7 Ways To Screw Up Your Film’s Budget-#3: Inaccurate Perks


The word itself carries emotional connotations of either simple requests – or a vast array of pampered “Stars”.  Or “Rock Stars”.    In this case, the Producer might hire a Big Star – and not think about the impact of their perks on the budget.  And maybe they exceed the means of the budget.

Perks Accurately Defined

Perks is short word “perquisites” which has this dictionary definition. I always like to start out with good definitions so we’re all on the same page.  The Film, Television and Music industries have their own level of perks which we can call “Standard”, “Star”, “Excessive” and “Mind Boggling”.    So what are perks?

per·qui·site ˈpərkwəzət/  noun  formal

  1. another term forperk2.
    • a thing regarded as a special right or privilege enjoyed as a result of one’s position.

plural noun: perquisites

And the Wikipedia Definition:   perks is often used colloquially to refer to those benefits of a more discretionary nature. Often, perks are given to employees who are doing notably well and/or have seniority. Common perks are take-home vehicleshotel stays, free refreshments, leisure activities on work time (golf, etc.), stationeryallowances for lunch, and—when multiple choices exist—first choice of such things as job assignments and vacation scheduling. They may also be given first chance at job promotions when vacancies exist.


Perks in the Budget

In the Media industry (film, TV and Streaming), ‘Perks’ can span quite a spectrum.

First, we have to consider how you structure perks in the budget.  Personally, I like to put costs associated with an Actor into a category called “Star Special Expenses” which includes three levels of ‘Perks”

  1. Standard –  usual items like hotel, per diem, travel, security and personal vehicles.
  2. Star Expenses – services or items requested by the talent for their personal use on an exclusive or shared (i.e., hotel gym) basis.
  3. Special Skills – an actor who is working on ‘particular set of skills’
  4. Star Location Expenses – Once the Star is on location, then the costs jump up.
  5. Additional Requirements – these are contractual negotiated items for convenience, frivolity or because they consider themselves a ‘Star’ and want to prove it. Other star ‘perks’ are creature comforts which make them feel at home and at ease in their work.  Still, other costs can be seen as more than is required or excessive. Depends on one’s point-of-view.   Whether the actor’s POV or the Producer’s POV.

Why put it all into “Star Special Expenses?”  Because in this way, the producers can readily view the accurate and true cost for the individual actor. Let’s start at the Beginning.


The Standard List

If your film is shot in Los Angeles and the actor lives in Los Angeles, then Stars Special Expenses are much less than a picture shot on Location.

Remember that your Supporting Actors will receive hotel, per diem, transportation to and from location, transportation to set (possibly a rental car).  These are standard items required from the Screen Actors Guild.

But Principal actors i.e., Stars still receive some substantial Standard perks:

  • Luxury Vehicle with a Driver – this driver could be one supplied by production who is quiet and discrete. Or it could be the Star’s preferred driver. These drivers are paid Teamster rates.  If the driver is the Star’s designated driver, then you might double the rate.  That’s the game.   And the driver could be on call 24/7 which means that there is Teamster overtime at night and the weekends.
  • Personal Assistant – $1500 to $2000 a week plus car rental, phone usage, etc., If on Location, Assistant receives – First Class Hotel Accomodations (same as Performer; think Four Seasons prices), crew per diem,  Vehicle Rentalsuch as SUV or full-size luxury rental car;  Reimbursements for cell-phone or rented cell-phone with unlimited data.   All travel as first class round trip.  Assistant salary may commence four to six weeks before principal photography and possibly continue two to four weeks after wrap.
  • Bodyguards/Security – the production will be billed for $500 to $1000 a day. You might additional security at either set, base camp or near their trailer.
  • Talent Expenses – even if they live in Los Angeles, the Star is usually given a daily stipend/Per Diem of $300 to $500 per day; No accounting required. In other words, they won’t be turning in their receipts to
  • Trailer – On Location, first class and full-size (est. 40 ft+) These trailers are Star trailers with king size beds, with star accommodations, including without limitation, full kitchen (with refrigerator, range, oven and microwave), offices, desks, couches, bathroom with shower, stereo (CD and iPod), Blu-Ray DVD, etc., with all the amenities including satellite dishes, DVD players, etc., The big pop out trailers require special trucks to tow them and possibly a dedicated Teamster driver. Daily cleaning service.

Star Wagons is probably the leading trailer vendor for cast, makeup, wardrobe and production.  Check out this link  for some of the luxurious cast trailers that your Star might request.


Star – Additional Possibilities. 

  • Publicist:  $5,000/month plus expenses paid directly. May commence work prior to production by 8 weeks and work 8 weeks after completion of principal photography. Resume work prior to theatrical release for 10 to 12 weeks and continue for 8 to 10 weeks after theatrical release.
  • Exclusive Hair & Makeup – Hopefully, they are in Los Angeles. The rates are probably $50 to $80 an hour with 12 hour guarantees in many cases. That means that even if the star work five hours on one day, you are still paying their personal Makeup and Hair people their full 12 hour days.   No kidding.  If they are from out of town because your Star gets approval, then you have to add per diem, vehicle transporation, flights (hopefully business but they could smack you for 1st class travel) and their kit rental.
  • Exclusive Trainer – If the project requires a “particular set of skills” (yes, I worked on the Taken series so I had to use that line), then you could be required to hire a military consultant, flight instructor, equipment operating expert, etc., so that their skill set creates an authentic character for the screen. Crew accommodations, travel, and per diem.
  • Costume Designer – $5000 to $7500 a week. Flown to wherever the Star lives and then flown to major shopping center like Los Angeles or New York to get just the right clothes. Add per diem, hotel, 1st Class travel, vehicle, on-site Assistant and more.  Oh, and shipping for the clothes.
  • Exclusive Costumer on Set – $5000 a week. Flown to wherever the Star lives and then flown to major shopping center like Los Angeles or New York to get just the right clothes. Add per diem, hotel, 1st Class travel, vehicle, on-site Assistant and more.  Oh, and shipping for the wardrobe.

Special Skills

Actors in particular may have special requirements which are quite reasonable in the context of your project.  Film and television actors have to learn skills related to the context of their performance which can involve dancing, fight scenes, specific choreography, athletic skills sets like sword fighting and horseback riding.  For an action film, the actors may require skills in

Martial Arts – Thai boxing, Karate, combative skills

Weapons – rifles, shotguns, pistol, heavy machine guns, grenades, etc.,

Driving – motorcycles, cars, heavy trucks, military vehicles, etc.,

SurfingWindsurfingKiteboardingSkiingSnowboardingParachutingWingsuitSailing, Motorcycle racingRallyingMotocross, almost anything you can imagine.

Think of Sports and Extreme Sports.

These skills are not cheaply acquired.  Granted, the actor will needing these skills for the duration of the production – not a lifetime and not in a dangerous life-threatening reality.  But they need to acquire enough skill to ‘sell’ the realism of their skills to the audience.  That takes practice which takes Time, a Place, an Expertise, Equipment and more.


Star – On Location

If your Stars travel to location from their residence, then you have to include:

  • Travel – First class travel.
  • Private Jet transportation. Gulfstream GV type aircraft is the usual type. Jet usage will include performer and family/traveling companision for each and every location move.   An allowance for jet travel – $250,000 estimate – is possible if the Performer owns a private jet.
  • Flights – Additional 1st Class tickets – five (5) for additional travel at the Performer’s discretion.
  • Publicity Related Travel – Hotel, Private Jet, Per Diems, etc.,
  • Gym Trailers – weights, Stairmasters and more.
  • Hotels – Suites approved by Star/Agent and manager. Private workout areas. Fully furnished accommodations with phone, utilities, satellite TV, Hi-speed Internet service, etc.,  Performers choice – rental estate, hotel or apartment.   Daily maid service.
  • Additional vehicles: Added to the above is an additional luxury vehicle like a Range Rover.
  • Monthly Expense Allowance: Estimated at $10,000; non-accountable allowance.

Important Question:  When you are attaching talent, ask their agent or manager where the actor has legal residence.   This is important for not only travel but also payroll/accounting tax reasons.    One low budget film was excited to get talent attached only to discover that he lived in South Africa most of the year!


Additional Requirements

Then there are the perks that help feed the TMZ website and the National Enquirer articles because they are so excessive.

  • Sending luggage across the world by private jet.
  • Specific food on specific days in the trailer at all times, including luxury items or specific difficult to find brands and quantities.
  • Specific water poured into a Star Trailer water tank so they shower and wash their hair in Fiji Water – by the gallon. One Teamster’s job was to buy the water and pour it into the trailer tank by plastic container all day long.
  • Nutritionist/Chef: $5,000 to $7,500 per week, plus crew accommodations, first class travel, and per diem. Shipping of kit.
  • Performer’s yoga instructor – Hired for rehearsals and photography, with crew travel, accommodations, and per diem on location.
  • Masseuse – particularly for rigorous action scenes
  • Room for a Performers Wigs – All by themselves
  • Room for the Makeup Artists Kit – it is usually the size of several large suitcases but they still want their own room for these suitcases.
  • Specific water, flowers, carpet and furniture – move the old stuff out, move the new stuff in.
  • Removal of certain paintings and art items – these items might conjure up a phobia of birds, animals, clowns, etc., No, I’m not kidding.


Cast Study: “Sahara”

The film “Sahara” was examined in a Los Angeles Times article in April 2007.


“Sahara” costs $160 million to film and failed to make money at the Box Office.

I think it’s worth taking a look at this article and its associated perks and costs.  Why?  I’m not going to divulge the perks of films that I’ve worked on – confidentiality agreements.  Second, for whatever you think of the Los Angeles Times, I’m not making anything up here.

On Wikipedia, Sahara is a 2005 action-comedy adventure film directed by Breck Eisnerthat is based on the best-selling book of the same name by Clive Cussler. It stars Matthew McConaugheySteve Zahn and Penélope Cruz and is an international co-production between the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany and the United States.

Sahara was a box office bomb earning just $119 million worldwide, against a budget of $160 million. The “Sahara” ledger, based on financial projections through 2015. The actual loss on the film was about $105 million through 2006.   Box Office Mojo says that “Sahara” took in a little over $68 Million from the box office – but it cost $160 million not including P&A (publicity and advertising).  What were some of the costs.   Let’s get into the Los Angeles Times article.

  • “Sahara,” an action-adventure based on the bestselling novel by Clive Cussler, has lost about $105 million to date, according to a finance executive assigned to the movie. But records show the film losing $78.3 million based on Hollywood accounting methods that count projected revenue ($202.9 million in this case) over a 10-year period.
  • “Courtesy payments,” “gratuities” and “local bribes” totaling $237,386 were passed out on locations in Morocco to expedite filming. A $40,688 payment to stop a river improvement project and $23,250 for “Political/Mayoral support” may have run afoul of U.S. law, experts say.
  • Unlike most financial failures, “Sahara” performed reasonably well, ranking No. 1 after its opening weekend and generating $122 million in gross box-office sales. But the movie was saddled with exorbitant costs, including a $160-million production and $81.1 million in distribution expenses.
  • Cold cash came in handy. According to Account No. 3,600 of the “Sahara” budget, 16 “gratuity” or “courtesy” payments were made throughout Morocco. Six of the expenditures were “local bribes” in the amount of 65,000 dirham, or $7,559. Experts in Hollywood accounting could not recall ever seeing a line item in a movie budget described as a bribe.  “It’s a bad choice of words in a document, but it’s a perfectly normal and cost-efficient way of getting a film made in a place like Morocco,” said David A. Davis of FMV Opinions Inc., a Century City financial advisory firm.

Matthew McConaughey – Star of “Sahara”

That should give you some perspective on the project.  Now for Matthew McConaughey’s perks as listed in the documents:

Salary: $8 million

Perks:             $833,923

  • Entourage travel                   $179,262
  • Makeup artist                       $150,223
  • Stunt double                         $124,740
  • Assistant                                $114,000
  • Colorist                                  $72,800
  • Trainer                                   $67,977
  • Personal chef                         $48,893
  • Stand-in                                 $33,869
  • Security                                 $29,296
  • Gym room at hotel               $3,488
  • Other                                      $9,375

In the case of Matthew, his perks are 8.3% of his total salary.  Not bad overall.

Penelope Cruz

Penelope Cruz – Co-Star in “Sahara”

Producers chose Penelope Cruz for a reason beyond her glamour or talent. “Using Penelope means we have significantly more money to spend on the screen,” producer Karen Baldwin said in an internal e-mail. That’s because hiring the Spanish actress Penelope Cruz (Hayek is Mexican) helped “Sahara” qualify for $20.4 million in cash incentives to film in Europe.

Cruz, 32, played the love interest of Dirk Pitt and became romantically linked with her costar, Matthew McConaughey. But her $1.6-million salary came nowhere near his. Cruz’s “star perks” included two dialogue coaches and six Moroccan security guards working 12-hour shifts.




Salary: $1.6 million

Perks: $835,561

  • Entourage travel                   $227,515
  • Hairstylist                             $135,550
  • Makeup artist                       $135,550
  • Dialogue coaches                  $125,804
  • Security                                 $80,562
  • Stunt double                         $64,371
  • Costume dresser                  $22,235
  • Assistant                                $18,480
  • Stand-in                                 $12,670
  • Other                                      $12,824

 In the case of Penelope, her perks were more than 50% of her salary.  Yikes!


Steve Zahn

The producers of “Sahara” wanted to cast Jack Black as Al Giordino, the wisecracking sidekick to Dirk Pitt. But Black passed, producer Karen Baldwin testified. “If he had to choose between schlepping around the desert for three months or sitting on his sofa eating popcorn and watching TV, he was going to be sitting on his sofa,” she recalled.

So Steve Zahn, 39, accepted $2.2 million plus a $300,000 option and $264,153 in “star perks,” including two fitness trainers. Zahn’s 10-page contract called for first-class round-trip airfare to Morocco, business airfare for his wife, two children and nanny, and coach tickets for his personal assistant.

While filming overseas, Zahn had to be given a “first-class bump-out trailer with first-class amenities,” a private dressing room, an exclusive car and driver and a rental car for his wife and nanny.

Zahn also had a free cellphone, along with rights to purchase wardrobe items at 50% off.

Salary: $2.2 million

Perks: $264,153

  • Entourage travel                   $71,219
  • Stunt double                         $92,701
  • Stand-in                                 $33,869
  • Security                                 $29,296
  • Assistant                                $19,000
  • Car and driver                      $9,573
  • Gym/trainer                         $5,000
  • Car rental                              $1,585
  • Cellphone                              $1,000
  • Internet                                 $910

In summary, talent gets what talent wants. Agent will fight to get their talent more perks – because that demonstrates beyond just fighting for salary and points.  The “more and more” mentality is competitive and demonstrative.  The “What Have You Done for Me Lately” mentality means that this week’s deal has to be bigger and better than last week’s deal.  The cost can be considerable – up to a million or two million dollars when all the perks are added in.  And don’t forget that the individuals receiving the perks many times have the ear of the talent, adding to their influence.   A Hair and Makeup artist might gouge the production because they are in the talent’s corner.   I’ve heard a Makeup Artist tell a Star that production doesn’t want to give the Makeup Artist what they need to do their job.  Implying that the Star will look less than good.  That Makeup Artist wanted an extra rental car and for production to pay for some unusual personal perks.  Nothing about onset work.

Van Halen MM’s – Smart Example

One of the most well-known perks was for the band Van Halen and their Brown M&M’s.

This M&M ‘perk’ was written into their contract.  While it was considered an excess in its day, the band had an another motive.   The ordinary rock band had three trucks of equipment, sound stage structure and more.   The Van Halen band had 10 trucks!  Their lighting was meticulous.  Their equipment was vast.  The stage setup required an understanding and adherence to strict detail for weight, structural and safety concerns.   But the real reason for the Brown M&M’s was simply an Indicator to determine if the Venue Manager was paying attention to the details. 

In an Entrepreneur magazine article, they note:

To ensure the promoter had read every single word in the contract, the band created the “no brown M&M’s” clause. It was a canary in a coalmine to indicate that the promoter may have not paid attention to other more important parts of the rider, and that there could be other bigger problems at hand.

 Whenever the band found brown M&M’s candies backstage, they immediately did a complete line check, inspecting every aspect of the sound, lighting and stage setup to make sure it was perfect. David Lee Roth would also trash the band’s dressing room to prove a point — reinforcing his reputation in the process.

Van Halen created a seemingly silly clause to make sure that every little detail was taken care of. It was important, both for the experience of the fans and the safety of the band, to make sure that no little problems created bigger issues.

Surprisingly that one of the most well-known references to perks was really a Quality Control check Indictator on a Venue Manager’s performance and attention to detail.  That shows you that what’s under the hood may be different than what you think.

Article #4 is next.   Thanks for reading.