People often presume that careers in the film industry are all extremely high paying, but that's not always the case. As screenwriters, we write because we're passionate about the medium, as well as storytelling. So, while writing might not always be as lucrative as people outside of Hollywood imagine, we write because we love what we do. That doesn't mean we can't all aspire to strive and make more! Every screenwriter dreams of the day that they'll sell a script for big bucks! But what kind of big bucks should we be dreaming of anyway, and who's making them? Today I'm exploring who the highest-paid screenwriters are!
Writer Salaries by Job Title
Before we get into the fun numbers, let's take a look at how much screenwriters usually make. In 2014, The Hollywood Reporter provided a full breakdown of who makes what in Hollywood, including everyone from actors and directors to reality TV stars. It's a fascinating read, and while the numbers might have changed somewhat, here's what they determined about screenwriters.
They list film writers making anywhere between $100,000 to $1M to sell a feature-length script to a major studio or production company. Successful and established film writers can net between $2-$5M for spec scripts when you include residuals and producer earnings! Big spec script sales can be very lucrative, but these sales are becoming rare.
Staff writers working on 20-week contracts make about $3,800 a week, while senior writers earn about $6,000 a week. When a writer writes an entire episode themselves, they can be looking to make $24,788!
This complex job proves to pay well, having showrunners make between $30,000-$100,000. In a 22-episode season, that would add up to anywhere between $660,000-$2.2M a year. Showrunners of renowned shows are known to make even more, anywhere between $10-$30million. A showrunner is typically the show's creator and maintains a majority of creative control over the production output.
Those numbers are interesting, but what I find even more interesting is how they reveal the additional ways screenwriters earn money. For the most successful writers going on to work as producers in combination with screenwriting afford them a producer's earnings. Residuals also get brought up as another bolster to a writer's salary. Credited writers on produced works get paid residual money for the reuse of their work. So based on the distribution and re-airing of the show or movie you're credited on, you would get paid the WGA (Writers Guild of America) negotiated amount.
Hollywood's Highest-Paid Screenwriters
Now onto the fun stuff! Here are some of Hollywood's highest-paid screenwriters:
Screenwriter, Producer, & Author Jane Goldman
Jane Goldman is an incredibly successful but not always acknowledged screenwriter. With a net worth of $7M, Goldman has been writing scripts for highly lucrative projects, and it's time people take notice! Her writing credits include big blockbusters from the past decade, "Kingsman: The Golden Circle," "Kick-Ass," and multiple "X-Men" films, including "X-Men: First Class."
Screenwriter, Director, & Actor Shane Black
Shane Black is well known to be a high-paid screenwriter with a net worth of $16 million. At 26, Black sold the original screenplay for "Lethal Weapon" for $250,000. He famously broke records with the $4M sale of "The Long Kiss Goodnight," holding the record for the most expensive screenplay ever sold by an individual writer. Shane Black also co-wrote "Iron Man 3," which dominated the box office and is the 20th highest-grossing film of all time.
Screenwriter & Director David Koepp
Screenwriter David Koepp has a net worth of $35 million. Having penned some incredible scripts over the years, "Jurassic Park," "Spider-Man," "War of the Worlds," "Mission: Impossible," "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," Koepp is a highly esteemed screenwriter. He is one of the most successful screenwriters of all time, grossing over $2.3 billion at the US box office.
Screenwriter & Producer Ron Bass
Ron Bass' (sometimes credited as Ronald Bass) experience as an entertainment lawyer has proven helpful to achieving his extraordinary paydays. The writer of "Rain Man" and "The Joy Luck Club," Bass earned a notable paycheck for "Mozart and the Whale," which netted him $2.75M!
Screenwriter, Producer, & Author Shonda Rhimes
Shonda Rhimes is the highest-paid showrunner in Hollywood. The powerful woman behind "Grey's Anatomy," "Scandal," and "Bridgerton" has made an impact on both network television and streaming with an impressive track record. Rhimes had a four-year deal for $10M a year during her time at ABC. Then in 2017, Shonda Rhimes signed a new industry-shaking deal with Netflix estimated to be $300-400M!
Other high-paid screenwriters include Brian Helgeland, Christopher Nolan, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Many of these writers usually have additional creative credits to their names (producer, director, executive producer, etc.). Hopefully, this blog shed some light on screenwriters' salaries and gave you something to aspire to you! Happy writing.