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Actors, Producers, and Directors - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
As the reputations and box-office draw of actors, producers, and directors grow, some of them work on bigger budget productions, on network or syndicated broadcasts, in more prestigious theaters, or in larger markets. Actors may advance to lead roles and receive star billing. A few actors move into acting-related jobs, becoming drama coaches, directors, or producers. Some actors teach drama privately or in colleges and universities.

In May 2008, actors, producers, and directors held about 155,100 jobs, primarily in the motion picture and video, performing arts, and broadcast industries. This statistic does not capture large number of actors, producers, and directors who were available for work but were between jobs during the month in which data were collected. About 21 percent of actors, producers, and directors were self-employed.

Employment in motion pictures and in films for television is centered in New York and Los Angeles. However, small studios exist throughout the country. Many films are shot on location and may employ local professional and nonprofessional actors. In television, opportunities are concentrated in the network centers of New York and Los Angeles, but cable television services and local television stations around the country also employ many actors, producers, and directors.

Employment in the theater, and in other performing arts companies, is cyclical—higher in the fall and spring seasons—and concentrated in New York and other major cities with large commercial houses for musicals and touring productions. Also, many cities support established professional regional theaters that operate on a seasonal or year-round basis.

Actors, producers, and directors may find work in summer festivals, on cruise lines, and in theme parks. Many smaller, nonprofit professional companies, such as repertory companies, dinner theaters, and theaters affiliated with drama schools, acting conservatories, and universities, provide employment opportunities for local amateur talent and professional entertainers. Auditions typically are held in New York for many productions across the country and for shows that go on the road.

Job Outlook
Employment is expected to grow as fast as the average for all occupations. Competition for jobs will be keen. Although a growing number of people aspire to enter these professions, many will leave the field early because the work—when it is available—is hard, the hours are long, and the pay is often low.

Job Growth
Employment in these occupations is expected to grow 11 percent during the 2008–18 decade, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Expanding cable and satellite television operations and increasing box-office receipts of major studio and independent films will increase the need for workers. Additionally, a rising demand for U.S. films in other countries should create more employment opportunities for actors, producers, and directors. Also fueling job growth is the continued development of interactive media, online movies, and mobile content produced for cell phones or other portable electronic devices. Attendance at live theater performances should continue to be steady, and drive employment of stage actors, producers and directors. However, station consolidation may restrict employment opportunities in the broadcasting industry for producers and directors.

Competition for acting jobs is intense, as the number of actors auditioning for roles greatly exceeds the number of parts that become available. Only performers with the most stamina and talent will find regular employment.

Venues for live entertainment, such as theaters, touring productions, and repertory theaters in many major metropolitan areas, as well as theme parks and resorts, are expected to offer many job opportunities. However, prospects in these venues are variable because they fluctuate with economic conditions.

Many of the most successful actors, producers, and directors have extraordinarily high earnings, but many more of these professionals, faced with erratic earnings, supplement their income by holding jobs in other fields.

Median hourly wages of actors were $16.59 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $9.81 and $29.57. Median hourly wages were $14.48 in performing arts companies and $28.72 in the motion picture and video industry. Annual wage data for actors were not available because of the wide variation in the number of hours worked by actors and the short-term nature of many jobs, which may last for 1 day or 1 week; it is extremely rare for actors to have guaranteed employment that exceeds 3 to 6 months.

Median annual wages of producers and directors were $64,430 in 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $41,890 and $105,070. Median annual wages were $85,940 in the motion picture and video industry and $55,380 in radio and television broadcasting.

Minimum salaries, hours of work, and other conditions of employment are often covered in collective bargaining agreements between the producers and the unions representing workers. While these unions generally determine minimum salaries, any actor or director may negotiate for a salary higher than the minimum.

A joint agreement between the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) guarantees all unionized motion picture and television actors with speaking parts a minimum daily rate of $782 or $2,713 for a 5-day week as of June 2009. Actors also receive contributions to their health and pension plans and additional compensation for reruns and foreign telecasts of the productions in which they appear.

Some well-known actors earn well above the minimum; their salaries are many times the figures cited here, creating the false impression that all actors are highly paid. For example, of the nearly 100,000 SAG members, only about 50 might fall into this category. The average income that SAG members earn from acting is low because employment is sporadic and most actors must supplement their incomes by holding jobs in other occupations.

Actors Equity Association (AEA), which represents stage actors, has negotiated minimum weekly salary requirements for their members. Salaries vary depending on the theater or venue the actor is employed in. Many stage directors belong to the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers (SSDC), and most film and television directors belong to the Directors Guild of America. Earnings of stage directors vary greatly. The SSDC usually negotiates salary contracts which include royalties (additional income based on the number of performances) with smaller theaters. Regional theaters may hire directors for longer periods, increasing compensation accordingly. The highest paid directors work on Broadway; in addition to their contract fee, they also receive payment in the form of royalties—a negotiated percentage of gross box-office receipts—that can exceed the contract fee for long-running box-office successes.

Stage producers seldom receive a set fee; instead, they get a percentage of a show's earnings or ticket sales.

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