For most, writing is less of a job and more of a passion. But wouldn't it be ideal if we could all make a living in a field that we are passionate about? It's not impossible to get paid to do what you love if you're willing to accept the reality: there's not much stability for script writers who choose this path. We asked five expert screenwriters, how much does a screenwriter make? And the answer … Well, it's as diverse as the backgrounds of our experts.
Per the Writers Guild of America West, the minimum amount a script writer can get paid for a low budget (less than $5 million) feature-length film excluding treatment is $41,740. For a high-budget film (exceeding $5 million), the minimum amount a script writer can get paid is $85,902. Of course, screenwriter pay varies significantly in between and above those rates for both TV and movies.
“But if you’re doing this for money then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. Because … it’s really hard to break in,”
said Jeanne V. Bowerman, former editor at Script Mag and Co-Founder/Moderator of #ScriptChat.
New York Times Best-Selling Author Jonathan Maberry, the author of the “V-Wars” franchise that was made into a series for Netflix, echoed that sentiment.
According to Maberry, less than one percent of writers make a living at it. In the novel-writing world, Maberry said he knows writers who are turning out one or two novels each year, making anywhere from $5,000- $10,000 per book.
However, it’s not all harsh news. For screenwriters who are great at what they do, there is big money to be made. Screenwriter Doug Richardson, who wrote ‘Die Hard 2,’ ‘Hostage,’ and ‘Bad Boys,’ told us sought-after screenwriters willing to do rewrites can make hundreds of thousands of dollars … per WEEK. It’s the exception, of course, and not the rule.
And the rest, he added,
Donald H. Hewitt wrote screenplays for several successful anime films, including “Spirited Away” and ‘Howl’s Moving Castle.’ He said the average screenwriter salary range can be compared to the average pro athlete's salary.
Michael Stackpole, author of several novels including the warrior trilogy for Battletech Universe and several novels for Bantam Books’Star Wars universe, said working for free is not necessarily a bad thing when you’re just starting out.
I warned you at the beginning of this blog: the screenwriter salary numbers really are all over the board! In the end, writers must decide what they’re willing to take as payment for pursuing their passion. Your talent is priceless but putting food on the table isn’t free. The bad news? You may need to keep your day job for a while. But the great news?
Looking for more information about how much screenwriters make around the world? Check out part two of this blog on what salary a script writer can expect to earn.
Sky’s the limit!
Want an even deeper-dive into the details surrounding payments for TV and movies? The numbers vary slightly every year. Check out this information on how much film and TV writers make, including residuals, schedules, and taxes, from Freshmen Screenplay.