Crystal the Monkey…
According to the Hollywood Reporter, chances are Crystal the Monkey makes more money than you. That’s assuming you’re not a studio chief, network president, film, TV or porn star, of course… or an agent, manager, talk-or-game-show host, entertainment lawyer, successful director, writer, cinematographer, Kim Kardashian, or one of the astonishingly hirsute Duck Dynasty cast. The annual income of those considerably larger and far less hairy primates (except for the Duck Dynasty boys and their ZZ Top mega-beards) outstrips Crystal the Monkey's take by several orders of magnitude.
Hard to believe? Take a look at THR’s list, which -- admittedly -- has enough bad information to cast doubt on its overall veracity. For one thing, there’s considerable variation between different people in the same business. THR claims that a make-up artist earns $100,000 per year, and I’m sure many do, but while working on a feature with Ed McMahon back in 1981, his personal makeup man made a point of informing the rest of us that he’d raked in $325,000 the year before. Accounting for inflation, that would be more than $800,000 in 2012, the year THR used as a baseline for its list.
Nice work if you can get it.
Nice work if you can get it.
THR lists the annual income of a “Grip” as $102,000 per year, a “Gaffer” at $59,000, and a “Best Boy” at $92,000, which is evidence enough that the writers didn’t bother to do their homework when sniffing out the income situation below-the-line. Just for the record, a Gaffer and Key Grip hold equal status on set as department heads, and are paid a very similar hourly rate -- more than either of the Best Boys and crew.**
Consider the breakdown: Current full union scale in Hollywood for grips and juicers is a tick over $37/hour. A forty hour week brings in around $1500, but very few grips or juicers work such a short week. Most episodics drive their crews for at least sixty hours per week, which adds twenty hours of time-and-a-half (at $55/hr) to the tally. The additional $1100 of overtime brings the weekly gross for a sixty hour week to nearly $2600.
The feature world is different, with each movie a stand-alone production that comes to an end for the rigging and on-set crews once principal photography is completed. Most features run anywhere from two to six months, at a less-frenzied pace than episodic television. Still, feature days are generally twelve hours, with some feature crews able to negotiate above-scale rates for the duration of the shoot.
Put it this way: since plunging head-first into multi-camera sit-coms at the end of the 1990’s, I’ve never pulled in anywhere close to the $108,000.00 Crystal the Monkey made in 2012. Not once. If you account for inflation over the decades, I did beat that hairy little simian during my years doing commercials and occasional features, but I had to work a lot harder than she did.
THR's figures for below-the-liners are suspect, to say the least, but given their institutional bias towards above-the-line issues -- and insider's proximity to sources of information -- I imagine their figures for the income of big-bucks executives, actors and their
The obscene disparities of income between the worlds above and below-the-line can get you down if you let it, but that way lies madness. It is what it is, as the saying goes -- we live in a world where the rich really do get richer, and that's not going to change anytime soon. But so long as you're having a reasonably decent time doing good work with a solid, supportive crew -- and not feeling too insulted by your weekly paycheck -- you're doing fine.
And if not, maybe it's time to make some changes. That's what Crystal the Monkey would do.
* I just don't like monkeys. They give me the creeps.
** Don't quote me on this, but I think full scale for a Gaffer or Key Grip in Hollywood is around $42/hr.