Actors are Turning to Cameo Amid SAG-AFTRA Strike

On July 24 Cheyenne Jackson, an actor, posted a photo on Instagram that showed him shirtless, with glistening abs, veiny arms and his lips parted.

“This is me subtly letting you know I’m back on @cameo,” its caption read.

Cameo is a service through which celebrities and others can be paid to make personalized videos commemorating birthdays, bachelorette parties, divorces and the like. Mr. Jackson, who has appeared in the “American Horror Story” TV shows and in “30 Rock,” said in a phone interview that he reactivated his account because of the continuing strike by SAG-AFTRA, the actors’ union.

Mr. Jackson, 48, charges $95 for a video message and cited bills — “I have two kids” — as one reason he is on Cameo. “There are only so much sources of income,” he said.

“My husband cringed a little,” he added. “But you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

Since Cameo debuted in 2016, some actors have used it when traditional work has dried up. In 2021, as the pandemic raged, the actor Andrew Rannells joined Cameo to raise money for the Entertainment Community Fund, a nonprofit formerly known as the Actors Fund. On a recent episode of “And Just Like That…,” the “Sex and the City” reboot, the character Che Diaz, played by Sara Ramirez, starts making Cameo videos after a TV pilot is canceled.

According to data provided by Cameo, there was a 137 percent increase in the number of accounts reactivated or created on Cameo in July compared to June (the strike started on July 14). The number of orders for videos remained about the same for each month, but Cameo said orders usually drop in July because there aren’t events like graduations and holidays like Father’s Day.

Some of the new and reactivated accounts were for people unaffected by the strike, but others were for union actors like Mr. Jackson and Alyssa Milano. Fran Drescher, the SAG-AFTRA president, also reactivated her account, according to Cameo, though it is not currently accepting bookings.

Ms. Milano, 50, who charges $250 for a video message, said in an email that Cameo “is a great way to supplement some income during this idle time.” Ms. Drescher’s representatives said she was unavailable to comment for this article.

While the actors’ union is on strike, its members are forbidden from filming most projects and from promoting most projects at movie premieres, film festivals and events like Comic-Con. But making Cameo videos, for the most part, is allowed, said Sue-Anne Morrow, the national director of contract strategic initiatives and podcasts at SAG-AFTRA.

“As long as there’s no promotion of struck work within the Cameo, there’s no problem,” Ms. Morrow said in an email.

In May, around the time that movie and television writers’ unions went on strike, the actors’ union finalized a deal with Cameo that allows its members to have earnings from certain bookings applied toward their health insurance minimum earnings requirement, Ms. Morrow said. Those bookings must be made through Cameo 4 Business, where corporate customers like insurance companies and grocery store chains hire talent for promotional videos.

Ms. Morrow said that the union pursued the agreement because Cameo is one of many ways actors can support themselves when they’re not acting.

The average price of a Cameo 4 Business booking is $1,700, said Steven Galanis, a founder of Cameo and its chief executive. Non-business bookings — the types of videos Cameo is most known for — average $70. Cameo receives 25 percent of the fee for any booking, and the rest goes to the talent.

Mr. Galanis compared the opportunity created by the strike for Cameo to the period of time in the early pandemic when, as he put it, “every other income sort of dried up” for actors and other entertainers. “I’m hoping that the strike ends tomorrow,” he said. “But if it doesn’t, we’re going to be here.”

On July 18, days after the actors’ union went on strike, Cameo announced a round of layoffs, which happened a little more than a year after the company laid off 87 workers in May 2022. Mr. Galanis declined to comment on the number of people affected by the recent layoffs, or on the number of people now working at Cameo.

Some actors who have started reusing the service since the strike said that making money was not the only reason that they returned to it. Christa B. Allen, who has appeared in the TV show “Revenge” and in the film “13 Going on 30,” said that Cameo offers an opportunity to engage with fans at a time when she is making fewer public appearances.

“We’re nothing without our fans,” she said. Cameo, she added, lets actors “connect with the people that love them and have supported their career in a time when they’re not going to be making traditional media.”

Ms. Allen, 31, who uses the stage name Christa Belle, reactivated her Cameo account during the strike after using it sporadically since 2017. She charges $75 per booking and said she has made about $1,000 to date.

“Cameo is not something I think of as a moneymaker,” she said.