Gerald Langiri
March 16 / 2012

In an industry where most are regarded as gods, it is sad and more so embarrassing to hear whispers like “actor so and so asked me for money the other day and has not paid me back“ or “these Kenyan actors are so broke, why should we regard them as public figures or celebrities“ and my favorite “Kenyan actors would like us to respect them yet tunapanda nao matatu moja“. That last one really tends to get to me as I ponder “so what I get onto a matatu, I do not deserve respect for my art and acting skills? What if it is my personal choice to board a matatu?“

I rest in peace comprehending that, the public does look up to us as icons of sorts. With that admiration comes a sense of responsibility. They expect us to dress well, drive in fancy cars and live in mansions synonymous with our Hollywood stars. Realities have to be faced though.. One obvious reality being, we are not in Hollywood and our acting industry is still not at the point where actors can earn a good substantial amount of money to sustain their livelihoods. I rephrase, majority of the actors are not at the point where, they can survive of acting alone while there are those that actually can.

Another truth is, as much as we preach acting is all about passion, at the end of the day it is also a business. Passion and your art will get you into the door and get you gigs. Gigs which you may do for free or for peanuts while you make a name for yourself while you start off, but a time will come when you need to grow your business and make a profit. Plus, passion alone will not pay your bills.

So, how much do our Kenyan actors earn? Most importantly, are they underpaid?

There are actors who fall under the category of earning salaries for example, those who have binding contracts and hence earn a monthly cheque like any other full time employee in any other industry. Most actors fall into the category of earning wages which means being paid per episode and in some other circumstances, per script. We then have those special actors who know very well the meaning of putting sweat into acting and later being taken in circles and not getting paid at all or getting paid a couple of months later or even longer when that cheque will really not help you as much as it would have had it been prompt. That last group might require an article of its own to really dwell into the issue of actors being taken for a ride.

In this Part 1, I take a look at TV stations/networks and production houses as a determining factor to how much an actor gets as they go hand in hand.

TV networks and production houses

It goes without saying; producers make programs with the aim of selling them. The better the payment from the client and in this case, the TV station, the better the pay for the actors. My sources tell me the highest paying TV station is Citizen TV followed by Nation TV, KBC, and at the bottom of the list for not paying well is KTN.

With the government policy of increasing local content up to 40%, we should be seeing more local programs on our TV stations. I will therefore not mention Kiss TV, K24, Kass TV as they do not have much local content yet. Whilst Kiss Tv is really trying to flock their network with local programs, anyone who has watched the quality of local programs they do air, one can easily come up with a rough figure on how much they paid for them. My guess? Not much.

Citizen TV can boast of being the leader in showcasing local content compared to the other networks as producers are more willing to sell their programs on that Network. With example of Papa Shirandula, Tahidi High, Mother-in-law and Machachari ( all Citizen TV productions), my sources say that actors get paid per script with amounts ranging approximately between ksh15,000 to Kshs 30,000 for the main casts. Highest paid actors in Tahidi high for example earn Kshs 17,000 per episode. The programs air 4 times a month so one can do the math and conclude on the monthly figures. The task of course is getting to feature in all those 4 episodes in the month to get that amount of money. So basically, it is only the main characters that relatively get paid well compared to actors who have featured in one or two episodes.

Moving on to NTV and let us look at Mali (an Alison production), the most riveting program on that station right now. Mali actors can also boast of earning relatively good pay cheques with sources close to me , quoting Kshs 80,000 to Kshs 100,000 per month for the highest paid actors whilst the least paid actors getting something close to Kshs 20,000-35,000.

I move to KTN and I sigh with disbelief about the reputation the station and production houses that air program on the station tend to get when it comes to local content. Word on the street is that, it is the station to take your program when every other station has failed to accept your show. I will use changing times(an Insignia Production) as an example as it was one of the highly anticipated programs on the channel. My Sources say actors used to get as little as Kshs 6000 to Kshs 10,000 per episode. Sources even go on further to tell me that there are actors who have not been paid for close to 5 months now from the show. Whether the problem lies with the production house undercutting the actors or the TV network not paying up their dues is something I could not quite establish. However, it is not all a bed of thorns with KTN as Lies that bind (a Speilworks production) on the other hand can also boast of paying actors well. My sources quoted to me that the highest paid actors earn something to the range of Kshs 60,000-80,000. Whilst minimum paid actors on a monthly contract get around ksh15,000 to Kshs 25,000.

Word on the street also dictates that Alison production is the best paying production house in town perhaps due to the fact that the programs produced by the company always falls in well paying stations. (Siri-Citizen TV and Mali-NTV). As for poor paying production houses, how about I let you, actors, speak about your experiences by leaving a comment below. Question to be asked though is, are production houses giving actors the short end of the stick when it comes to paying them? Speak out. I could be wrong and mislead.

In part 2 of the article I will take a look at “roles“ as another determining factor to how much Kenyan actors earn.

Written by :Gerald Langiri 

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