SAG members’ earnings jump

Performers in the Screen Actors Guild reported a record $1.52 billion in earnings last year, a nearly 12% jump from the previous year and the largest increase reported by members this decade.

The earnings figures, released Thursday, show an especially large jump in income among actors in theatrical films and television shows, an indicator of the overall health of the industry.

Overall, earnings for SAG work — including salaries and residuals for everything from acting on sitcoms to working in industrial projects — grew by $158 million from 1995, when earnings totaled $1.36 billion. Income for thesps has risen about 36% since 1990.

Extras saw the greatest increase in their overall income, which climbed almost 32% to $61.1 million across all ar-eas.

But by type of project worked, the largest percentage increase was in earnings for theatrical motion pictures, where income rose 22% to $402.9 million.

And while star salaries have escalated, the earnings figures reflect only what is reported to the SAG-Producers Pension and Health Plans. Producers contribute to the plan based on a percentage of an actor’s earnings up to vari-ous caps. On motion pictures, for example, the cap is $200,000, meaning that the income above that figure is not reported. So even if a star made $20 million for a picture, only $200,000 of that would be included in the SAG fig-ures.

Earnings for television programs — which make up the largest source of income for SAG members — saw a 10% jump to $527.4 million. Commercial earnings rose 5.5% to $516 million.

‘Good news’

“This is clearly good news reflecting significant growth in production, and we certainly hope the trend is an indicator of continued expanded employment opportunities for our members,” SAG president Richard Masur said in a statement. “Overall, the significant earnings increases in our major contracts indicate a very healthy employ-ment outlook for performers.”

The only sector that dropped was in work on industrial films and videos. Earnings in that area declined almost 25% in 1996, to $10.5 million. SAG officials said that they anticipated the drop in that sector.

And as such a new and even experimental segment of the marketplace, interactive projects still make up a small share of earnings. Income did increase 3% during the year, to $2.1 million. Combined, industrial and interactive projects make up less than 1% of income for members.

Robust earnings

The industry’s unions have generally reported robust earnings in recent years, including scribes in the Writ-ers Guild of America and performers in the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Both are ex-pected to release their earnings figures soon. And below-the-line talent reported a record number of hours worked in 1996. (The Directors Guild of America does not generally release breakdowns of earnings.)

Television work makes up 34.7% of the income earned by members, followed by commercials at 33.9%, and the-atricals at 26.5%.

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