How Much do Screenplays Sell For?
Anybody that’s interested in the filmmaking business either wants to be a director, a producer, a big star, or some other position where they’ll see their name in lights. But for every actor that’s looking for their first big break (and paycheck), there’s a screenwriter looking to sell a script they’ve written. But how much do screenplays sell for?
Generally speaking, not as much as some of those other above-the-line positions you see in the credits. With nearly 50,000 screenplays and short film scripts submitted annually to the Writer’s Guild of America–and 100-150 actual films getting made–a script can get lost in the shuffle. We aren’t saying only 150 screenplays get sold, however.
That’s a key fact when becoming a screenwriter–just because a script gets sold, it doesn’t mean the viewing public will soon be seeing your words acted out on screen. Still, there are plenty of opportunities to make money writing for film and television shows. Before you sell any script, you should really consider joining the Writer’s Guild of America.
How Much do Screenplays Sell For: Protect Yourself
The most successful screenwriters can make millions of dollars a year, although script sales are just one part of the equation. Getting attached to a film as a producer, getting paid when streaming rights are sold, and other addendums to a contract can drive their salary up.
Until you’ve reached that level, it’s a good idea to join the WGA. As a member of the WGA, there are certain minimum prices for any of your work, whether it’s a spec script, a treatment, or even polishing an existing script. The WGA also spells out how screenwriters get paid, how much screenwriters working on television shows make, and the amount paid for residuals, DVD sales, and so on.
For an exhaustive look at the minimum amount of money paid for scripted work, the WGA site has this handy PDF that explains it all. There are high and low ranges, pay for an original screenplay, final drafts, if a screenwriter produces scripts for a TV show that runs less than 30 minutes, and more.
For example, if you’re delivering an original screenplay, including treatment, the low end of the scale is $77,495. They even have it broken down by installments: delivery of an original treatment is $35,107, delivery of the screenplay first draft is $30,512, and the final draft pays $11,875.
If you’re interested in how much screenwriters make, it’s a good primer on what you can expect. And remember, no matter what a screenwriter’s salary is, you’ll still need to pay taxes, payout for managers or agents, and other fees associated with the WGA. Just like any other job, these are gross numbers, not net.
The Green Age of Screenplay Payoffs
No story about how much do screenplays sell for would be complete without mentioning Joe Eszterhas. After a writer’s strike in the 80s, production companies needed films, which means they needed screenplays. Nobody benefited from this fact as much as Eszterhas, one of the highest-paid screenwriters of the last century.
Although he had earlier success with scripts for Flashdance and Jagged Edge, he pocketed $3 million for writing Basic Instinct–still one of the highest price tags for a screenplay ever. The movie made $400 million and his legend was cemented. And you may remember when he sold a story idea for $3.7 million based on an idea written on a napkin.
He was promised $2 million upfront to write Showgirls, plus another $1.7 million if the movie was made. It was made and flopped spectacularly. Eszterhas sold another screenplay (Jade) for seven figures too, but it also failed miserably at the box office.
It heralded the beginning of the end for high-priced screenplays. However, Eszteras made $26 million for eleven screenplays in less than a decade of work. In all, five of the scripts were never produced, so he could have made even more. So when it comes to how much screenwriters make, there’s no one answer.
Write Scripts That DO Sell
The Film Connection Screenwriting program is designed to help you write the Killer Script that gets seen by the decision-makers. You’ll work one-on-one with a professional screenwriter, learn about the three-act structure, how to develop characters, write action scenes, and even have proper formatting for your script. Apply today.