How Actors Should Approach Salary Negotiation

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Photo Source: Photo by Stephan Henning on Unsplash

So you’ve gone through the hoops and loops, fought your way to the top, and booked yourself a job. Congratulations! That’s fantastic. But here’s the tricky partyou want to, nay, need to negotiate your pay.  

I know it can be tough to feel empowered enough as an actor to ask for what you deserve. When famine is all you’ve known for such a long time, feast gets to be a little bit scary. I get it. But it shouldn’t be! 

As long as you stay professional, respectful, and reasonable, not much can go wrong! In my experience, production companies respect actors who speak up for themselves and set boundaries around what is an acceptable fee and what is not.  

Before we begin, let’s briefly explore how things are different for actors in the United States versus Europe. It’s worth noting that in the U.S. it’s less common for actors to negotiate their pay personally. Most of the time we have representation that handles these matters for us. In parts of Europe on the other hand, it’s much more common for actors to work without reps and to go through payment directly with casting. For those that are represented any discussion of a raise should go through your reps as they’ll be handling the negotiation with production. If you don’t have representation, follow these helpful guidelines below.  

Also, don’t procrastinate! I’d advise anyone who wants to negotiate their salary not to wait until the very last minute. It puts an unnecessary strain on casting, who may have assumed you’re OK with the listed payment. This of course depends on the situation at hand. 

Now then! When asking for a raise, you want to keep the four B’s in mind: 

Be Reasonable
And what’s a huge part of being reasonable? Knowing what’s reasonable. This brings me to my second point...

Be Prepared
Us thespians are rarely business-minded but knowing industry standards for various types of productions and situations is an important part of negotiating a raise fairly. You should research what a normal day rate is for your position, taking into consideration the scope of the production, workload, and in some cases budget, among other things. 

If it’s a commercial, what are the commercial rights? How long are they valid for? Is it a local, national, or international commercial? 

Even knowing what you’ll end up paying in taxes can be an important factor. For example in Sweden freelancers, i.e. actors, are subject to paying up to 50% of their wages to taxes, reducing what can seem like a good check to almost nothing. 

Sometimes the research isn’t enough or doesn’t apply to the particular situation. In those instances you have to ask yourself, what do I need for this to work? And go with that. 

Regardless of the situation, you should always enter negotiations having a price in mind because casting will most likely ask you for it.  

Be Gushy and Honest
Don’t be afraid to express how excited you are about this project and how thrilled you are to be working with these folks. While also being honest and asking for what you need. This way you avoid creating a negative atmosphere around it, putting everyone into the mindset of collaboration instead of us against them. 

Be Brave 
Knowing that your work has merit and being prepared to advocate for it is key.  

Case in point, I recently booked a project in Sweden where I would need to travel to a different city but the production didn’t want to cover my travel. So I kindly declined, expressing how much I genuinely admire this production company and would love to work with them, but that paying travel out of pocket would make it impossible for me to accept the job. I even attached my updated reel and résumé for future collaborations. ThisI admitwas a sneaky and cheeky way for me to remind the production of all of my experience and skill. 

Lo and behold, they replied back within an hour offering to cover the travel. In the end, the shoot couldn’t have gone any better. Both the director and client were super happy with the result and when I received my payment, I noticed that they had increased it by almost a third of what I was originally promised. 

This just goes to show that being respectful while also staying true to your needs quite literally pays off! 

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Author Headshot
Isra Elsalihie
Isra Elsalihie is an award-winning Iraqi-Swedish actor. Her credits include “Noura” directed by Johanna McKeon (The Old Globe), “The Invaders” (2018 BFI London Film Festival), “Arresting God” (Diaspora Creative/Sundance Institute Development Track), “Another Girl” (Amazon Prime), “Anne Frank in the Gaza” directed by Shaun Peknic (PCTF Outstanding Supporting Actress award), and LAByrinth Theatre Company’s Barn Series and Installation America at Cherry Lane Theatre. Find her at and on Instagram @isra.elsalihie
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