Difficult question. The short answer is: anything from $1 to $millions. Seriously. Depends whether you’re being paid by a penniless director just out of film school or someone more established. But there are some factors that do tend to feed in reliably…
Crudely put, it all depends on a combination of:
- How much you are in demand as a writer – how ‘hot’ you are
- The quality of the script
- How ‘hot’ the script is – (not the same as how good the script is)
- The budget of the movie (you usually end up with about 2% of that, but it’s a fiendish calculation that is highly negotiable)
- The size and quality of the production company
- Which country you are in
- Whether you are writing a tv show or a movie.
Just to pull a figure out of the air – I have a friend who has just had an independent movie made here in the UK with a name star and a good, in demand, director. He received £30,000 for the script.
My agent tells me it tends to be 1 or 2% of the entire production budget – but there are so many variables attached to that it’s kind of hard to say. I guess, if I were to sell a script in the UK, with my level of experience, and it was to the average UK company, not a big American outfit, I’d expect between $60 and $100K, if that helps.
TV writers in the UK earn between £8K and upwards of £50K per hour of drama, depending on how successful they are, with the bulk of writers earning in the £10-15k mark.
I gather the payment is much higher in the US but it comes at the price of some freedom, as you tend to be tied into a particular show.
So you can see, with these kind of figures floating around, screenwriting can be a very, very desirable job indeed. The problem is those rewards bring a lot of competition. You need to make sure that your script is as good as it can be.
And if you’re worried about that, then you need to do all you can to sharpen up your writing before you send your work out. And I don’t mean just the words on the page. They’re important, vital, of course they are – but much MORE important are story structure, theme, emotional power, all that good stuff.
There’s a lot going on when you write a script. In fact It wasn’t till I sat down to analyse my own working process in great detail that I realised how much was actually happening in my subconscious while I was writing.
NOTE: If you’ve got a story to tell but you don’t know how to start writing a script, you should definitely click here for more information.