A Guide to SAG Residuals

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Photo Source: “Friends: The Reunion” Courtesy of HBO Max

If you’ve ever felt guilty for indulging in your 100th comfort rewatch of “The Office,” it may help to know that your time becoming reacquainted with Michael Scott’s antics likely helped support your fellow actor. SAG residuals allow principal performers to earn a percentage of their original salary—around $300,000 per episode for Steve Carell, who portrayed paper company regional manager Scott—whenever the project airs. Here’s a breakdown of how SAG residuals work, who earns them, and how much you can expect to get paid for reruns.


What is a residual check?

Residual checkAndrey_Popov/Shutterstock

The SAG residuals check is an ongoing compensation payment granted to both members and nonmembers who work on SAG-AFTRA contracts for continued use of a project beyond its original scope. For example, if a film was made for theatrical release, principal performers would receive residuals from DVD and digital sales, TV showings, and streaming services.

“Residuals are compensation paid to performers for use of a theatrical motion picture or television program beyond the use covered by initial compensation,” according to SAG-AFTRA. “For TV work, residuals begin once a show starts re-airing or is released to video/DVD, pay television, broadcast TV, basic cable, or new media. For film work, residuals begin once the movie appears on video/DVD, basic cable and free or pay television, or new media.” 

Commercial residues are sent from payroll companies rather than by SAG-AFTRA.

Who earns SAG residuals?


Only principal performers receive SAG royalties; background actors don’t receive residual checks. Principal performers include:

  • Principal speaking roles
  • Professional singers
  • Stunt performers
  • Stunt coordinators
  • Pilots
  • Schedule J dancers
  • Puppeteers

Others who receive residuals include:

  • Directors
  • Unit production managers
  • First and second assistant directors
  • Credited writers

When are SAG residuals paid?

Residuals are due according to the following schedule posted by SAG-AFTRA:

Made for television, then released to: 

  • Network primetime: 30 days after air date 
  • Non-primetime network: 30 days after air date 
  • Syndication: four months after air date
  • Foreign free TV: no later than 30 days after producer obtains knowledge of the first foreign telecast and never later than six months after that first telecast
  • Basic cable: quarterly when the producer receives revenue
  • Supplemental markets: four months after initial exhibition, then quarterly when the producer receives revenue

Made for theatrical, then released to: 

  • Network primetime: 30 days after initial broadcast, then quarterly when the producer receives revenue
  • Free TV, non-network: four months after initial broadcast, then quarterly when the producer receives revenue
  • Supplemental markets: four months after initial exhibition, then quarterly when the producer receives revenue

It usually takes between 30 and 60 days to process a residual payment. If you feel you are missing a residuals payment, log into your SAG-AFTRA account and enter the residuals portal. From there, you can check your status and request a review.

How much do actors get paid for reruns?

Will & Grace


Actor royalty payments can range from nothing (like with the stars of “The Brady Bunch”) to millions (like with the stars of “Friends”) from show reruns. Payment amount depends on several factors including:

  • What was established in the contract
  • Time spent working on the production
  • Production type and where it’s aired
  • Project runtime, budget, and revenue
  • Performer role in the production

“Calculation of residuals is remarkably complex,” explains entertainment lawyer and former child actor Jeff Cohen (“The Goonies”). “Residuals are based on formulas that take into account such things as the contract in place during the production, the time spent on the production, the production type, and the market where the product appears, whether it be television, video or DVD, pay television, or basic cable.”

Here’s what the stars of some of the top shows earn in residuals:

  • “Friends”: $20 million per year
  • “Seinfeld”: $400 million per syndication cycle
  • “Will & Grace”: $250,000 per episode
  • “Everybody Loves Raymond”: $18 million per year

Of course, most performers find that they can’t make a living simply off cashing in their residual check. For example, Reece Thompson earns a few hundred dollars per year for his residuals from a small role in “Titanic,” and 50 Cent receives just over $16 annually for reruns of his cameo appearance on “The Simpsons.”

TV royalties vs. film royalties

For television, SAG-AFTRA pays residuals to principal performers for episode reruns starting with the program’s second broadcast or transition to new media service. Residual payments experience diminishing returns until the 13th rerun. By the 13th rerun, the royalty amount is reduced to 5% of the actor’s original payment, and goes on in perpetuity, never dipping below that amount. For projects put up on new media, or streaming services, the 13th “rerun” is counted as the 13th year of streaming.

For film, performers receive residuals for anything that goes beyond the original intention for the production, such as videos/DVDs, downloads, and screenings on streaming services that fall outside of the original distribution avenue. Film royalties percentages range, but generally fall between 1% and 20%.

Not sure what to do with a smaller residual check? Residuals Tavern in Studio City “will give any actor a free drink in exchange for a residual check, as long as that check is $1 or less,” Cohen advises. There’s no need to let a cent—or a sip—of your residuals go to waste.

Do actors get residuals after death?

You may be wondering what happens to royalties after death. Residual payments don’t stop upon an actor’s demise, since they’re legally considered personal property. Instead, residual checks will usually be sent to the actor’s SAG-AFTRA beneficiary, an individual or individuals named by the actor to receive ongoing payments. Alternatively, the actor could name a trust to receive their residual payments after death—or, if no beneficiary is named, then state inheritance law will dictate which family member will receive the payments. Posthumous residual payments follow the same schedule and amount as during an actor’s life.

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