SCREENWRITING: HOW MUCH DO I ASK FOR?

Yay! Someone wants to “buy” your script or hire you to write a screenplay or whatevs.

High-fives. A minor miracle has happened.

If you or the buyer are members of the WRITERS GUILD OF AMERICA (WGA), the minimum fees are clearly established. Check ’em out here:

Generally, the WGA contracts show up when you work for producers/studios/TV networks we’ve all heard of. If you get a gig for Disney or AMC or Universal you’ll get in the WGA…but until then you’ll be forced to work in the indy-world.

The indy world is the wild-west. As an indy-screenwriter, the fee for writing can be ANYTHING.

Likely, your first $$ will come from someone optioning your script. See my previous blog post on “WHAT’S AN OPTION” (essentially it’s getting a certain amount of $$ for the exclusive option to actually purchase your script before a designated deadline).

But sometimes new writers get an email like “I have an awesome idea but need a writer.” It’s a weird idea — most of these people aren’t producers(or at least experienced ones) and most of them have zero chance of getting their idea made. Even worse, they’re not writers either.

But hey…money is money!

Just like in cheap options — if you end up selling for a discount price — be sure you ask for other benefits. Backend % and bonuses. Box Office bonuses. Keeping sequel rights or toy rights or getting travel expenses for the premiere. People are usually more generous about a ‘hypothetical future’ than they are with the money in their pocket.

Having a lawyer or agent can be a big help. But like I’ve said before…$500 options or $1000 script payments aren’t going to move the needle on agents/managers. Don’t even bother.

C’mon dude, answer the question — how much we get paid?

If possible, sure, try to use ‘WGA minimums’ as a baseline. But if someone wants to make a $20,000 movie, they won’t be able to afford that. They might try to buy your script for $5000 or $500.

How’s $50 and credit look?

I spent about a decade working as an independent screenwriter. I was hired for rewrites and treatments and everything else. The most I ever got was probably about $25, 000 for a story and a screenplay. It wasn’t too uncommon to get $5,000-$10,000 for drafts and rewrites. I was recently contacted by a friend who said they NEVER paid writers more than $500.

So that’s $500 for 3–6 months of work.

When people ask me what they should be paid, I typically advise people to ask for “whatever would make them personally feel like they were not ripped off.”

Some people love creating so much they’d jump on a project for free. I get that. I spent $20,000 of my own money once to make a schlocky horror film. Free is better than paying $20,000!!

Also, while the WGA states all kinds of minimum ‘conditions’ beyond just $$ (credit rules, invitations to premieres, etc, etc)…indy films don’t have any of those rules, they may try to tell you they get to decide what credit to get — and on the flip side you can SPECIFY what credit you get if the movie is made.

Yes, some of these producers will want you to get NO CREDIT. IE — you’re a ghostwriter. Early in my career, I did this. Just no — ghostwriting is ALL ABOUT THE MONEY. It won’t really help your career since you can’t tell anyone about it — so if it’s a NO CREDIT scenario make sure you’re getting money that helps pay the bills. Not just token payments.

(OKAY — Here’s the part where I’m supposed to say YOU NEED A LAWYER — — but who can afford a lawyer when you’re only getting $50 — maybe add ‘lawyer fees’ into the upfront price?)

Just know that if you work for outrageously cheap (or free) you have all the leverage in negations — get backend %, get a producer credit, get sequel rights, demand tickets and a hotel room for the premiere. If you’re getting nothing or next to nothing now, ask for $$ in the hypothetical event your movie becomes the next Paranormal Activity. Consider the big picture and ask for those things that make it feel like a ‘win’ or a worthy risk. For some that’s a producer credit and backend, for others that’s $15K upfront. And it will vary from project to project.

Sometimes the real benefit is seeing something produced. Or working with a director you respect.

Other times it’s about relationships.

And other times it’s about making $500.

About 75% of the time people who contact me to write independently are really looking for freebies. Free options, collaborations, or maybe a token $500 and the promise of great riches on the backend.

There really isn’t a career path in independent screenwriting (or much of one in filmmaking). If you hustle like crazy you might eek out 20K-60K a year. You’ll probably work harder than any WGA screenwriter for the paltry pay. I did this for a few years while trying to make inroads in Hollywood. I had a day job to support me for many of those years. It’s a good way to get some credits under your belt and learn the craft…just realize it isn’t the end goal. If you’re going make a long-term career of this “Indy Screenwriter” isn’t the job title you should be chasing.