making the sausage

Polone: So How Much Do Hollywood Players Make?

There are two topics in which we are all endlessly interested: sex and money. Specifically, how much of both other people are getting and from whom. While we get to hear quite a lot about these topics when it comes to celebrities, I’m far more interested in hearing about how much the more regular people with whom I regularly interact are getting — well, not so much the sex part, but certainly how much money they’re making. I don’t feel competitive with Adam Sandler, but there is certainly a part of me that wants to gauge myself against my peers, and while it is easy to gain some estimate of what Mr. Sandler makes in a year by doing a quick Google search, there isn’t much said about the earnings of the executives, attorneys, and agents whom I talk to all day long. So, to satisfy my curiosity, I did an unscientific survey of about ten top lawyers, agents, and executives who would have direct knowledge of compensation at their own firms, as well as many others. From these interviews, I was able to estimate compensation ranges for each job category. (I gave more weight to information that came from those who had more experience with specific deals: agents talking about what people are paid at their agency; lawyers explaining deals they’ve negotiated on behalf of studio executives, etc.) Here is my guide to Hollywood’s one percent: Except where noted, the following are “all-in” numbers, including salary, bonus, and stock awards.


Chairman-CEO: $7 million to $20 million.
The consensus suggests that a salary of $4.5 million is common, but that’s just the base. Add to that the largest share of a bonus pool based on performance and access to a program granting stock options and/or restricted stock. Unsurprisingly, the top studio executive would also have pretty much free reign with the company jet, some kind of reimbursement for a home theater and, possibly, reimbursement for an apartment in New York. Of course, most of their meals, parties, and gifts to important people are also covered by the studio. A car allowance is standard for not only the big boss but most executives above vice-president level. Among those to whom I spoke, it was agreed that Brad Grey at Paramount and Ron Meyer at Universal were compensated at the top end of the scale.

President (the person who runs development and supervises the slate of productions from the creative side, but his Chairman-CEO boss will have the final say on what gets made): $2 to $4 million total. 
Similar structure to their boss but with more limited perks.  They can have a screening room and parties and meals, but they can’t fire up the jet whenever they want.

Executive Vice-President (the person who brings in the projects, hires the writers and directors, gives notes on the drafts, and manages an individual production) : $600,000 to $1.5 million. 

Senior Vice-President (same as EVP but hasn’t been around as long): $350,000 to $600,000.

Vice-President (also brings in and develops projects, but might not be able to manage a big project without participation of a more senior exec.): $175,000 to $350,000.

Director (the person in the room who types up the notes and makes lists of people to be hired on projects): $75,000 to $125,000.

Creative Executive (same as director but even greener): $50,000 to $65,000.


Chairman-President-CEO: $2 million to $5 million for the major studios.
Peter Roth at Warner Brothers Television is thought to be the highest paid, with Steve Mosko at Sony Pictures Television, Dana Walden, and Gary Newman at 20th Century Fox Television just behind him. There are also a couple of heads of television at smaller studios who make less up front but get a well-defined profit participation in each of their shows that could yield tens of millions of dollars down-the-road.

Executive Vice-President (the person running both comedy and drama development): $600,000 to $1,000,000.

Vice-President (usually one for comedy and one for drama:  They give notes and hire writers to work for the studio):  $250,000 to $500,000.

Director (note-taker and list-maker): $100,000 to $250,000.


Entertainment President:  $2.5 to 5 million.

Executive Vice-President (the person running comedy and drama development: similar to the counterpart at the studio that produces the shows for the network): $750,000 to $1.5million.

Vice-President (comedy or drama development exec): $250,000 to $500,000.

Director: $125,000 to $200,000.


Partner-Board Member: $3.5 to $15 million. 
Most of the major agencies evolved from smaller partnerships, which originally handled compensation similarly to the entertainment law firms, with partners dividing up profits in the form of a year-end cash bonus. William Morris Endeavor and United Talent Agencies still mostly function that way, while ICM is majority-owned by an outside investor and has a more traditional corporate structure. CAA sold 35 percent of itself to private equity group TPG for a reported $165 million plus the arrangement of a $200 million loan, and I have heard that senior agents received some cash in that transaction and are promised more down the road, assuming an additional liquidity event. Some have speculated that CAA’s principal board members — Richard Lovett, Bryan Lord, Kevin Huvane, David O’Connor, and Rob Light — each received $20 to $25 million when they signed new five-year contracts as part of the TPG deal.

Non-board member partner–more senior agent:  $600,000 to $4 million. 
This top end of the spectrum would have to have a pretty significant client list that would leave with him/her if he/she quit.

Experienced servicing agent (those who find jobs and work on deals for clients who were signed by other agents): $500,000 to $1 million.

Agent with five years experience: $150,000 to $500,000.

First-year agent: $50,000 to $60,000 in salary and $5,000 to $10,000 in bonus.


Owner-Partner (the lawyers who either founded the firm and/or have the clients who bring in the most money): $2 to $6 million per year.
Some speculate that Skip Brittenham, of Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca et. al. may make as much as $10 million. In most cases, partners take a draw, which is really an advance against their year-end bonus, and then whack up what is left at the end of the year, after paying all office expenses and salaries. This payout is based primarily on what the individual brought in through his own clients and secondarily on the performance of the firm as a whole.

Partner with business (a lawyer who signed his own clients who pay significant sums to the firm): $750,000 to $1.5 million.
Usually, someone in this classification is well taken care of and will either get his name on the door shortly, or leave to start his/her own firm.

Service Partner (who services the business of the above rainmakers): $500,000 to $1 million.

Lawyer with limited experience and no significant clients of his own: $160,000 to $250,000. 
In these firms, most of the lawyers are called “partner”, so those who aren’t are either promoted or moved out pretty quickly.


These numbers make it pretty clear that having a job in the entertainment industry is still a good thing — but are those receiving the most really worth it? News stories from last week suggest the answer is “yes”: On the top end, lawyers and agents “eat what they kill,” and this was proven in late February when CAA fired Dan Aloni, an agent with a strong client list of directors, whom I was told was making $4 million per year: After being dumped, Aloni quickly landed a new position at WME and brought with him his hottest client, Christopher Nolan. Nolan, given his success and relative youth among the short list of mega-directors, is probably the most valuable client a director’s agent could have, not only because he will certainly bring in tens of millions of dollars in commission going forward, but his presence on their roster elevates the agency’s stature and makes it easier to sign other directors, writers, and actors.

And on the studio side, a good executive team is definitely worth it. In the face of the $100 million to $150 million loss Disney is going to record on John Carter, which comes not long after booking another huge loss on Mars Needs Moms, it is hard to begrudge Amy Pascal at Sony Pictures Entertainment or Tom Rothman at 20th Century Fox large compensation packages, in light of their long respective winning streaks. Paramount is nothing like the studio it was before Brad Grey became Chairman and CEO and it is undoubtedly much more profitable because of the changes he made that have reduced risk in how they finance their films, as well as how many hits they’ve managed to release in the past few years. Sure, there are people who are overpaid at any organization, but usually they are ignominiously drummed out after enough of those around them catch on. If there is an issue relating to highly paid executives in the industry, it isn’t the level of pay for those who are performing, but rather that those who aren’t are not de-jobbed quickly enough in favor of someone who might do better.

Follow Gavin Polone on Twitter: @gavinpolone

Polone: So How Much Do Hollywood Players Make?