By FRANK SWERTLOW

Staff Reporter

Hollywood superstars like Sylvester Stallone, Jim Carrey and Tom Cruise are notorious for demanding as much $20 million a picture. But how do they actually get paid?

Unlike Hollywood's arcane accounting practices, which have mystified even the keenest observers for years, actors get paid in the simplest of ways by check.

"A check is usually taken to the business manager or his agent," said Andrew Dolan, senior vice president at Burbank-based Axium Entertainment Services, which handles the payroll for major studios and independent production companies. "There is no direct deposit. It's a real check, no cash."

But Carrey doesn't just get handed a check for $20 million, which he can then cash at the corner bank branch.

An actor's salary whether superstar or bit player generally is paid in installments, beginning on the first day of principal photography and ending on the last day worked. The checks are sent to the actor's representative, who deducts his or her fees and turns over the balance to the actor, the actor's business manager or sometimes the actor's production company.

While each contract for a starring role is different, many include what is known as "points" that is, a percentage of net or gross profits, which tends to vary depending on the clout of the actor. Technically, any monies from the so-called "back end" of a contract are not part of the star's actual salary, which is paid before the film hits the theaters and profits can be calculated.

Payroll firms like Axium don't get involved in those back-end calculations because each deal has different profit-participation clauses.

"We don't dig into anybody's pockets," Dolan said. "And the studios or production companies are really the only ones who know how much a movie or TV series makes."

When it comes to getting paid, performers sometimes ask that they don't give the check to an agent or business manager whom they might not trust. They also like the payment to be in cash.

"We don't do either," he said. "You need paperwork, something that can be tracked. If you give someone $100,000 or $200,000 in cash, they could wind up saying we never paid them. That's where you get into untruths with the IRS."

One agent at a major talent agency said his clients give specific instructions on where the money should be sent following his company's receipt of the salary payment.

"It usually is to the business manager, but sometimes it will go to the star's production company," he said. "It really never goes to the star."

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