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In a particular novel, a very popular actress has accepted a leading role in a blockbuster sequel, and receives a very hefty salary (over $10 million) paid in advance. Just before filming starts, she is incapacitated by a medical emergency that leaves her unable to fill her role.

In the novel, the director comes to the actress's agent, begging him to return the salary so that they can hire a new actress to replace her in the role. This key scene in the novel struck me as unrealistic; accidents happen and it's hard to believe that the studios would be completely unprepared for such an event.

I can imagine two possible ways that a studio might be prepared for recovering an actor's salary if the actor is unable to fulfill the role:

  1. The actor's contract could specify that some or all of the salary must be returned in the event that the actor is unable to fulfill the role
  2. If the contract did not have such a clause, the production insurance might reimburse the studio for the salary, allowing the studio to hire a new actor.

However, these are just guesses on my part. Are either of those solutions standard practices? Are there other ways that production studios prepare for dealing with an actor's salary in the event that the actor is unable to fulfill the role due to an accident or emergency? Is it realistic that the director would ever need to come crawling to the agent begging for the salary to be returned?

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    I very much doubt if you will find actors being paid in advance. That said most movies will have completion insurance for eventualities such as you described. – Paulie_D Feb 22 at 20:27
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This depends on the contract, but no studio would expose itself to this risk.

There is a reason why people hire lawyers to write and review and negotiate contracts—lawyers are trained to think of unexpected scenarios and account for them. No contract for work of any kind will commit the payer to pay the full amount in the event that no work is done (unless the reason the work doesn’t get done is the payer’s fault). In addition, the lawyers will keep an eye on the bottom line to ensure that the payer has enough to hire an alternate if the first choice falls through.

Then there’s insurance...

On top of careful contract negotiation, any business—including show business—buys insurance to cover its ventures for unforeseen losses and expenses. This includes key personnel getting sick or hurt and needing new personnel.

The scenario in your book is technically possible, but in reality it is implausible in the extreme—even for a small Indy production company.

My own experiences with contracts and insurance is, naturally, contemporary. If your book is set in the early days of film, 80-100 years ago, then perhaps it is more plausible. However you say the actress was contracted for $10 million, which places this novel in the last couple of decades... so no, not realistic.

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  • Thanks! Your analysis is in line with what I was assuming, but it's nice to hear confirmation. I think the novel is set in the late 1990s. To be clear, the novel I'm referring to isn't something I wrote, it's something I read. I didn't mention the title to avoid spoiling the plot for anyone who hasn't read the novel but might in the future. – user45623 Feb 22 at 21:18
  • Yes, by "your book" I meant the book in your possession, not the one you wrote. :) – ruffdove Feb 23 at 0:09
  • also, money probably wouldnt be paid ahead of time – Frezzley Feb 23 at 1:49
  • Again, that would depend on the contract, but you’re right that paying all the money in advance makes no sense for the studio. I can’t imagine a scenario in which the studio lawyers would agree to that. And even if they did, they would also demand a clause to recover that money if the actress backed out. – ruffdove Feb 23 at 3:04

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