Revisiting: Money: how film residuals work

*I’m working hard on my new book and finding myself with little time for new blog posts. I decided to bring back some older posts that you might have missed… Hope you enjoy!


It’s surprising to me that people actually ask me how much money I make.

I guess they have heard about “residuals” and are just curious to know how that works, but it seems like a ridiculous thing to ask. I feel like they should follow-up by asking for my weight and the date of my last period.

But people wonder about these things so I need to come up with some sort of answer.

I heard that somebody who had worked on Jurassic Park went to their mailbox one day to find a check for $100,000. I’m not sure if that is really true, or just one of those urban legends that was intended to increase morale amongst us working actors in a sometimes brutal industry.

Just to be clear, I have never stumbled across such a residual check.

Here’s how it works – when my movies or TV shows are rented or shown on television, I get a fraction of a penny. Those pennies get bundled together and the checks arrive randomly, sometimes a couple of them show up one week, other times there is nothing for months.

The amount has diminished over time, these days, the average check is about $4.71. Occasionally they are more and my husband and I get to have a nice dinner out. But then there are times when the check wouldn’t cover the price of the stamp and it can be a little embarrassing to take a 23 cent check to the bank.

Foreign residuals are always fun; it’s neat to get a check for $17 because one of my disease-of-the-week TV movies was on cable in Denmark.

It’s nothing life-altering and it’s certainly nothing that you can depend on. At some point, the term “residual” started to be reminiscent something that gets stuck to the bottom of your shoe rather than a legitimate source of income.

But regardless of the amount, it’s appreciated, because what kind of asshole doesn’t appreciate random money showing up for something that they did 20 years ago?

Even if it is less than they would get from babysitting.

Check back next week when I will be posting about my weight and the date of my last period.


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13 Replies to “Revisiting: Money: how film residuals work”

  1. I think the appropriate answer to “How much money does you make?” would be “I’ll need to see your IRS credentials.” If they can’t produce any, follow up with a pleasantly confused, “I’m sorry, then how is this any of your business, exactly?”

    You could alternate with, “It’s so nice of you to ask! I’m accepting donations!”


  2. Lisa, Hey—it’s Franco. I saw your recent post about “returning to CA.” Was that for a visit or are you relocating?? I’m trying to set up dates for my spring semester dates—are you still available for a visit to Glenvar? 🙂 Blessings, Franco

    Steve Franco/Theatre Arts Director Glenvar High School 4549 Malus Drive Salem, VA 24153 (540) 387-6536 “The man who does not read, has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” ~Mark Twain~ ________________________________________

    1. God no – just a visit!! Send me an email and I’ll be happy to come to Glenvar. The spring is getting booked up, but we’ll figure it out!

  3. I understand why people ask this question and I don’t like it any better than you do. But I don’t think it has anything to do with the industry in which you once toiled as much as it does with the American obsession with social class and status. As my father would say they are just trying to figure out if you are an owner or just the hired help.

  4. Oops, I have no idea where that post came from, sorry!!

    I meant to say that I should stop complaining about the Residuals I’m getting from an photography Instructional Video I did five years ago!!

    My first check was for almost $400, now I’m lucky to get $9

    At lest that gets me a Chick Fil A #1 combo 😉

  5. Great post as always, Lisa.

    It never ceases to amaze me when someone demonstrates their prevailing and seemingly inherent supposition that every face of every person they see on either a small screen or a big one must, by definition, be a millionaire.

    Irregardless of how major or minor the role, completely irrespective of how long ago the body of work was made or the context of the film project, I’ve always been amused by the lack of common sense people exercise when they blindly assume that a non speaking walk on extra in a “made for Hallmark” Lifetime TV movie is in a similar tax bracket with Morgan Freeman, Tom Cruise or Sandra Bullock.

    It is also refreshing to see that you possess the humility to take these probing, personal privacy violations with a grain of salt and are likewise capable of addressing them with what I have come to recognize as your trademark wit and humor.

    With the incredible face for radios and voice for print that I possess this is not likely a dilemma I ever anticipate sharing, but I nevertheless am astute enough to realize I would not be able to handle the situation with that same level of poise.

    As always, I look forward to your next writings….though I’ll probably skip the ones regarding your last period. 😜

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