The Ridiculousness Of South African Actors Salary System

It's a Friday. I don't have time to dally around the issues. We talking about #OpenUpTheIndustry, more new local channels, numerous new local tv series and the SABC has put forward quotas to boost local content BUT let's be real; all this is just window dressing.

It is window dressing because at the core of this industry is a system that is squarely set against artists. In music [unless you own a record label] as an artist you are at the very bottom of the pile.

Take a peak at a standard artist contract in this country and you will understand why the highest selling South African artist this year does not own a house. For the most part, the suits make the money off of artists' talent and the artists just have to make due with the fame without the fortune. 

BUT this rant is reserved for the actors and their situation! There is a ridiculous salary hierarchy system that determines how much an actor will get paid for a job. For example, according to the South African Guild of Actors this is what soap stars earn: 
  • A newcomer on 7de Laan – R22,000 a month 
  • A newcomer on Isibaya – R26,000 a month 
  • An intermediate actor on Binnelanders – R27,500 a month 
  • An intermediate actor on Isidingo – R28,000 a month 
  • An intermediate actor on Generations – R40,000 a month 
  • An experienced actor in a support role on Isibaya – R30,000 a month 
  • An experienced actor on Isidingo – R40,000 a month 
  • An experienced actor on Generations – R60,000 a month 
*this numbers are the amount before the agent's 25% cut.

I suppose this made sense in the 1980s when the industry was run people who saw black actors as just people they are doing a favour for. Why this system still applies in 2016, baffles me. 

It is rumoured that Sello Maake Ka Ncube is the highest paid actor in SA and commands between R100 000 and R120 000 per month. Great for him and no disrespect to the man, but who actually rushes home to watch a show because Mr Maake Ka Ncube is on it? Seriously. Great actor perhaps but even Anthony Hopkins has to sell tickets to command a big paycheck. 

It is this very system that allowed the Generations 16 to be fired and nothing tangible came out of their protest. They got replaced by people who were willing to take the crumbs offered by Morula Pictures and "the system". 

In Hollywood, as it is in other entertainment industries around the world, actors are paid based on their star power. You bring in the ratings, you get paid accordingly. This empowers actors and gives them leverage to negotiate shares in the profits of the show should it be a success. This is how 'Friends' stars famously made history by negotiating to be paid a million dollars per episode when the show became a hit. 

For any South African cast to get to that level of being able to negotiate better compensation for their work, we certainly have to do away with this archaic and exploitative salary system. It serves no actor any good except for abo-Sello Maake and Jamie Bartlett. 

As it stands, only a small number, perhaps less that 10 actors, in this country will have the privilege of earning above the R100 000 mark in a soapie regardless of their star power. Why should an actor wait to have worked for 20 years for his or her work to be remunerated according to the level of profit he/she can bring?

My take is that if we are to empower our artists we have to clean up the system from the foundation up. We can open up the industry, hire new faces and build better studios but if all those improvements are set to serve the same system that continues to disadvantage the actors, what progress would we have really made in the end?

If actors continue to be paupers even at the height of their fame, who cares how many local channels or local tv shows we have... 

Again, for actors to be able to negotiate for better compensation deals the table has to be set in a way that allows them to lean in. 

PS: Who gets to decide on the experience of the actor anyway? How do they do that? How many shows does one have to be in to be considered "experienced"? Which shows are those? If one has been actor all his life but never been on a soapie, does that count? Is it an age thing? What if the actor is 50yrs old but has only done 2 shows? See where I am going with this? RIDICULOUS. 

PPS: We are still celebrating the 90% local music quota the SABC has enforced. Don't wanna be that guy who asks how you getting home when the party is lit, even though it is necessary ... we are having fun and shall deal with that later. When the euphoria wears off, we will have to talk about royalties. It's all good and well to play local music but if the money is not trickling down to the artist, then what's the point?!

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