I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been cornered at a birthday party or at a playdate by moms who want to know how much kids can earn working in commercials or modeling. It’s funny to me because these are often moms who in front of a large group claim that they would never dream of getting their kids involved in acting. It’s fine though…I get it. The media has done a terrific job of painting an ugly picture of child actors. As a prior acting coach I know that it’s not always this way. I’ve seen plenty of grounded children who come from nice families who love acting and work a little here and there and still go to school as usual.
For those that are curious….here goes. First, let me address that in this blog I will only discuss pay for modeling and commercials, not television or film. Also, none of this information applies for background work (extras).
The pay for child actors is all over the map, especially in commercials. The great thing is that children earn the same rate in commercials as adults as long as their face is seen clearly in the commercial. The pay for union commercials can start at about $600. That rate is simply for shooting the spot. That may be the total earnings if the commercial never airs, the child gets cut out or the child ends up working as a backup on the day of shooting and never actually goes on camera. Again this rate is simply for shooting the spot.
Now if the commercial does air the pay will depend on if it airs nationally or regionally (specific areas like NY, Chicago & LA or TX for example), or in Spanish market, how much it airs and how long the commercial airs. I remember one of my students booked a commercial for a big fast food chain for Y2K along with his dad, sisters and grandma. Boy that family was so excited!!! They thought they hit the jackpot! Well, the commercial ended up airing for just a week since as we all remember Y2K turned out to be a “doozie”. But….hey….the family still got paid for each family member’s day of work!
I know kids who have earned $2,000 + for the run of a commercial and a couple who have earned $50,000 +. The later sounds exciting but it is not the norm! Definitely know that in advance! These days companies change their advertising campaigns so quickly that commercials don’t run as often as they used to back in the day. So to be clear- the commercial pay will depend on what channels it airs on, what time of the day, how many days it airs, how long it airs and what areas it airs in. The commercial might air nationally on prime time or it may just run on cable so the pay will vary depending. I’d say a more accurate estimate is $3,000 – $10,000 per commercial.
Non-union commercials are commercials that are not covered under the actor’s union (Screen Actors Guild). Pay on these jobs can REALLY vary from $100 to a few thousand for a buy out. A buy out means that after the company pays the upfront fee they have the right to air the commercial forever. A little scary, I’d say. In my opinion, it may be ok to work on a non-union commercial for someone just starting out but you definitely want to move on to union commercials ASAP. The Screen Actors Guild is a terrific union that takes good care of their actors, especially children.
Modeling is another way that children can earn a little college money. Please note that in this blog I am only discussing “commercial print,” not high fashion modeling. Commercial print is modeling for all shapes, ages and sizes that usually appears on coupons, a box of pasta, in store ads etc. They rate for children in commercial print is usually considerably lower than adults. Kids might make $125 hour while working 2-3 hours or might earn $1,000 for the day which is still often just a few hours for young children. Once in a while a child will earn a couple of thousand for a print campaign.
Remember that all of the numbers I am giving you are just averages. Like I said earlier, the pay always varies depending on the job. It is very important to keep in mind that while some of these numbers sounds exciting, oftentimes the family has driven to many, many auditions in order to get these jobs. Definitely take that into consideration!!! In addition, note that these are all gross numbers and the agency always needs to get paid as well as Uncle Sam.
Like in my previous acting blogs I must once again address that I highly advise parents to never discuss pay with kids. After teaching kids acting for many years I feel strongly that it does a disservice to the child. Kids should only be acting for the enjoyment of it. Great if they can get some college funds but it’s not about the pay. And if it is you may find yourself in constant frustration.
This piece follows my two previous blogs on acting, “So you are looking to get your kid into modeling or acting” and “Acting for tweens and teens.” My knowledge comes from being an actor for the last 15 years and teaching children acting for 10 + years. I owned my own acting studio and provided private coaching for professional actors. In addition, my two kids have dabbled in some modeling and acting for commercials. After the birth of my second child I retired from teaching kids. I continue to act professionally (mainly on commercials) and am co-founder of LA Moms Dig along with my lovely partner Missy.
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