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Commercial Actors, Where is Your Money?


Hi! This is a basically an open letter for all friends of commercial performers. Please keep telling us when you see our spots! The fun and support is always helpful to the spirit, but there is a fiscal benefit too. (And fellow commercial actors – let me know if I’ve left anything out.) We’re all in this together. – Katie

You get paid every time a commercial runs, right?

Sort of. There’s a complicated pay structure depending on the station and the media buy. The idea is that if the commercial is running we get paid. It’s called residuals.

Why is that?

The idea of residual payment came from Vivian Vance during her I Love Lucy days. As I understand it, I Love Lucy was one of the first programs to re-run their shows. Building on the concept of theater performances (where you get paid every time you perform) residual payments began.

So it’s good thing to have your commercial running all the time?

Yes and no. Yes because we want to make a living but over exposure is an issue.

I don’t get it…

Okay, for TV and film actors, its fantastic for people to see your face and know who you are. Being a household name is an important part of excelling in that area of the business.

For commercial performers, it hurts us to be that recognizable unless you are a celebrity spokesperson for that brand. (Like Jamie Lee Curtis and the poop yogurt)

How can it hurt you?

The poop yogurt?

No no – being recognized?

Oh right. Well, I need to book at least 5-7 national commercials a year in order to make a middle class wage. If I am in a Pepsi commercial, I am not allowed to be in a Coke commercial at the same time because it is a competing product. But even if the products aren’t competing, Tide would prefer NOT to have the face of Toyota selling their detergent. They want you to be the new fresh face of laundry and that’s it.

They love knowing you’ve done over 20 national commercial spots. It proves you know what you’re doing and they can trust you to get the job done. They don’t want to know what other spots you’ve been in, even if they think they want to know. It’s exactly like dating and sex – you want to know your new hot thing has the sexperience to get the job done but you don’t want to know how many different people they’ve been with to do that thing they do so well…Like amazingly well.

So…do you love it/ hate it when people tell you they saw you on TV.

I love it! But not for the reasons you might think. There is no tracking system for commercial airings and payments. … Let me repeat that because it is important. THERE IS NO TRACKING SYSTEM FOR COMMERCIAL AIRINGS AND PAYMENTS. What that means is that we actors hope we are being paid correctly but have no accurate way to know. So when my friends far and near tell me they saw my commercial, I usually ask what they were watching. Because if we (the performers) suspect a commercial is airing without payment , we have to provide the date, time and channel that the commercial aired in order to file a claim. Which is beyond ugh in my opinion.

Wait – are you saying you DON’T get paid accurately?

Um…yeah. It happens all the time. In fact, there’s some crazy statistic like 90%+ of claims filed for unpaid commercial wages, performers are due substantial amount of money. Some companies have decided it’s more fiscally advantageous to pay the fines if they get caught rather than pay what is rightfully owed.

Are you saying company’s like McDonald’s and State Farm are purposely not paying actors?

No no no. I doubt they even know. Somewhere between the production company, the ad agency and the media buying company things are getting vague. Throw in the 500 cable channels and sub channels, network, regional airings with no tracking system and it’s a wonder that we get paid at all.

Hmm. Interesting. Well, what’s my take away here?

If you see your friend in a commercial, definitely let them know you saw it. Text, email, facebook , homing pigeon – whatever your preferred method of communication is – tell them what channel and the day and time you saw it.

It’s always great to hear from friends, family, that guy I haven’t seen from college who saw me and reached out – it feels great to have your work acknowledged. It’s a basic need. Ask Abraham Maslow. And know that the information you provide may prove vital in reclaiming unpaid wages.

Cool. Thanks.

No, Thank You.

Want to go grab a bite?

Yep. Let’s do it.

I heard McDonald’s is serving breakfast all day.

Did you…….



Katie Wallack

About Katie Wallack

Katie Wallack is a professional actress and active union member. She serves on SAG-AFTRA’s Commercial Performers Committee and Commercials Contract Standing Committee, and partnered with the grass roots group Union Working. Katie began graduate school in 2017 at Claremont Lincoln University pursuing a Masters Degree in Ethical Leadership. She received numerous scholarships including the John L. Dales Scholarship from SAG-AFTRA Foundation. Her undergrad degree is in Theater and Dance from Trinity College. Katie’s recent film projects include “Mum” for Shoot ‘Em Up show, “Stillwater”, and “Wight Christmas” shot on location in her hometown – Anchorage Alaska. In addition to her theatrical credits, she has been seen in numerous commercial campaigns over the years, including McDonald’s and Ford Service.