Maximizing Your Film's Earnings

A Guide to Film Bonuses for Producers, Actors,
Writers, and Directors

The best part about making a film is the creative expression and collaborative experience that happens along the way. The second-best part? Getting paid for it. Whether you are a producer, actor, writer, or director, there are three major categories of payment: Guaranteed Compensation, Backend/Contingent Compensation, and Bonuses.

Bonuses can be attached to many different points along a film’s life, such as production, post-production, distribution, and beyond. Here is a list of the most common bonuses and how they are applied.

  • Box Office Bonus: When a project is successful, those that helped make it happen should be able to enjoy in the successes. These bonuses are paid when either the Domestic Box Office (DBO) or Worldwide Box Office (WBO) reaches a certain threshold, typically calculated using the final production budget. For example, when a film produces twice its production cost at the box office, a bonus may be awarded to a writer, producer, director, or actor who had negotiated for such a bonus. This typically appears as a set amount to be paid at that threshold, usually set up as a lump sum.
  • Awards Bonus: Again, the industry likes to reward success, and attaching bonuses to certain awards is a great way of doing that. Bonuses can be attached to award nominations, as well as actual wins, for awards such as the Oscars, Golden Globes, or Emmys. It is important to pay attention to the wording in these provisions, to ensure you know whether a nomination will earn you the bonus or the film must win in order to earn the bonus, and whether it is limited to a specific category or award type.
  • Streaming Bonus: Successful streaming programs or new releases on streaming can be awarded as well. These awards are often determined by the percentage of viewers in a specific window of time. These bonuses can be structured as lump sum payments or may be a form of contingent compensation, based on a percentage of net profits. These provisions can get complicated, as many of them depend on the “tier” of streaming service or what the threshold is for this to take effect.
  • Credit Bonus: This bonus is typically reserved for writers. They can be awarded a bonus based on how much they contributed to a screenplay (if the production is a signatory, then WGA rules dictate how credit is awarded in this manner). A single writer will be able to earn a bonus greater than if they end up having to share credit with someone else, so if you are a writer, it is critical to ensure you have first opportunity to perform any polishes or rewrites.

Bonuses can be a great negotiating tool. Often, producers and financiers are looking to reserve as much funding as possible upfront, so negotiating larger bonuses that are payable down the line can pay off in a big way. Just remember to be specific and understand the terms that are being agreed to, because the language may set these thresholds at impossible levels, meaning you may never see those bonuses. Adjusting each bonus to reasonable thresholds on each specific project will be necessary for securing those bonuses that are likely to pay out. Successful projects can generate a lot of revenue, so be sure to negotiate properly for your fair share, or bring on a representative who can negotiate for these bonuses on your behalf.