• Reece Thompson appeared in “Titanic” at the age of five.
• He landed a small speaking role, performing as a character IMDB labelled “Irish little boy.”
• Thompson still receives residuals from the film, but the amount sometimes fluctuates from year to year.
• Film and television actors – and their heirs – can earn money through residuals for years, if a project is successful enough.
You’ve probably seen Reece Thompson’s face before, but you likely wouldn’t recognise him on the street.
At the age of five, Thompson made his film debut in the 1997 mega-hit “Titanic.” He played the part of the “Irish little boy,” a young third class passenger who tragically dies with his mother and sister when the famous passenger liner sinks.
In the movie, Thompson appears in three scenes and has a line of dialogue.
Today, Thompson, 25, works as the digital marketing director at Brian Head Resort, a skiing and snowboarding resort in Utah. He doesn’t remember much of his time on the set of the “Titanic,” which went on to earn $US2,187,463,944 for its lifetime worldwide box office gross, according to Box Office Mojo. But each year, he still receives a few checks for his performance in the film, which had the second highest worldwide box office gross of all time.
Thompson got his start as a child model, and acquired a talent agent after he won a contest. When he was five, his talent agent offered his mother two potential projects: an appearance in a gas station commercial or a shot at role in “a major motion picture.”
Thompson told Business Insider that his mother ended up opting for the latter. The commercial was more of a sure bet – a tidy sum for a few hours work. But she ended up taking the risk.
“It turned out to be one of the highest grossing films in history so it’s pretty bizarre in retrospect,” Thompson told Business Insider. “My mum was like, ‘Let’s just do it. It will be cool. Even if the movie sucks, we’ll see it.’ Obviously it ended up exploding, so that wasn’t a bad decision on her part, that’s for sure.”
Thompson said he doesn’t remember much about the audition, or the filming process. He does recall struggling to put on an Irish accent. At such a young age, he had a hard time changing his pronunciation of the words – or even fully grasping what an accent was.
“If you listen to it, it doesn’t sound very Irish,” he said. “It just sounds soft-spoken. I remember trying to mimic what the speech coach was trying to do. That’s as close as I got.”
Thompson said he was paid a certain rate for the time he spent on set. Then, the film came out on December 19, 1997. It was a massive hit, raking in $US28,638,131 in its opening weekend,Box Office Mojo reports.
Thompson ended up earning somewhere around $US30,000 after the film came out. That sum was invested and put into bank accounts. Thompson said much of that money has since gone toward his education, car, and living expenses.
He continues to receive residuals on a quarterly basis, however. In the years following the movie’s debut, the checks were in the “low thousands.” The amount would sometimes spike, like when the VHS and DVD versions of “Titanic” came out in 1998 and 1999, respectively. There was also a subsequent DVD re-release in 2005, a Blu-ray release in 2012, and a theatrical re-release in AMC Theatres in December 2017 to celebrate the film’s 20th anniversary. Thompson said that the residuals didn’t get much of a boost after the 2012 theatrical release of “Titanic in 3D,” however.
The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists website explains that, when it comes to films, “residuals begin once the movie appears on video/DVD, basic cable and free or pay television, or new media.” How much a performer earns from residuals varies based on their contract, and enduring success of the project. Extras – who the SAG officially terms “background performers” – can’t receive residuals.
Now, Thompson tends to earn about $US200 to $US300 a year in residuals.
“It’s weird because it’s not present in my mind anymore,” he said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, when am I going to get a new Titanic check?’ When it happens, it’s like, ‘Oh, cool. An extra $US100.'”
SAG-AFTRA estimates it sends out 1.5 to 1.6 million residual checks a year.
For Thompson and other “Titanic” actors, those residuals will just keep coming in every year, as the smash hit continues to make a splash with theatrical and television audiences. In fact, their heirs can even collect residual checks years down the line.
“There have been a couple of times where it’s been like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s a $US250 check. This movie’s 12 years old, that’s pretty bizarre,'” he said. “But hopefully, they keep playing it a lot, because that means more money for me.”
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