This is episodic season, and we’re in the thick of it. With guest-star bookings very common right now, let’s take a closer look at how they work.
Basically, there are three deal points I have to address every time a client books a guest-star role. The first is compensation. Guest stars are paid one of two ways, and the amount is based on how many days you work. So let’s use a one-hour network series like “Castle” as an example.
Each episode takes eight days to shoot. The guest stars usually work a few days during that period and are paid “top of show.” Right now, top of show on a network series like “Castle” is $7,559. (Cable’s lower because those shows work fewer days.)
What you have to understand is that even though you only work a few days, they’re buying you for the entire eight-day period. That’s why the compensation is so high. They need to know you’re available if there’s a last-minute change in the schedule.
You’re probably wondering if guest-star actors are ever paid more than top. That’s called “breaking top,” and it’s a rare thing, only done for marketable names. That means performers who can attract more eyeballs. (“Tonight, on a special episode of ‘Castle,’ Ted Danson plays a priest who’s hot under the collar!”)
Some guest stars only work one day. They’re usually characters who provide exposition. Picture a three-minute scene where Castle and Beckett talk to a doctor about a grisly murder. The actor playing that doctor is a one-day guest star, and he doesn’t get top. He’s paid a day rate. That amount is based on his quote, which means how much he received the last time he booked a similar part. Most established character actors have a one-day quote of $2,000 to $3,000.
Now here’s a sweet catch: If you’re booked as a one-day guest star but for whatever reason end up working more than one day, your contract gets bumped to top of show.
The next deal point is billing. Guest stars are always up-front in the main titles. Co-stars are listed in the end titles, which are usually in a squeezed crawl no human being can read.
There are several points of negotiation for guest-star billing. The first one is how many names will appear on the card. Naturally, I always try to get a single card. That means your name will appear onscreen all by itself during the first few minutes of the show. This is great because you can show it to your parents as justification for not going to medical school.
The next option is a shared card, which means just that. The trick is to limit the number of actors on the card. I can also negotiate position. So the final deal memo might read something like “Main title billing in first position on a shared card with no more than three names on the card.”
The third point is your dressing room. A show like “Castle” has standing sets, but most of the shooting is done on location. That means your dressing room will be in one of those large trailers you see all over town. (Google an actor named Lyle Waggoner and Star Waggons for some interesting Hollywood history.)
Guest stars are usually placed in Double or Triple Bangers. Basically, a Double is a trailer that has been divided in two and a Triple is one that has been divided in three. Naturally, a Double has more space, so that’s the goal, but a Triple is just fine. As for co-stars, they’re locked up in Honey Wagons—trailers that have been divided in four.