How screenwriters make money is a question I have been asked countless times during my long journey helming Raindance Film Festival.
Often screenwriters have the idea that they can win a lottery by selling their script to Hollywood. But how much money do you really think you could make by selling your script to Hollywood? Do you actually think your chances of winning the lottery are anywhere near as good as selling your script to Hollywood? The most common question I get asked is “How Do Screenwriters Make Money?”
Just because there have been some well-publicised script sales doesn’t mean you too are going to hit lottery-sized payment jackpots:
- Shane Black selling The Long Kiss Goodnight for $4 million
- Joe Eszterhas selling Basic Instinct for $3 million
- Tom Shulman and Sally Robinson selling Medicine Man for $3 million
- David Koepp selling Panic Room for $4 million
- Terry Rossio and Bill Marsilli selling Déjà Vu for $5 million
- Will Ferrell and Adam McKay selling Talladega Nights for $4 million
- Evan Daugherty selling Snow White and the Huntsman for $3.2 million
Firstly, only the very top screenwriters get money up front. If you sell your script to an American company for a six-figure sum it will be broken into many stages depending on the box office returns. These contracts are written by entertainment lawyers who will tighten you up to the point where it becomes very difficult to secure payment past the first deposit.
Have a look at the writer’s contracts, called Schedule of Minimums in use with the Writers’ Guild Of America. This is the basis upon which film industry contracts are negotiated.
How Screenwriters Make Money: Five Tried and Tested Ways
1. Write a micro-budget film and get it made
This is the tried and tested Raindance way. Write a limited location story using as few actors as possible. Raise a bit of money and make it. Market the film by using film festivals.
You are unlikely to make much money as a writer, but if the film is well-made and presented properly to the industry, then you have a really good chance of getting a look-see with your next script (and more money!).
2. Write for a website
Alternatively, you can write for your own blog. Market your blog using social media. Set up ads on your website and cash in from the advertising revenue.
3. Create a web series
When the 2007/8 American screenwriter’s strike shut down TV and movies Matt Bledsoe and Troy Hitch created You Suck At Photoshop – probably the first ever web series.The first edition attracted over 4,000,000 views on Youtube and then the series garnered national attention in Time Magazine. The series will have earned money for its creators.
Why not consider creating your own web series? But first do your research on this website owned by YouTube: www.vidstatsx.com. Here you can research the different kinds of YouTube channels and gauge their popularity.
4. Write poetry
If you want to get paid for writing poetry, there are two different routes: One is to write for some of the websites that actually buy poetry, the other is to write for greeting card companies. Hallmark is the company that usually springs to mind, but they no longer accept submissions from the general public relying instead on their own in-house creatives.
5. Write commercially
The market for writers has never been stronger. Try not to encumber yourself with the label of a writer who only writes screenplays. Screenwriters make money doing a host of other kinds of writing. In your spare time, you can earn from writing grant applications, commercial texts and corporate promos.
Another area you can explore is writing for comics and graphic novels. Raindance has an excellent writing course detailing the creative parameters as well as the commercial opportunities for writing comics and/or graphic novels.
Writing for a living is doable. Screenwriting for a living is doable as well. Only, however, if you plan a strategy and deliver bold fresh and innovative work. It’s easy to get discouraged. No one will understand you. If you abandon your dream no one will ever believe you.
Quitters never win. Winners never quit.