For every glitzy movie star in Hollywood, there are hundreds of actors living paycheck to paycheck working odd jobs when gigs dry up.
Some wait tables. Others film short videos for fans on Cameo, fetching anywhere up to $1 to $1,500.
The reality of actors’ livelihoods has come into full focus since the SAG-AFTRA strike began on July 14. Seeking extra cash, many out-of-work thespians have flocked to Cameo, a site where they can earn income from fans who buy personalized celebrity videos.
Since the strike began, more than 2,400 performers have joined or reactivated their Cameo accounts. That’s an increase of 137%, Cameo CEO Steven Galanis told CNN Business. It’s the biggest influx since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, when the virus essentially shut down the industry.
“You just assume that they’re making all this money, they’re rich and famous, but the vast majority of them just aren’t,” Galanis said. “Something like Cameo is certainly the better way for many of them to bridge the gap.”
Even SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher, who created and starred in the ’90’s sitcom “The Nanny,” reactivated her account this week, Cameo said. Drescher charges $1,500 for a video.
Drescher wishes fans a speedy recovery or happy birthday with her signature, raspy New York accent. Some videos on Cameo are as casual as a short conversation on FaceTime.
Other notable unionized stars who recently reactivated include: Alyssa Milano, Cheyenne Jackson, Chris Wood, China McClain and Melissa Benoist. CNN has reached out to the actors’ representation for comment.
The average price for Cameo for Business, which allows the video to be used for commercial purposes, is $1,700. For non-business bookings, the average price is $70. There’s a wide range of price points, as users can book “Succession” star Brian Cox for $689 or Santa Claus for $12.
Cameo takes a 25% cut, Galanis said.
Fred Stoller, a “perennial TV guest star” whose credits includes Gerard on “Everybody Loves Raymond” to Fred the Squirrel in “The Penguins of Madagascar,” joined Cameo right before the site took off during the pandemic.
His requests on the site have ranged from announcing Fantasy Football picks to marriage proposals.
Total earnings for actors who’ve joined the platform have ranged from $5 to $25,000, Cameo said.
Cameo appearances are just enough for “Postmates money,” Stoller said, especially when it’s a slower season. Stoller said he’s fortunate that he has only done a few streaming shows, whose low residuals are a central part of SAG’s demands.
“As actors, we kind of wait for the mail for our residual check,” he said. “So we’re used to it. That’s better than not getting something.”
Along with the extra money, Stoller said he’s able to interact with fans and even stay in touch with a few.
“I feel I’m part of a little family and it’s kind of sweet sometimes,” Stoller said.
Despite the influx of actors this summer, it’s been a slow season for the site since Father’s Day. The busiest time for Cameo is during the holidays, when people buy celebrity videos as gifts.
SAG-AFTRA has strict rules in place for actors on strike. Along with barring on-camera work, they can’t participate in background acting, narration, stand-ins, fittings, rehearsals, auditions and promotion for work under contract, which includes press tours, social media posts and “personal appearances.”
But in May, prior to the strike, the two parties reached an agreement allowing actors to count their Cameo for Business earnings toward health and pension benefits. SAG-AFTRA said 86% of its actors don’t qualify for the union health plan’s $26,470 income threshold.
“Cameo for Business is something that literally has the Pope’s blessing,” Galanis said about the deal, referring to SAG as the religious leader.
Besides an incremental income, Cameo speaks to a shift in the way we view celebrities since the pandemic. Instead of glamorizing red-carpet celebrities, fans turned to Instagram Live to interact with them, posting videos from their living rooms. Cameo helps further their brand accessibility.
“When suddenly production stops or we’re in lockdown, it’s still a way for people to take their fame and build a business around it online,” Galanis said.