With all the strike talk about low pay, WGA and SAG-AFTRA members are starting to play a little show me yours and I’ll show you mine when it comes to their (paltry) residual checks.
Just about everyone has a story to share about how their residuals took a serious nose dive with the advent of new media. A recent story in The New Yorker about how actors on the once successful Orange is the New Black never enjoyed a financial windfall only exacerbated the angst felt by actors and writers these days.
Here’s a sampling of their stories:
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Jason Belleville (Home Economics): “I wrote on the first season of Cobra Kai, which is one of the biggest shows in Netflix history. I think I have more money in my pockets right now than any residuals I’ve seen from that. I was also was an executive producer of a show for Netflix called Sneakerheads, which was a smaller show, but it premiered No. 1 one in a bunch of countries for a little while. I have yet to see $1 from that. And I was a writer and EP on that, in comparison. Some of them [broadcast shows he worked on] you can still get some money from but obviously, it’s not like it was. But there’s always a steady trickle that comes in to remind you that you once worked, right? The [residual] formats for cable and for networks are clear and transparent. Whether they’re as much as we want them to be or not, they’re at least something that you can rely on. Whereas, some of these YouTube shows, these [shows licensed to] Netflix. This whole strike is about having money you can rely on through the years so you can pay for your mortgage, you can take care of your kids, as opposed to opening an envelope and going ‘oh, it’s a nickel this time.’”
Aisha Tyler (Criminal Minds, The Last Thing He Told Me): I do a show [Whose Line Is It Anyway] that is double and triple and quadruple pumped in the United States and maybe 50 countries, and I don’t see any residuals. I know it’s been very frustrating to me and my co-stars. It’s theft. We generate all of the creative output on that show. We are the writers, we are the performers, we do everything and we don’t get compensated for it. I already I already threw a couple of temper tantrums so you can see I’m a bit more sanguine about it now but we’ve been fighting about it for years and it’s just pure and simple. It is creative theft.”
Mike Royce via Twitter (writer-producer, One Day At A Time, Men of a Certain Age): “Some people are wondering how residuals will work for this, and since One Day at a Time had the somewhat unique experience of running on streaming, cable AND network TV, I can tell you how it worked for me. In 2020, season 4 of ODAAT was on the Pop Network (cable). Later that year CBS repeated it, because it was the pandemic and they needed programming. I co-wrote an episode with Gloria Calderón Kellett so we split the residuals. For the Pop showings I got (lower) cable residuals, but the CBS repeat paid me half the network residual (exactly what it should be for a co-written episode) … For perspective, that one CBS repeat of one episode of ODAAT paid me roughly the same as I’ve been paid IN TOTAL for one episode of ODAAT streaming on Netflix 24/7 for the last 4-6 YEARS. In other words, 1 network repeat residual = 5 years of streaming residuals. This is why we’re on strike.”
Sarah Sokolovic (Big Little Lies, Homeland): “I can tell you the money I made from residuals dropped in 2015 to less than half in 2018. And the funny thing about it was I was on two, Emmy-award winning shows. It’s not on the side of the individual producers, of course. It’s really about the studios making sure that the basic contract has things in place so that actors like me benefit from their work residually over time. There was a time when I was traveling out of the country, so I had to have my mail forwarded to my mother. She was helping me with deposits, physical checks at the time. She opens a check and she goes, ‘Sarah, it’s three cents’. I said yes. She said it actually costs more to mail it.’”
Marqui Jackson (showrunner, All American: Homecoming): “Just in general, residuals are not what they used to be. You can’t depend on residuals to even begin to sustain a living in between gigs. It’s just kind of like extra money because sometimes they’re as low as a couple of bucks. I don’t think there has been a wellspring of residuals from All American: Homecoming, even though we are doing well. It is hard to fight for the right number when you don’t know what the numbers [ratings] are. That’s part of why we’re fighting because if they’re making money off on our content we should be part of it.”
John Carroll Lynch (Trial of the Chicago 7, White House Plumbers): “I’ve noticed that anything I do for streaming is not even one-tenth of the residual stream that I got for something terrible that I did. I certainly got paid more for an episode of The Visitor, which is a show I did when I first got here and only lasted one season. I got higher residuals by about 100 percent to what I get when it [was licensed to] Netflix. At some level, we’re dealing with a different group of people who have union institutional memory. Disney as a corporation has institutional memory of using unions, often much to their chagrin. That’s true of Warner Bros. and Universal. Apple, Amazon, and Netflix all come from Silicon Valley which has no institutional memory of unions. It’s time to teach them what sharing needs to be.”
Kevin Sussman (The Big Bang Theory) “For me the big issue is residuals for streaming. I’ve known that it’s been untenable for years. I was surprised that it took this long for there to be a strike like this. I’ve seen residuals for my own shows absolutely tank once they go to streaming. I’m lucky because I was on The Big Bang Theory, which was on a broadcast network for years. Since it moved to streaming [like Max and Amazon Prime], it’s night and day. I don’t see how it’s possible for an upcoming actor these days to actually be able to make a living.”
Charlie Barnett (Men in Black 3, Russian Doll): I have those check stories of like $9 coming out. Twenty years ago, if I had the career that I have today, it would be entirely different. I can’t afford to buy a house. We just moved into a smaller place in order to start saving. It would be improper to say that I don’t have a certain amount of privilege in the position that I am. I have to recognize that. But us in these positions in of height, have all the ability to fight for the people who are under us, who are still climbing. Just the background deal that they said is historically different is bullshit. I started out in background. Are you going to tell me that I’m going to sell my image in perpetuity to a studio? It’s insane. What happens to my career for the rest of my life? It doesn’t provide any safety, any protection, any ability for growth for what this industry is, for what it’s always been. These contracts that we have built off of network television have stood for so long. We have not seen any growth through the streaming platforms. It’s kind of the Wild West. The conversation point in saying over and over again, the industry we are funding and continuing to put millions and millions of dollars into, is not profiting us. It’s BS. It’s also mirrored in the fact that half of these execs, their pay is raising continually, year and year. We have not seen growth on our side. And through the writers as well.”
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