Can actors live off residuals forever?

There seems to be a perception that an actor can live off residual cheques forever. It’s a common misperception. Yes, there are a few actors who do live quite well with the added residual income cheques, but there are very few who can live off just that income. Especially if you’re from an older show that had a contract written before new technology.

Another child actor friend of mine had started a discussion today within our group asking about residuals. I always love hearing from my US counterparts, because the laws are set up so differently here. Or at least I thought. Seems a lot of them with older contracts also got screwed out of money. Sometimes they post up pics of the cheques they do get, so we can all have a laugh and commiserate together. Some people get an actual cheque for $0.10 or less. It’s not even worth the paper it was written on.

After seeing the discussion today, it got me thinking about the last time the Hey Dad cast got a cheque. It was before I turned 21, and I bought a watch with it, which I still have. It was a Tag Heuer, and it was on a crazy sale for under $500. I had been eyeing it for months, and when I got that cheque, I cashed it, and got me that watch. I think that cheque was for $800, so I spent the rest on something responsible like rent and groceries.

Our contracts were from the 1970’s. There was no electronic media back then. Nobody knew what a DVD was. Cable wasn’t in Australia yet. They had it written in that we would get a few rounds of residuals from overseas sales, and repeats. A lot of older US contracts were updated to reflect that shows are now run constantly on cable, and are also being put into box sets. Some even reflect digital usage.

Somehow, that never happened in Australia. We thought maybe since it had been shown on Comedy Classics channel on cable, there might be something owed there, but apparently, we were all shit out of luck.  Nothing from all the local channels that played it for years either. All the foreign residuals were also out of contract it seemed. I wasn’t even really aware that we had a box DVD set until Gary Reilly sent me an email, asking for a current address, as there may have been money owed to us. My next trip to Australia, I took my brother to the store with me to show him, because he didn’t believe me, and Matt bought a set, so I know they sold at least one DVD set. 

Then, I didn’t hear anything for a long time, so I contacted Gary again, making sure things didn’t get lost in the international post. Gary said there had “been an error” and that even though there was now two box sets in Australia, and Germany released four different box sets, we wouldn’t be getting any money.  When we got together for that episode of Where Are They Know, we had a discussion at dinner, to see if anybody have ever received anything. None of us had. Worse than that, Chris Truswell got excited because he had money sent to from the union, and then they said there had been an error, and it belonged to someone else. We wondered how it was that even with old contracts, the show could be sold over and over again, and us actors were getting nothing for it. I’m glad to know it’s way more common than just Australian shows getting fucked. (I had heard the cast of Prisoner also kicked up a stink about not getting anything when they were sold off on DVD)

Of course, nobody is going to buy these DVD sets now. (I think I sealed that deal 😉 ) Although there are a couple of sets available on Amazon in the US and the UK.  (Do they even know what the show was?) I’m not bitter about it, because it was probably only pennies we would have gotten anyway. It’s just an observation that I made today that actors make a lot less money than people think they do. Shit, I made more in the military per week than I ever did on Hey Dad..! I’m guessing Gary made a pretty penny as the producer though. If I ever go back to the industry, I’m going to be a producer. They’ve got the money and the power.

So next time you see an actor out and about, especially if they’re working a second job, be nice to them. Understand that they probably don’t just blow through all their money on booze and drugs. Some of them just never got that money in the first place to start the party with. Not everyone makes Charlie Sheen money.

Of course, if anyone from the media union in Oz is reading this, I’m sure the rest of the cast would appreciate it if you looked into where their residual money is.