Salaries of Movie Studio Executives

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Studio executive salaries commonly reach into the millions.
Studio executive salaries commonly reach into the millions. (Image: Michael Buckner/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

Movie studio executives work at the very top tier of the film industry; in fact, 2008 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that only 3.4 percent of everyone employed in the film industry worked as a studio exec. The position is rare and often lucrative, but myriad variables from the size of the studio to box office performance to each executive's individual contract mean there is no such thing as an “average” salary.

Salary Structure

Studio executives receive a combination of fixed and contingent salaries. While fixed salaries are predetermined and vary widely from an independent studio to a major player such as Warner Brothers or Disney, the contingent part of executive salaries rely on box office performance and stock shares. If films released by the executive's studio fare well, his earnings can increase by millions. If the studio's slate performs consistently poorly, the executive can find himself booted from his position.

Types of Earnings

The salaries of studio executives rely on the earnings of their films, but these earnings come in many forms. Studio executives' salaries benefit from gross box office revenue, but only after the revenue exceeds the total cost of the film. After the film's theatrical run, studio execs earn additional money via their studio's home entertainment distribution arm, which generates revenue via home video sales. Finally, execs can profit from TV licensing fees. Execs commonly receive stock shares, but stock values are greatly affected by the performance of the studio's film line up.

General Figures

Because movie studio executives have such a rare and selective job title, they represent a very small segment of the population. This, coupled with the massive influence film earnings exert on their salaries, means there is no typical salary figure. However, 2009 reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics report an annual mean wage of $204,650 for chief executives who manage companies and enterprises, such as film studios.

Real World Examples

“Deadline” reports that Lionsgate executive Michael Burns earned $6.9 million in 2009 while Disney chief executive Robert Iger earned $29.6 million in 2010 -- $2 million in salary, $1.6 million in pension improvements, $4.4 million in options, $7.4 million in stock awards, $13.5 million in cash incentives and an additional $800,000 in other compensation. At the independent film studio the Film Department, chief executive Mark Gill earned $821,540 and chief operating officer Neil Sacker made $547,693, according to a 2010 “Los Angeles Times” report. Both execs also earned stock worth $215,192 and $148,158, respectively.

Changes in the 2000s

Economic shifts caused by the American recession in the first decade of the 2000s had a major effect on the salaries of studio executives. In 2009, the “Los Angeles Times” reported a 25 percent collapse in DVD sales, plummeting box office revenues and a decline in financing sources while production costs remained the same. This caused a mass firing of studio executives at movie houses as prominent as Universal, Paramount and Disney. That same year, independent film financing CEO Mark Gill said “there's been more change in the past 18 months than in the preceding 18 years,” a sentiment reflected by entertainment industry analyst Hal Vogel, who stated “you're not going to get away with the old business model...they still haven't found a business model to replace the old one.” Transitioning into the second decade of the 2000s, this leaves the salaries of film studio executives in uncertain territory.

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