actors struggle to earn consistent pay and often work at other jobs to make ends meet. About 50 of almost 100,000 members of the Screen Actors Guild, for example, earn high salaries.*
The median hourly wage for actors was $16.20 in May 2009 and half of them earned between $10.18 and $29.33 an hour, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average wage for actors in the motion picture industry was $47.70 an hour and it was $21.12 an hour for those in performing arts companies.*
For producers and directors, the median wage was $32.08 an hour and half of them earned hourly wages between $20.62 and $53.49. The film industry had the highest hourly wage of $52.20 while performing arts companies had the lowest of $27.12.*
Most actors who work in films and television are union members and in June 2009 their contract specified minimum pay of $782 a day or $2,713 per five-day week for speaking parts.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Training and Education Requirements
Many actors receive training by earning a bachelor’s degree in drama or acting. They perform in high school, college and community plays. They participate in acting workshops or hire a personal coach. Actors also may pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree, which is offered through more than 150 programs and includes courses in writing plays, directing and set design.
Besides formal training, other characteristics such as performance ability, creativity and talent also are valued in hiring actors and directors. Some actors begin their film careers as movie extras, which is a difficult path and requires getting listed by major studios.
Producers and directors usually have prior experience as actors or in other stage and film jobs. Producers, who may start out in theatrical marketing or as business managers, can earn college degrees in management of arts or non-profit organizations, although no formal training is required.
Job Descriptions and Outlook
Besides high profile jobs in film and television, actors also perform in theme parks, community theater productions and nightclubs. They work on cruise ships and at festivals. Actors appear in radio and television commercials or provide voices for books on tape or documentary films. Due to the difficulty earning a consistent salary from acting, some actors teach drama in high schools, colleges or other programs.
Directors select cast members through auditions and supervise rehearsals. They decide upon the music, costumes and set design. Large productions often have assistant directors with specific duties such as giving cues to the actors on their lines and movements.
Producers arrange financing, select projects and set a budget for the production. They also hire the director as well as cast and crew members. On larger projects, there often are assistant or associate producers with specific duties.
There were 56,100 acting jobs in 2008 and the number is expected to grow 13 percent by 2018, although competition will continue to be intense for the best and highest paying roles. A 10 percent increase in jobs is expected for producers and directors above the 98,600 jobs in 2008.*
Growth in jobs for actors, producers and directors will be spurred by increases in interactive media, online and mobile phone content; satellite and cable television expansion; and greater worldwide film distribution. Economic conditions will have an impact on funding for productions.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Actors, producers and directors do not need certification or licensing to qualify for their jobs. Anyone can be hired for these jobs based on talent and creativity, although those with formal training and experience clearly have an edge for more important roles. Professional stage, film and television actors are required to be union members.
Unions for actors negotiate with producers to set minimum pay standards. The largest unions are the Screen Actors Guild for film actors, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists for radio and television performers and the Actors Equity Association, which represents stage actors.
Other professional associations such as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences sponsor the annual Academy and Emmy awards for the best performances. Local and regional academies also sponsor similar awards.