Filmmaking is a collaborative process, but without a doubt, the most important role on set is that of the director. The director receives most of the credit when a film succeeds and most of the blame when it fails. In other words, there is a lot of pressure and responsibility placed on their shoulders. So, how much do directors make in terms of salary? The answer isn’t as simple as it might seem. The average director salary depends on the nature of the project, the size of the budget, and the director herself. In this post, we’ll lay out the typical Hollywood filmmaker salary using the DGA pay scales for directors in film, television, and commercials.
DGA salaries for Film Directors
Let’s begin with the medium where the director has the most power: film.
On a professional film set, the director is part of the Directors Guild of America (pretty much without exception), and so there is a minimum the director can get paid as outlined by the union.
This minimum rate varies based on which category the film falls into: high budget, shorts/documentaries, and low budget. A high budget picture is any film that costs over $11 million.
For high budget films, the director’s weekly salary is $20,616, with a guaranteed preparation period of 2 weeks, a guaranteed employment period of 10 weeks, and a guaranteed cutting allowance of 1 week. For each day the director works over these guaranteed periods, the director must earn at least $4,123.
For shorts and documentaries, a director’s weekly salary is $14,723, with a guaranteed preparation period of 2 days and a guaranteed employment period of 1 week and 1 day. For each day the short/documentary director works over these guarantees, they must earn at least $2,945.
Low budget film salaries are a bit more complicated, because they can vary so much. For films less than $2,600,000, the director’s compensation is up for negotiation, with no set minimum. For films between $2.6 and $3.75 million, the director has to receive at least $75,000. Between $3.75 and $8.5 million, a director is guaranteed $15,462 a week for 13 weeks. And finally, for films between $8.5 and $11 million, the director is guaranteed $18,554 a week for 13 weeks.
It should be stressed that these are minimums. Especially for high budget films, a director’s salary can balloon. Take a look at the average salaries for a crew working on a $200 million film:
Of course, directors aren’t only needed on film sets. The small screen has minimums, too.
How Much Does a TV Director Get Paid
DGA Salaries for TV Directors
Traditionally, television has been regarded as the writer’s medium, since writers steer shows throughout the entirety of their run while directors come and go each episode. That may be the case (though with single-director miniseries being all the rage, it may not be anymore), but directors still have salary protection in the TV realm.
The DGA separates the minimum pay for pilots from any other episode, since pilots require a bit more work. For a half-hour network prime-time pilot, a director earns $80,532 for 14 days of work, and $5,752 for every day they go over. For an hour network prime-time pilot, a director is guaranteed $107,372 for 24 days of work, plus $4,474 for every day they go over.
For non-network (this includes basic cable) half-hour pilots, a director is slated to earn at least $48,319 for 14 days of work, with $3,451 every day they go over. For non-network one hour pilots, a director is granted $64,423 for 24 days of work, with $2,684 for every day they go over.
The pay shrinks for a director working on a non-pilot episode. For a half-hour network prime-time episode, a director gets $28,452 for 7 days of work, and $4,065 for every day they go over. For an hour network prime-time episode, a director earns $48,318 for 15 days of work, plus $3,221 for every day they go over.
For non-network half-hour episodes (this doesn’t include basic cable), a director will earn at least $12,721 for 6 days of work, with $2,120 for every day they go over. For non-network one hour episodes, a director is given $25,432 for 12 days of work, with $2,119 for every day they go over.
There will be a test at the end of this, so be sure to write these numbers down. Just kidding. Let’s move onto our next, most creatively satisfying category: commercials.
How Much Does a Commercial Director Get Paid
DGA Salaries for Commercial Directors
Luckily, commercial minimum rates aren’t as complicated as TV or film. Here are the minimum rates:
The daily rate for directors on a commercial must be at least $1,527. The weekly rate, meanwhile, must be at least $6,108.
Unlike film or TV, there is no guaranteed amount of time a director has to be given on a project.
While the commercial rates might pale in comparison to their film and TV counterparts, commercials are a great place for beginner directors to start, as it’s an easier sell to get a studio to take a $1,527 chance on you rather than a $100,000.
This video gives a great breakdown on how you can make money as a director:
Breaking into the directing profession can be daunting, but it’s doable if you’re willing to take chances and hustle, or if your mom is an executive at Universal– take your pick.
Big Name? Big Money
Of course, how much money a director makes isn’t solely based on DGA minimums. A big source of income for a lot of directors is in residuals.
What is a residual?
A residual is the compensation a cast or crew member receives every time their work is exhibited past its initial use. This includes reruns, re-releases, video-on-demand, and more.
So generally, the more financially successful a movie or TV show is, the more a director will get paid down the line.
Additionally, some directors have a percentage agreement in their contract. This means that the director will get a certain percent of the box office total for their film. This is a sweet deal, and isn’t guaranteed through the DGA, so it’s usually only big-name directors who can swing this. Steven Spielberg, for example, often earns 20 percent of a film’s profit. This is incredibly high, and could only be achieved by someone with Spielberg’s name recognition (so… about three other people).
The big-name factor also, of course, plays into a director’s initial salary. Christopher Nolan made $20 million for Dunkirk, one of his least commercial efforts, while Patty Jenkins made $1 million for the far more successful Wonder Woman. People know Nolan; at the time, no one knew Jenkins. Also at play here is the gender wage gap, a problem which continues to plague Hollywood.
How to Become a Director
Do these hefty sums of money sound appealing to you? Well, that’s a terrible reason to get into directing. But if you love the craft, be sure to check out our tips on how to become a working director. What’s the saying… be a director and you’ll never have to work a day in your life?