Union salaries for a production crew and acting talent vary widely compared with nonunion film projects, with the type of the film production determining the union pay requirements. Salaries mandated for union crews on low-budget projects pay less than salaries for films made for major theatrical releases. Student productions often mean actors and crew work only for the experience, unless the apprentice crew also holds union membership. The crew then works under a special student wage category.
Producer and Director Pay
Movie directors take control of the daily filming, directing the actors, sound crew and camera operators and also work with the film's production staff. Producers assist in arranging funding and assist the overall movie production. Film directors and producers take home a wide range of salaries with well-known professionals earning in the millions of dollars, typically including a percentage of the profit from the film. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median annual wages for both producers and directors at $64,430 in 2008. The Director's Guild sets a minimum wage for member directors based on the type of production, budget and length of the assignment.
Camera Operator and Cinematographer Salaries
Movies require at least a single camera operator and larger productions also typically hire a cinematographer to plan the overall visual approach to the filming. Film camera operators working in the motion picture industry earned a median annual salary of $40,910 in 2008. The highest-paid operators belong to professional organizations, including the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians or the International Alliance of Theatrical State Employees.
Sound Crew, Music Editor and Audio Operator Pay
Music and sound editors earned a weekly union wage of $2,124.90 in 2011 for a weekly work guarantee of 48.6 hours. A Foley artist, a formal name for the sound effects personnel, required the same pay in 2011, although rules allow hiring the Foley artist on a daily and hourly basis. The commitment to these specialized workers for an 8-hour day required payments of $349.92 and an hourly fee of $43.74 in 2011.
Editors earn wages based on the type of production and the location of the film editing. Independent and major films also use different pay schedules. Low-budget films use a separate union pay schedule. An on-call, five-day-a-week editor earned a union scale of $2,899.17 in 2011. Assistant editors earned $1,707.69 for a 45-hour workweek in the same year, and apprentice editors earned $1,275.12 a week.
While an exclusive group, actors negotiate salaries in the millions, the majority of talent earn pay based on union scale or a salary contracted between the film company and the artist or the artist's agent. Members of the Screen Actors Guild work under film release categories, including theatrical, low-budget and student productions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported film actors earned a median hourly wage of $28.72 in 2008.