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Out of work actors sign up for Cameo video app for cash

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An app that lets celebrities — from athletes to actors — record and sell personalized video messages has seen a surge in sign-ups as the Hollywood strikes drag on

More than a month into The Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) strike, which began on July 14, thousands of actors are turning to video app Cameo for cash. 

They use their acting skills, without violating the strike rules, to record short greeting videos they sell to fans for as little as a few bucks and as much as thousands of dollars. Cameo also lets actors sell videos to businesses, essentially as spokespeople, through its Cameo for Business arm.

Even recognizable actors with roles in popular movies and TV series can struggle to make ends meet, particularly in the age of streaming. They report taking on second jobs as waiters, bartenders, flight attendants, roles far removed from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, to pay their bills when they’re not on screen. 

On Cameo, which has been around for six years, more than 50,000 performers set their own rates. Fans can purchase videos to send to friends as gifts for weddings, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, birthdays and other occasions. For consumers, the average video costs roughly $80. The app takes a 25% cut of the posted rate. 

Summer surge

Business is usually slow in the summer season, according to the app’s CEO Steven Galanis. But in July, the service saw a 137% increase in the number of talent that either reactivated their Cameo accounts or joined the app for the first time. 

“We’ve seen a significant spike over the past month and a half since the SAG strike began,” Galanis told CBS MoneyWatch. “Cameo is usually busiest around holidays, so it’s atypical to see a spike like that, and the thing that’s changed is the strike.”

SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher is among the big name actors that have reactivated their accounts and are selling videos on Cameo. A greeting from Drescher costs $1,500. Alyssa Milano, Cheyenne Jackson, Chris Wood, Melissa Benoist and China McClain have recently reactivated, too. 

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SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher has reappeared on the Cameo App, where she sells personalized videos for $1,500.

Cameo


The highest earner among the actors that have reactivated accounts has made over $25,000 in the past six weeks alone, according to Galanis. Others have only made a few bucks. 

“The best ones have made tens of thousands of dollars, and some will get booked once or twice,” Galanis said.

Setting rates

Talent can charge as much as they want per video which are a minimum of 30 seconds long. Cameo also offers guidance based on how much a celeb says they want to earn. 

“We help them set the price that meets their goals based on how much they’d like to earn and how many videos they’d like to make,” he said. “We suggest ranges that we think would resonate with their fans.”

Elijah Wood of “Lord of the Rings” fame charges $340 per personal video message. Alyssa Milano charges $300. A video message from Brian Cox of HBO’s recently ended hit series “Succession” will cost you $689. 


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Notably, SAG-AFTRA members’ Cameo for Business earnings accrue toward their health care and pension benefits. 

The performers joined more than 11,000 TV and script writers represented by the Writers Guild of America who have been on strike since early May. It is the first time two major Hollywood unions have been on strike at the same time since 1960. 

Half of SAG-AFTRA’s members make less than $26,000 a year from acting jobs and barely qualify for guild-sponsored health insurance.

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