10 Highest Paying Jobs in the Film Industry

By: Dave Roos & Melanie Radzicki McManus  | 

film crew, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
A film crew gets to work on the set of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" on the Upper West Side on May 13, 2021, in New York City. Noam Galai/Getty Images

If your main source of information is People magazine, you might think that everyone in Hollywood is filthy rich. But don't pack for Tinseltown just yet. It turns out the mean hourly wage for television, video and film camera operators was just $32.50 in May 2020 (the most recent statistics) — only $5.43 more than the mean hourly wage for all occupations in the U.S. [source: Bureau of Labor Statistics].

That's not to say making movies isn't lucrative. You can make money in the movie business. We've compiled a few job descriptions for your resume, so head over to the next page to read about the first of our 10 top-paying jobs in the film industry.

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10: Producer

One of the vaguest titles in Hollywood, a producer can be a writer, an investor, an idea man, a manager or all of the above. In film, the head producer is called the executive producer and is responsible for each and every phase of filmmaking: pre-production, production and post-production.

In pre-production, the producer reads scripts and hears ideas from writers, directors and agents. After choosing an idea, the producer has to raise money to fund the project. One route is to get the backing of a major movie studio. Another is to go independent and seek funding from individual investors.

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Now the producer has to hire a screenwriter, a director, production staff, casting directors, art directors, camera and lighting crews, and editors.

It's the producer's job to make sure that the project stays within budget throughout production and post-production. A good producer not only makes good films, but makes money for the investors.

Like most jobs in the film industry, producers work their way up. You might start as a production assistant or a script reader, learning how to spot a good idea and how to bring it to fruition. Or you can just leap right in and learn by trial and error, making small, low-budget films and working up to bigger ones.

According to May 2020 numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for a film producer is $113,860. For the 23,680 producers and directors working in the Los Angeles area, that number jumps to $135,160. Remember, though, that producers seldom work on salary. Most take a cut of the film's earnings at the domestic and foreign box offices, plus from DVD sales, streaming video contracts and more. And those earnings move quickly into the millions.

9: Director

Ridley Scott, Lady Gaga
Ridley Scott (back to camera) directs Lady Gaga and Adam Driver on the set of the film "House of Gucci" in Milan, Italy, March 10, 2021. Marco Piraccini/Archivio Marco Piraccini/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

Directors oversee the artistic vision of a film. Directors aren't usually involved in the financial side of filmmaking, unless they're wearing multiple hats as a producer-director.

In pre-production, the director works closely with the screenwriter and the producer to figure out the best way to visually represent the script and its themes. An experienced director will have a preferred list of cinematographers, art directors, cameramen, casting directors and even actors. Even if the producer does much of the actual hiring and location scouting, it's the director who has the final say.

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During filming, the director coaches actors on the best way to read their lines and express emotions. He or she works with the cinematographer to make sure that the action is being faithfully and artistically recorded. And the director decides how many takes are necessary before the crew can move on to the next shot.

In post-production, the director sits with the editor to assemble the finished film. He or she works with a composer and music director to create a score and soundtrack that supports the story. And finally, after months or years of work, the director has a finished film.

To succeed as a director requires a persistence of vision and the ability to collaborate with an extensive team to bring that vision to life. They also need to have a deep understanding of film history and technique. Directors usually start with small, independent projects, sometimes as part of film school programs.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lumps producers and directors together, so the average annual salary of film directors in 2020 was also $113,860. Like producers, directors often negotiate for a cut of the film's earnings, so the top salaries can be considerably higher, in the millions.

8: Screenwriter

There are several different ways for a screenwriter to get involved with a film project. One way is to write a full script on spec. The idea is to write the script first and then shop it around to agents or producers who might hire you or buy the script for later development.

Experienced screenwriters don't even have to write the script. Through their agent, they can get appointments with producers to pitch an idea for a script. The producer can then decide whether to just buy the idea or hire the screenwriter to write a full script or a shorter treatment.

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Some screenwriters are hired later in the process, after a producer or director has developed an idea. The screenwriter might be asked to write an adaptation of an existing work, like a novel or a play, or even punch up another screenwriter's script by adding more jokes or more realistic dialogue. On large studio films, it's not uncommon for several screenwriters to get credit for the same script.

Some screenwriters start as playwrights, journalists, novelists or other professional writers, while others go directly into writing for film and television. It's a notoriously hard industry to break into, so it helps if you have connections.

The average salary of a writer in the motion picture and video industries is $106,340, but it's not uncommon for a top-tier screenwriter to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even millions, for a single script [source: Bureau of Labor Statistics].

7: Film and Video Editor

Editors perform one of the most important — but least glamorous — jobs in Hollywood. It's not uncommon for a director to shoot hundreds of hours of footage that needs to be whittled down to a tight, 90-minute film. A skilled editor will select the scenes and individual shots that best tell the story according to the director's specific vision.

Editors spend their days (and some late nights) in front of a console of computer monitors, shaving seconds off shots and painstakingly editing audio. Larger film projects employ many different editors, each with a specific task (rough cut editor, dialogue audio editor, special effects audio editor and more). They don't get paid that much for all those late nights, either. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary in 2020 for a film and video editor was $93,610.

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6: Actor

Donnie Wahlberg and Marisa Ramirez, Blue Bloods
Donnie Wahlberg and Marisa Ramirez (of the TV show "Blue Bloods") act out a scene in New York City. Jose Perez/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Actors form the link between the director's vision, the screenwriter's words and the audience. Being an actor requires an awareness and control of one's movements and expressions that can take years of formal training. The most successful actors, however, look like they're not acting at all. They inhabit the minds and bodies of their characters completely.

If you think most actors make a ton of money, think again. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage of an actor was $21.88 in 2020. Members of the Screen Actor's Guild (SAG) working on a film with a budget greater than $2 million are guaranteed a minimum (aka as scale) of $1,030 per day, or $3,575 per week. That's not too shabby. But if the film's budget is $250,000 or less, the guaranteed daily rate drops to $206 [source: Wrapbook]. Of course, the top handful of actors can command salaries as high as $20 million for a single film. But there aren't many of those.

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5: Art Director

The art director works with the director and the producers to sketch out a detailed vision of the sets, locations and surroundings for the film. Then it's the art designer's responsibility to bring that vision to the screen. The art director manages a huge team of draftsmen, set designers, set decorators, prop masters and set construction managers to create a fully realized world for the actors to inhabit.

Art directors have to be both effective managers and creative artists, bringing a fictional world to life within the constraints of the film's budget. Because the job requires such highly specialized skills, there are only 3,580 art directors working in the entire film and video industry. But since quality art directors are in such high demand, they command a mean annual salary of $141,480 [source: Bureau of Labor Statistics].

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4: Cinematographer/Director of Photography

A film could have the most talented screenwriter in Hollywood, the most visionary director and the hottest actors, but what ultimately matters is the image on the screen. If all of that genius doesn't get captured faithfully on film, then the project is a bust. That's why the best filmmakers invest in a top-tier cinematographer.

The role of the cinematographer is to translate the director's vision and the screenwriter's story onto film or video. A cinematographer must have a keen artistic eye, and a mastery of the technology and technique of camerawork. The cinematographer and director of photography (DP) are not always the same person. On bigger films, the cinematographer is solely responsible for shot composition and planning, while the DP manages the camera and lighting crews. The DP is responsible for choosing the camera, lenses, booms and other equipment necessary to get the shot.

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't break down salaries for members of the filming crew, but it lists the annual mean wage for film and video camera operators in the motion picture and video industries as $80,920 in 2020 [source: Bureau of Labor Statistics]. Top-level cinematographers and directors of photography can earn much more.

3: Multimedia Artist and Animator

Howard Beckerman illustration
Detail of animator Howard Beckerman working on an illustration at The Bottom Line Studios in New York City. Al Pereira/Getty Images

Take a quick look at the five highest-grossing movies of all time:

  • Avatar (2009) - $2.9 billion
  • Avengers: Endgame (2019) - $2.8 billion
  • Titanic (1997) - $2.2 billion
  • Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2011) - $2.1 billion
  • Avengers: Infinity War (2018) - $2.1 billion [source: BoxOfficeMojo]

What do they have in common? Starting with Titanic in 1997, the most successful films in the world are all shot in digitally enhanced, computer-animated worlds. Animation and digital effects studios like Disney-owned Pixar and George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) hire teams of talented artists and animators to create fully realized characters and elaborate settings from scratch.

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Artists and animators are employed throughout the pre-production and production process. Traditional artists and cartoonists are often hired to sketch out initial ideas for the look of different characters and settings. Sculptors are also brought in to create the first 3D clay models of the characters, which can then be scanned into digital form for the animators. Computer animators are the virtual puppeteers who painstakingly bring a character's emotions and dialogue to life frame by meticulous frame.

The annual mean salary for special effects artists and animators in the film and video industry was $105,670 [source: Bureau of Labor Statistics].

2: Talent Agent

You'll never see a talent agent on the cover of Vanity Fair or Forbes, but these behind-the-scenes dealmakers are some of the best-paid professionals in the film industry.

The role of a talent agent is all-encompassing. Agents find scripts for their actor or director clients to read. They shop around their clients' headshots, film reels, and original scripts to studios and independent production companies across the country. They negotiate salaries and complicated profit-sharing deals with movie studios and distribution companies. They find extra promotional and sponsorship opportunities for their clients, whether it's putting their face on a perfume campaign or shooting commercials for a Japanese soft drink. They make sure their clients are booked in the right hotel rooms, on the right airplane flights, and have all of their favorite food, music and clothes when they arrive.

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Talent agents for the top actors, directors and producers in Hollywood are concentrated at a handful of agencies like CAA, United Artists and ICM. Talent agents typically receive 10 percent of their client's earnings under a specific contract for a film project [source: Masterclass]. If your client pulls in tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars a year, then you're sitting pretty. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that in 2020, the annual mean salary for a talent agent was $94,750.

1: Entertainment Lawyer

Who you gonna call to get out of a bad contract or to make sure that you get the movie profits you're entitled to? Your lawyer, that's who. Entertainment lawyers negotiate contracts, connect clients with professionals in the entertainment industry and take care of any intellectual property issues. Let's say someone wants to use a clip from a film you directed in an advertisement. The lawyer would make sure you got paid appropriately and stipulate the parameters governing how the clip is used. And if the clip was used without permission, the lawyer could sue on your behalf. In some cases, a lawyer may also act as a talent agent.

Lawyers working in the motion picture industry make up a miniscule percentage of all lawyers (just 0.09 percent). But they are some of the highest-paid lawyers out there. The annual mean salary is $ 218,360, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than the mean annual salary for any other film industry job.

Originally Published: May 30, 2008

Film Industry Jobs FAQs

What are the jobs in the film industry?
The most common job roles available in the film industry include producer, director, screenwriter, editor, actor, art director, construction manager, cinematographer, talent agent, multimedia artist and animator.
Does the film industry pay well?
Your pay depends on several factors, including your job description, experience, skills, training, networking and fame. Some film positions pay in the millions while others pay very little.
How much do producers make?
Producers and directors have a wide salary range, with 10 percent making less than $36,070, 10 percent making more than $184,660 and 50 percent making more than $76,400, according to May 2020 numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This pay varies according to the city, state, project and budget among other factors.
How much do directors get paid?
Directors generally earn the same amount of money as producers, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics. However, some directors can can make millions from projects, especially if they take a cut from a successful film's earnings.
How much do actors get paid?
Many people believe that all actors are rich and make a lot of money. However, only a handful of actors earn millions for a single film. The 2020 median pay of an actor was around $21.88, according to the BLS.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Box Office Mojo. "Top Lifetime Grosses." May 20, 2021. (May 20, 2021) https://www.boxofficemojo.com/chart/top_lifetime_gross/?area=XWW
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics. "May 2020 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates United States." March 31, 2021. (May 20, 2021) https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics. "Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020: Art Directors." March 31, 2021. (May 20, 2021) https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes271011.htm
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics. "Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020: Camera Operators, Television, Video, and Film." March 31, 2021. (May 20, 2021) https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes274031.htm
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics. "May 2020 National Industry-Specific Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates - Specialty Trade Contractors." March 31, 2021. (May 20, 2021) https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/naics3_238000.htm#27-0000
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics. "Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020: Film and Video Editors." March 31, 2021. (May 20, 2021) https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes274032.htm
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics. "Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020: Lawyers." March 31, 2021. (May 20, 2021.) https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes231011.htm
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics. "Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020: Multimedia Artists and Animators." March 31, 2021. (May 20, 2021) https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes271014.htm
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics. "Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020: Producers and Directors." March 31, 2021. (May 20, 2021) https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes272012.htm
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics. "Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020: Writers and Authors." March 31, 2021. (May 20, 2021) https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes273043.htm
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook. "Actors." April 9, 2020. (May 20, 2021) https://www.bls.gov/ooh/entertainment-and-sports/actors.htm
  • MasterClass. "What is a Hollywood talent agent? (May 20, 2021) https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-a-hollywood-talent-agent-how-to-launch-a-career-as-an-agent-in-the-entertainment-industry#how-are-talent-agents-regulated
  • Wrapbook. "The Essential Guide to SAG-AFTRA Rates 2021." March 24, 2021. (May 20, 2021) https://www.wrapbook.com/blog/essential-guide-sag-rates

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