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Friday, January 16, 2009

When do I get residuals on commercials

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Cassandra writes:
Hello. I was in a hidden camera pizza hut commercial. it was aired nationwide and played about 10 times a day. I filled out tax paper work, but I want to know if I'm going to be paid residuals for this commercial? Thanks for your help.

Hi, Cassandra. It all depends on what kind of contract you were on. First, was it a union commercial (SAG or AFTRA?) Second, were you a principal actor or background?

Non union commercials very rarely offer residuals- most of the time, your initial payment (or "session" fee) serves as a "buyout" meaning that the fee paid covers all future airings in any market, as many times as they wish to air it. The union contracts provide protections in this area, and stipulate that the producer must renew the commercial after the initial time period is up, which includes paying actors a residual fee. Usually, union commercials are renewed on 13 week basis and have a residual structure for both regional and national packages.

As far as I understand it, only principal actors receive residuals on commercials. Background actors are paid a one time session fee for the shoot, which constitutes a buyout. In the SAG Commercial Contract Digest, a principal performer is defined as, "Anyone whose face appears silent and is identifiable and whose foreground performance demonstrates or illustrates a product or service or illustrates or reacts to the on or off-camera narration or commercial message. Persons appearing in the foreground solely as atmosphere and not otherwise covered by the foregoing shall be deemed extra performers."

To find out if you are due residuals, the first thing you should do is look at the written contract you signed and see if it is union or non union, and principal or extra/background. If it is a union project, you can call the union and ask to speak to the business representative who handles commercials in your area. They will be able to tell you what the contract stipulates.

For more information about union television commercials, you can go to the union websites:

SAG Commercial Contracts
AFTRA Commercial Contracts

I hope this is helpful for you! Please feel free to let me know if you have any other questions.

UPDATE: Read this article on non-union actors and residuals.

Have a comment or question? Leave it by clicking below!

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out

9 COMMENTS - Click to READ:

Anonymous said...

did cassandra receive her residuals? i'm curious, because i did a similar sag hidden camera commercial, as a principal. i'm not sag, but signed a sag contract.

Anonymous said...

I was in a hidden camera commercial...i signed a bunch of forms but i didnt make sure what I signed..however, I think the commercial is going to air in a local market for this year's super bowl..would the ad agency have already contacted me if in fact they used me in the commercial? I was paid a fee for the day but not sure about residuals...thanks.

Erin Cronican said...

Hi there! If you were in a hidden camera commercial and you are NOT a union member, then you will not be owed any residuals. Residuals are usually only a part of a union contract, unless there is a rider added to the non-union contract. Barring that, I'm not sure they'll have to contact you if they end up using you in the spot.

I hope this helps. If you want to know more, you could call the ad agency (if you happen to know the name of the company.) Bets of luck to you!

Anonymous said...

thanks for the prompt response! I guess if i havent heard by now, I probably didnt make the cut since it would air next sunday (or do you think it is still possible?)...i have called account rep at the ad agency and have written him an response..i think i did sign a rider cause i remmeber something about SAG/AFTA and a specific amount...i should try and get a copy of the contract..

Erin Cronican said...

Normally, ad agencies don't let actors know directly if they do or do not make it into the commercial - they would normally tell the casting director who would (in turn) tell the actor's agency. In this case (given that it's a hidden camera commercial), the only thing you can really do is wait to see if the commercial airs.

If you're in the commercial and are 1) seen clearly (front and center) for more than 3 seconds, OR 2) heard clearly with solo dialogue (as opposed to crowd noises, for example) you may be due some residuals IF the commercial runs longer than its initial contracted run (which is usually 13 weeks) OR if the commercial is sold in additional regional markets.

Since this is a Superbowl ad, it is possible it might only run this one day, and then you won't be due any residuals. And if it's for a local company, it probably won't reach any other markets regionally.

This is, as I mentioned, only the case with SAG & AFTRA commercials. Non-union commercials rarely if ever have residuals deals.

Hope this is useful. Feel free to call the union if you have deeper questions than I am able to answer here. Good luck!

Unknown said...

if I did a nationwide Union commercial how often should I expect to receive my residual checks in the mail I've heard its every 30 days after the air date and others have said its every 13 weeks can you please clarify

Erin Cronican said...

HI, Sarah. Thanks for your question. You'd have to contact SAG-AFTRA to get the exact terms of your contract, but commercials are typically purchased in 13 week cycles. However, the first residual check may come before 13 weeks, depending on how long the first run of the commercial is negotiated. Hope this helps!

Anonymous said...

How much should I expect to get paid for a global commercial that set to start running during the superbowl. It's for a major airline

Erin Cronican said...

It all depends on your contract. If it's a union contract, there is a day rate for the shoot(s) and then there'd be residuals if the commercial gets extended beyond it's originally contracted run. You would have to look at the contract and find out what the rate is there. I'm sorry I can't be more helpful...

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