The Hollywood Reporter Drops the Mic

I don’t know who saw this article last week in the Hollywood Reporter ( but it definitely has my hackles up. Beyond a very interesting projection of my own income, the article quotes the salaries of voice-overs starting with celebrities...

“You can do it on bad hair days, and it pays great. More and more top stars are lending their voice to TV and radio commercials. Robert Downey Jr. for Nissan, Morgan Freeman for Visa, Jon Hamm for Mercedes, Tim Allen for Michigan Tourism, Kevin Spacey for Honda, Lisa Kudrow for Yoplait, Queen Latifah for Pizza Hut ... the list goes on and on. 'The trend in terms of celebrities doing voiceover has been distinctly upward,' says Jeff Danis, president of DPN Talent, an agency that specializes in commercial voiceover work.”

While it is true Robert Downey Jr. et al are doing a bunch of voice-over work and Jeff Danis’s (my esteemed former colleague) assessment is dead on… here is where the inaccuracy lies…

“Big names like Freeman and Allen can command more than $1 million for an ad, which usually requires only a day's work.”

While I’m sure somebody has been paid $1 million or more for a single ad, the truth is with money that large, the clients are looking to create a campaign (ie multiple spots).  The examples of both Tim Allen and Morgan Freeman don’t account for the fact they did multiple spots for their main sponsors (GM and Visa respectively) and multiple spots usually come with multiple sessions.  In fact, every celeb negotiation I have been a part of consists of two main factors: number of sessions (days) and money.  Our job as agents has always been to get the money up to the highest and the sessions down to the fewest possible.

Then the article makes the following point...

“But major stars account for only about 20 percent of the voices you hear in commercials."

20 percent!  Maybe 20 percent of SAG/AFTRA work on network television but there is no way that celebrities account for that large of a percentage.  Watch an hour of Lifetime or VH-1 and you can go several commercial breaks without hearing a celebrity.  I’d guess the percentage is actually under 5% even accounting for a broad definition of celebrity.

“The other 80 percent — non-celebrity voice actors — don't make nearly that kind of dough. Typically, they'll earn scale, which works out to about $3,000 to $5,000 an ad.”

As anyone in commercials knows, a single ad can make $500.00 or in extreme cases $50,000 but the assessment of between $3,000 to $5,000 is at least in the ballpark.

Finally, while the heading within the article was for a “Commercial Voice-Over Actor,” Voice-Actors generally do voice work beyond just commercials.  Whether trailers, promos, narrations, political advertising, animation etc., there are more ways to be successful in voice-overs than just commercials and that kind of work (with the exception of animation) neither has been inundated with celebs nor likely will ever be because they are volume jobs with incredibly tight schedules that can’t wait for a celeb to get off the set to finish a project.  In other words, there are plenty of jobs for Voice-Over actors who aren’t celebrities.

I’ve now taken a few deep breaths and have calmed down.


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