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October 20, 2023

How Much Do Screenwriters Make In 2023?

Hollywood is filled with stories of overnight success and massive paydays for screenwriters. Tales of unknown writers selling their first script for millions or getting a huge check to do a rewrite on a major studio production are the stuff of legend. But what is the reality behind those rare outlier stories? How much do most working screenwriters really make over the course of their careers?

The unpredictable path of the screenwriter

The path of a professional screenwriter is often unpredictable, with huge peaks and valleys when it comes to compensation. The glamorized image of the writer getting showered with riches doesn't always match the day-to-day grind that the majority face. In this article, we'll break down the typical earnings potential for screenwriters at different stages of their careers. Whether you're an aspiring screenwriter just starting out or a seasoned pro looking for a new benchmark, you'll get a better sense of the numbers behind the fantasy.

While a lucky few may catapult to instant fame and fortune, the road for most is long and winding. Passion for the craft, persistence, and patience are required to survive the tough times and build a sustainable career in the high-risk, high-reward Hollywood system. For those willing to put in the hard work and commitment, screenwriting can eventually provide a comfortable living. But the road to get there has more speed bumps than red carpets. Let's take a realistic look at how much writers can expect to earn at various points along the path.

First paycheck

Getting hired for an assignment or getting your script accepted, that initial deal represents a breakthrough — your first real payday as a professional writer. But despite the significance of making that first sale, the money involved is usually modest. Most new writers selling an original screenplay make between $5,000 to $10,000, sometimes higher if there's a bidding war. While a huge accomplishment, that's certainly not enough to quit your day job.

Established writers selling specs may get up to $100,000 or more, but even mid-level writers typically max out between $20,000-$40,000 for their early original scripts. So while that initial sale represents realizing your dream, you'll still have a long road ahead to earn a consistent living as a screenwriter.

The typical selling price for a spec script is approximately $110,000, according to the Writers Guild of America (WGA). However, if you're a writer with limited experience the reality is you're unlikely to get this.

Whilst we at Arc Studio would never argue you should sell yourself short when it comes to your first script, you should consider just getting your script made a huge win. It may be worth considering any offer that has been put on the table with the hope of using your finished film or series as a way to negotiating a better rate on your second feature.

There might also be other considerations in play such as creative control. If you had to give up more creative control for money then you should seriously consider whether this is worth it.

Mid-level films: the sky is the limit

When it comes to high-profile studio films and franchises, the pay for top screenwriters enters a whole other realm. These plum assignments writing major tentpole movies like Marvel films, DC movies, Star Wars, etc. can bring huge payouts due to built-in audience demand. But the range varies wildly depending on the writer's stature and the particular project. While a new writer might get $200-300k for an original tentpole script, an A-list writer could easily command over $1 million.

For example, Chris Terrio reportedly earned $1-2 million for his rewrite on Batman v Superman. Similarly, Michael Green and Scott Frank each earned over $1 million for their rewrite work on Logan. But studios also shell out even bigger bucks for writers to develop franchises.

So attaching a single figure to what tentpole writers make is impossible given the huge disparities. But it's safe to say those top jobs can bring generational wealth for writers when they hit the jackpot.

Other forms of revenue for screenwriters

While upfront fees for screenwriting work account for a bulk of earnings, there are other revenue streams writers can tap into. Residuals from box office and streaming distributions based on guild agreements provide additional backend income tied to a film's success. TV writers also get residuals from syndication and streaming. Building a portfolio of produced credits also leads to more lucrative rewrite work down the road. Some top writers even negotiate producer credits on projects which entitle them to a percentage of the profits.

Residencies, grants, awards, and script development deals provide funds for writers between jobs. Teaching screenwriting via workshops, online classes or university programs is another way to earn income by passing on their experience. Speaking engagements and high-priced script consulting for studios can also be lucrative. So while the unpredictable paydays for screenwriting work rise and fall, diverse side channels allow writers to keeps the cash flow coming between big checks.

Arc Studio can help you chart the path to successs

The path to making a consistent living as a professional screenwriter is rarely easy or straightforward. But for those willing to put in the hard work and dedication, it can become a viable career. It requires writing every day to keep honing your craft, networking to make the right connections, and persevering through rejections and setbacks. Success comes from maximizing opportunities by having polished scripts ready when luck strikes. This is where using professional screenwriting software like Arc Studio can make all the difference.

With features like auto-formatting your scripts to industry standards, powerful outlining and organization tools, and collaborative editing with partners, Arc Studio provides everything you need to write scripts at the highest level

Download it FREE today.


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How Much Do Screenwriters Make In 2023?
Harry Verity

Harry is a professional writer. His first novel The Talk Show was published in the U.S and the U.K by Bloodhound Books in 2021 and he is currently working on adapting it for screen using Arc Studio. He's also written for Media Magazine - a UK magazine for students of A-level Film, Media and Television Studies. His journalism has appeared in The Guardian, Readers' Digest and Newsweek, amongst many other publications. He has just finished his second novel for young adults, set in a boarding school. He holds a BA in English from Loughborough University.

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