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Old 04-24-2013, 11:53 AM   #1
LauriD
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Default What a successful screenwriter can expect to earn - Scriptnotes for April 23

On the April 23 Scriptnotes podcast, a listener asked what income a successful screenwriter could “expect” to make.

http://johnaugust.com/podcast

John and Craig said that it could be millions of dollars per year – but only for about 40 or so of the top screenwriters. They also said that lower-tier screenwriters could make hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

I suspect that many listeners tuned out what they said about the odds and focused on those dollar signs. So in the interest of providing a reality check I suggest the following analysis:

1. The universe of people “interested” in screenwriting is at least the size of the Scriptnotes listenership: about 100,000.

2. The universe of people who are serious about being screenwriters is probably much smaller. The most prestigious (and I believe the largest) amateur screenwriting competition is the Nicholl Fellowship competition. In 2012, the Nicholl received a record 7,197 scripts.

http://www.oscars.org/awards/nicholl/

People can enter up to 3 scripts each, and the number of entrants in 2012 was about 5,500.

http://messageboard.donedealpro.com/...299#post865299 (post 105)

Thus, the universe of people who are serious about becoming professional screenwriters is at least 5,500 – but could be many times that number.

3. The number of people who broke in by selling a spec in 2012 was 19 (including several writing teams). (There were 132 total spec scales in 2012, but most were by pros.)

http://blog.blcklst.com/category/spec-script-sales/

19 out of 5,500 translates to odds of 3/1000 or 1/333.

4. Selling a spec script to a WGA signatory is one way to join the WGA:

“Approximately 1500 players drafted into Major League baseball every year; approximately 300 new members admitted to the WGAW every year.”

http://www.wga.org/Common/Templates/...px?pageid=4634

So only 6% get in by selling a feature spec. Most get in via TV, new media, writing assignments, etc.

5. Becoming a member of the WGA is a requirement for working for WGA signatories (including all the major studios).

However, becoming a member of the WGA, as hard as it is, does not guarantee that a writer can earn a living from screenwriting -- let alone get rich.

6. The WGA has at least 12,000 members. (Surprisingly, the reported numbers vary considerably from source to source…)

http://www.wgawregistry.org/webrss/

In 2011 only 4,338 of those members (36%) reported receiving ANY income from screenwriting.

http://www.wga.org/subpage_whoweare.aspx?id=230

7. “Most writers are middle class; 46% did not even work last year. Of those who do work, one quarter make less than $37,700 a year and 50% make less than $105,000 a year. Over a five year period of employment and unemployment, a writer’s average income is $62,000 per year.”

Writers Guild of America, West (2007)

(there are multiple references to this stat, which doesn’t seem to be live on the WGA site any more)

8. Put these stats together and the average aspiring professional screenwriting has a .3% chance of earning $62,000/year, which means that the expected return from an investment in screenwriting is $186 – less than the cost of FinalDraft 8 ($249).

(Of course, far more than 99 out of 100 will actually earn nothing.)

9. To me, this suggests that screenwriting should be regarded as a relatively inexpensive hobby that very rarely yields financial rewards.

IMO, it makes sense to write screenplays if you love to write screenplays, but it makes no sense to write screenplays with the expectation of getting rich in the process, or to make serious personal/financial sacrifices in the course of that pursuit.

(For example, borrowing $36,000+ per year to get an MFA in screenwriting is tantamount to financial suicide, since it doesn't improve the odds in any significant way.)

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Old 04-24-2013, 12:16 PM   #2
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Default Re: What a successful screenwriter can expect to earn - Scriptnotes for April 23

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Originally Posted by LauriD View Post
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I think what all of this really boils down to is the following:
  1. Screenwriting is a very tough business to break into.
  2. There's a vast difference between the reported earnings of top-tier screenwriters and your average screenwriter.
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Old 04-24-2013, 12:18 PM   #3
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Default Re: What a successful screenwriter can expect to earn - Scriptnotes for April 23

I've heard them quote 80K a year average for a working screenwriter in L.A. As for the 100,000 pool of scriptnotes listeners, allow me to paint a rosier picture. If you admit the glam factor (people who want to be 'in the biz', 'near the scene', 'live in L.A.', slightly more than their love of writing, etc.), the numbers are not all that overwhelming, say, in comparison to aspiring actors (And I lump talk shows, 'celebrities', you-tubers and their other streaming cousins into that mix). Furthermore, it takes more skilz proportionately to be a writer than an actor (good looks don't get you a free pass). Therefore, 100K listeners is really not much of a competition pool. Are we not constantly hearing about how 99% of the stuff out there is cr@p anyways? Apply yourself, subtract the delusional from the equation, and you're home free. Let the dogpiling commence!
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Old 04-24-2013, 12:34 PM   #4
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Default Re: What a successful screenwriter can expect to earn - Scriptnotes for April 23

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Yep. Not easy and the odds are extremely low for sustained success. That's why arguments about whether it's premise or writing ability muddle the real point. You have to write a great story and write it really well to get noticed. Craig Mazin said it well. You want a career, you do both. There are no shortcuts around this fact. No easier roads to take.
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Old 04-24-2013, 12:53 PM   #5
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Default Re: What a successful screenwriter can expect to earn - Scriptnotes for April 23

Seems like if you're in this for the money, you're better off going into the "screenwriting services" industry - writing a screenwriting book, offering consulting/analysis services, starting a contest, starting a pitchfest, starting an online site like BL or VPF. The industry is a huge business, would be interesting to know how much it generates a year.
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Old 04-24-2013, 01:02 PM   #6
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Default Re: What a successful screenwriter can expect to earn - Scriptnotes for April 23

Your only competition is you.
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Old 04-24-2013, 01:03 PM   #7
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Default Re: What a successful screenwriter can expect to earn - Scriptnotes for April 23

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Originally Posted by UpandComing View Post
Seems like if you're in this for the money, you're better off going into the "screenwriting services" industry - writing a screenwriting book, offering consulting/analysis services, starting a contest, starting a pitchfest, starting an online site like BL or VPF. The industry is a huge business, would be interesting to know how much it generates a year.
I suspect it's more than all WGA members earn in a year.

Kinda like how more people got rich selling blue jeans to gold miners than actually mining gold...
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Old 04-24-2013, 01:13 PM   #8
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Default Re: What a successful screenwriter can expect to earn - Scriptnotes for April 23

Quote:
Originally Posted by LauriD View Post
On the April 23 Scriptnotes podcast, a listener asked what income a successful screenwriter could “expect” to make.

http://johnaugust.com/podcast

John and Craig said that it could be millions of dollars per year – but only for about 40 or so of the top screenwriters. They also said that lower-tier screenwriters could make hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

I suspect that many listeners tuned out what they said about the odds and focused on those dollar signs. So in the interest of providing a reality check I suggest the following analysis:

1. The universe of people “interested” in screenwriting is at least the size of the Scriptnotes listenership: about 100,000.

2. The universe of people who are serious about being screenwriters is probably much smaller. The most prestigious (and I believe the largest) amateur screenwriting competition is the Nicholl Fellowship competition. In 2012, the Nicholl received a record 7,197 scripts.

http://www.oscars.org/awards/nicholl/

People can enter up to 3 scripts each, and the number of entrants in 2012 was about 5,500.

http://messageboard.donedealpro.com/...299#post865299 (post 105)

Thus, the universe of people who are serious about becoming professional screenwriters is at least 5,500 – but could be many times that number.

3. The number of people who broke in by selling a spec in 2012 was 19 (including several writing teams). (There were 132 total spec scales in 2012, but most were by pros.)

http://blog.blcklst.com/category/spec-script-sales/

19 out of 5,500 translates to odds of 3/1000 or 1/333.

4. Selling a spec script to a WGA signatory is one way to join the WGA:

“Approximately 1500 players drafted into Major League baseball every year; approximately 300 new members admitted to the WGAW every year.”

http://www.wga.org/Common/Templates/...px?pageid=4634

So only 6% get in by selling a feature spec. Most get in via TV, new media, writing assignments, etc.

5. Becoming a member of the WGA is a requirement for working for WGA signatories (including all the major studios).

However, becoming a member of the WGA, as hard as it is, does not guarantee that a writer can earn a living from screenwriting -- let alone get rich.

6. The WGA has at least 12,000 members. (Surprisingly, the reported numbers vary considerably from source to source…)

http://www.wgawregistry.org/webrss/

In 2011 only 4,338 of those members (36%) reported receiving ANY income from screenwriting.

http://www.wga.org/subpage_whoweare.aspx?id=230

7. “Most writers are middle class; 46% did not even work last year. Of those who do work, one quarter make less than $37,700 a year and 50% make less than $105,000 a year. Over a five year period of employment and unemployment, a writer’s average income is $62,000 per year.”

Writers Guild of America, West (2007)

(there are multiple references to this stat, which doesn’t seem to be live on the WGA site any more)

8. Put these stats together and the average aspiring professional screenwriting has a .3% chance of earning $62,000/year, which means that the expected return from an investment in screenwriting is $186 – less than the cost of FinalDraft 8 ($249).

(Of course, far more than 99 out of 100 will actually earn nothing.)

9. To me, this suggests that screenwriting should be regarded as a relatively inexpensive hobby that very rarely yields financial rewards.

IMO, it makes sense to write screenplays if you love to write screenplays, but it makes no sense to write screenplays with the expectation of getting rich in the process, or to make serious personal/financial sacrifices in the course of that pursuit.

(For example, borrowing $36,000+ per year to get an MFA in screenwriting is tantamount to financial suicide, since it doesn't improve the odds in any significant way.)

Comments?
Translation: People who are good at their jobs make more money.
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Old 04-24-2013, 01:25 PM   #9
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Default Re: What a successful screenwriter can expect to earn - Scriptnotes for April 23

"Never tell me the odds."
– Han Solo

"So you're telling me there's a chance?"
– Lloyd Christmas

I don't really understand what odds and chance have to do with starting a career in any field. It's not like you drop your name in a hat and that's your chance to become a screenwriter.

Yeah, there's a lot of competition but also a lot of it sucks.

Also, sorry if you get an MFA from USC, UCLA or NYU, you are definitely increasing your odds. I don't have a cost benefit analysis of it, but you make a lot of contacts and relationships with people that way.
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Old 04-24-2013, 01:30 PM   #10
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Default Re: What a successful screenwriter can expect to earn - Scriptnotes for April 23

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Originally Posted by Chief View Post
Your only competition is you.
Unless you want to get paid.
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