Discrimination Or Negotiation? The Phony “All The Money In The World” Pay Controversy

As usual, the headlines are misleading, and the reporting is soaked with emotion.. Michelle Williams Is Reportedly Worth 1500% Less Than Mark Walberg To Sony…

is a typical example. Fake news. Mark Wahlberg reportedly made 1500 times what Michelle Williams did for All the Money reshoots. True, but misleading. Here is what happened:

“All the Money in the World” is the film that had to be substantially re-shot after tyhe decision was made to make Kevin Spacey, in a major role, disappear, with his part taken by Christopher Plummer. This required far more re-shooting than a typical finished film requires. Most movie contracts require a certain number of reshoot days as a routine stipulation for the actors, who must make themselves available as needed. If more than the usual additional filming is needed, however, actors are not obligated to work beyond what they reasonably expected.  Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg had agreed to appear in “All the Money in the World” for less than their standard fee, but when they had to go an extra mile to let the film be completed, they each took a different tack.

Williams was nice, and quickly agreed to return, believing, without being told so,that other participants had made the same decision. She even worked over Thanksgiving,  arranging for her 12-year-old daughter, Matilda, to spend the holiday without her. “They could have my salary, they could have my holiday, whatever they wanted,” she Told the New York Times. “Because I appreciated so much that they were making this massive effort.” (…to get rid of Kevin Spacey!)

Her co-star Mark Wahlberg, however, realized that he had leverage over the production team. He was the only major cast member with no commitment to reshoot his scenes. The finished film was set to be released in theaters in about a month, on December 25, so he had terrific leverage. In Hollywood, leverage equals big bucks. He told his primary agent, Doug Lucterhand, to play hardball, and negotiate for as much money as he could get.

The production company ultimately agreed to a $1.5 million payment.

Is this gender discrimination? No. Is it an example of bias? No. Is it unfair? Well, only in that life is unfair, some people are more shrewd than others, Hollywood isn’t kindergarten, and nice guys finish last, as Leo Durocher said.

I don’t blame Williams for being upset, but she should be upset at herself. Wahlberg negotiated, she didn’t. She should fire her advisors and agents, perhaps, but she should also take responsibility for being a fool. One of the major factors in the so-called gender gap is that women are often poor negotiators, don’t ask for enough, and don’t use leverage when they have it. She was nice, and I’m sure the movie’s producers were grateful. Maybe they’ll want to hire her again, because she was nice. But Mark Wahlberg has an extra 1,5 million bucks that she doesn’t, because he was smart.

Do you think the film-makers  decided to do a major re-shoot and not include a provision for actors who demanded extra money? Of course they did. Williams didn’t make them dip into their emergency funds, that’s all. Wahlberg did.

Actress Jessica Chastain tweeted,

“Please go see Michelle’s performance in All The Money in The World. She’s a brilliant Oscar nominated Golden Globe winning actress. She has been in the industry for 20 yrs. She deserves more than 1% of her male costar’ s salary.”

This is a completely foolish statement. Wahlberg was paid extra because he had the right to refuse to let William’s brilliant performance be seen at all, as did she. He made the film pay him not to exercise that right, she didn’t. How good an actress Williams is doesn’t have anything to do with what they were paid. Neither does how many years she’s been in the business. He demanded more money. That’s tough, that gutsy, but it’s not unethical. He has no obligation to take less money than he can get because his co-star is a patsy and was so flushed with #MeToo fervor that she  jumped at the chance to help make Kevin Spacey a non-person. She got what she wanted, and Wahlberg got what he wanted. Now she wants what he got.

Too bad.

The caterwauling from feminists, gender pay activists, the unions and, I hate to say it, from economics-ignorant or dishonest journalists is embarrassing to them all, or should be. What exactly should the film company have done? Insist on paying Williams more after she quickly agreed to do the re-shoots for nothing? Agree to Wahlberg’s demands, and then give Williams the money she didn’t ask for, thus triggering demands from the other actors? Give Wahlberg an ultimatum, and have him kill the movie so they can be true to feminist principles?

Sorry Bernie, but this is still a capitalist system, and no business is more capitalist than the movie business.  Williams knows that. Wahlberg is better at it. Stop whining and learn how to play. No, the producers did nothing unethical by paying one star more than another under these circumstances. If Walhberg had been the nice guy, and Williams had squeezed the producers for 1.5 million, do you know what Jessica Chastain would be tweeting?

“You go girl!”


30 thoughts on “Discrimination Or Negotiation? The Phony “All The Money In The World” Pay Controversy

  1. Turns out, TheWrap.com reports that Michelle Williams was contractually obligated to re-shoot the film. Marky Mark wasn’t.

        • That’s still an atypical re-shoot. How does whether it’s one, ten or 50 days change anything? They were essential: Spacey played J Paul Getty. No scenes, no movie, and not covered by Wahlberg’s contract.

      • I disagree, but as I understand it, the original contract lays out specified days that you must make yourself available to shoot “whatever” needs to be shot. They might have had technical problems with a shaky camera or lighting. Or early screenings might have revealed poor chemistry, bad acting, dialogue wasn’t working, etc. For a recent example, look no further than Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. You can watch the early trailers for that movie and you won’t see any of those scenes in the final product. They basically did re-shoot the entire movie.

        • Why not three times then? Four? A contract for a specific project with a start and end date can’t be open-ended, and these contracts were below the actors’ usual rate. The film was also in the can, complete, when the Spacey problem came up. The decision to reshoot a film under those circumstances was unprecedented. They had a finished product, and it was satisfactory. There have to be limits on reasonability, otherwise any auteur can wake up after the actors have gotten on with their lives and declare, “It’s all wrong! I hate it! We must begin again!” And the actors are bound to change their plans and start all over again?

          • The limit is the # of days the actor/actress is required to be available. I bet they contracted her to be available for 10 days. Generally, that clause goes unused, but it’s there for such instances. Had the reshoots to remove Spacey required 13 days, they’d be shit out of luck on their negotiating power. Of course, a nice and generous person might just give up their time for free because they believe in the cause and don’t want to stick it to the production company. But when you contract someone to come back at a much later date….it’s…well…a contract.

  2. Technically compensation is all the value recieved in exchange for services rendered. Many executives or technical people forego cash salary in exchange for things of estimated future value.

    Some employees find value in things that cannot be measured in dollars; in economics parlance it is called psychic income. Psychic income is earned by top physicists who choose to forego fame and fortune to become a teacher because physics is what he/she lives for. Training the next generation gives him/her satisfaction beyond that which he could obtain in the work for money world.

    If we were to demand that Ms Williams put a monetary value on the value she obtains for ensuring the world sees her performance she probably would be hard pressed to put a dollar value on it. If she claims she she gets little to no value from either ensuring the film’s release or bringing down Spacey then why did she do it for nothing? On the other hand, what if she needs the film to be a success so that her future prospects in film are financially improved. Thus, if the film is not released she will lose potentially more lucrative roles.

    What most people do not understand or comprehend is the concept of opportunity cost. Actors are not salaried or hourly workers they are project workers. If Wahlberg has to postpone shooting to fix someone elses problem he loses potential earning capacity. Earnings lives are finite. Without information to the contrary Ms. Williams must not have another project lined up or did not consider the lost income potential if she did.

    Ms Williams valued the film more than having Thanksgiving with her family. Therefore, she either puts little value her family or she must have considered she was getting enormous value on getting the film completed. Can you put a value on family? Theoretically, she might have recieved compensation in excess of what Wahlberg received. It might be the same or it might be less. Only she knows what getting a potential oscar was worth.

  3. “Agree to Wahlberg’s demands, and then give Williams the money she didn’t ask for, thus triggering demands from the other actors?”

    There exists a sad letter in which an obviously weary Francis Coppola is trying to explain to Richard Castellano that he can’t let Castellano write his own ticket to appear in Godfather 2, largely because anything Castellano received would have to be supplied to everyone else in the cast.


  4. Wow! So glad I’m not in this acting business. I’ve generally been able broadly to trust my employer to be fair in looking after me and those at my level; and he then trusts me to look after his business. I then try to trickle that approach down to the people working for me. Time and energy I would otherwise have to spend guarding my back would be at the expense of time and energy I couldn’t spend making the business more successful. As is so often the case, maintaining mutual trust makes for a better result for all of us. I would have thought actors needed mutual trust and a good esprit de corp to make a good film, but apparently this is not necessarily the case? Working with a bunch of jealous, suspicious and highly competitive sh1ts is generally quite exhausting and I wouldn’t enjoy it.

    • No, you wouldn’t. The episode was a great window on how cut-throat and ethics-free the whole culture is. Two bad James Garner isn’t alive to remind us about how he spend his whole career taking serial film companies to court for trying to cheat him out of the money he had earned. For his refusal to role over, Garner was basically blackballed by some studios. This is the kind of thing that leads the smart actors to refuse to “be nice” to these people, because if they let their guard down for a second and and not watch their backs, they will get screwed. Some performers quit the business as soon as they can. Some just shrug and accept “the business they have chosen.” And some say, “Okay, when in Rome,play by their rules.”

  5. I don’t blame Williams for being upset, but she should be upset at herself. Wahlberg negotiated, she didn’t. She should fire her advisors and agents, perhaps, but she should also take responsibility for being a fool.

    Nope. We can’t be asking “victims” to take responsibility for their part. The narrative won’t allow it.

    “Please go see Michelle’s performance in All The Money in The World. She’s a brilliant Oscar nominated Golden Globe winning actress. She has been in the industry for 20 yrs. She deserves more than 1% of her male costar’ s salary.”

    Now we know for certain that some village out there has misplaced it’s idiot.

    One thing that is eventually going to undo all this is excess emotionalism bereft of reason, or facts. Williams got paid exactly what she was willing to accept. Then, she finds out she could’ve gotten more, and wants a do-over. Jessica Chastain thinks she shouldn’t have to sully her poor little girl-hands by standing up for herself and demanding her due, but instead the movie producers should just toss money her way because she’s awesome.

    Pretty soon, a woman is going to find out that car dealer X gave a man a better deal than her because he negotiated one and she didnt. Twitter is going to explode in outrage at the car dealer until she gets her do-over, because woman, or something.

    Pathetic. Disgusting, actually.

  6. “Please go see Michelle’s performance in All The Money in The World. She’s a brilliant Oscar nominated Golden Globe winning actress. She has been in the industry for 20 yrs. She deserves more than 1% of her male costar’ s salary.”

    A very cynical part of me wonders if she or her handlers aren’t trying to guilt an award onto her shelf. “She was cheated out of all this money, the least we can do is give her an award”.

    I mean, really, what’s the alternative? Everyone knows why she received lass money, and it had everything to do with the contracts. The studio isn’t going to go back and start shoveling money at her now. If the point isn’t to maneuver for an award, then what?

  7. One of my side takes here was that when I read the articles, and Jack’s post is evidence of this, I generally got all of the information and didn’t really have an impression that the writer was saying there was pay discrimination. They were generally writing about celebrities losing their shit and then explaining the situation. However, the headline of the article (which often isn’t written by the writer) was blatant click-bait outrage. I wonder what people’s thoughts are about writers not having full control of their product when others are manipulating headlines for traffic? Can journalism be fixed by simply demanding writers have more control and take more accountability?

  8. Performing needs more sunlight as a disinfectant. I’ve been at both ends and in the middle of this spectrum. Where I was able to negotiate and ended up with a bigger paycheck (in some cases that left others with smaller one- erg), where I was unable to negotiate at all and later found I had the smallest for a same size role, and in casts where we all got the same amount. This is SO much different than other industries, where you could look to an industry standard or similar/same job title and expect to have an idea what to request. My day job has always made much more sense on that score, because it’s less secret. Plenty of theaters are NOT going to tell you ANYTHING about what others get paid, but I can usually get some details out of HR.

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