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View Full Version : Script Writers seem to command enormous sums for their work. How is this possible?


astro
08-27-2005, 12:54 PM
Per this article (http://slate.msn.com/id/2125089/?nav=tap3) apparently the minimun you can pay someone for a script is

Screenwriters have negotiated an ironbound fee schedule: currently, a minimum of $53,256 (I said minimum) for two drafts of an original script, plus $17,474 more for a rewrite and $8,742 for a "polish." But for magazine hacks, an unlimited number of rewrites and polishes have always been gratis.

I always thought there were an endless horde of scripts constantly being presented to movie directors. Given market economics and competiton how can they demand these large sums?

Driver8
08-27-2005, 01:04 PM
That doesn't seem like that much to me. Surely that is only for scripts that are accepted? How many scripts do people get accepted each year anyway? If it's close to one, that looks like a pretty standard professional salary ;)

Zebra
08-27-2005, 02:26 PM
Because a good script is hard to find and is hard to create.

astro
08-27-2005, 02:37 PM
Because a good script is hard to find and is hard to create.

I understand that, but the pay scale seems to demand 57K for *any* delivered script. Surely there are numerous scriptwriters willing to sell their scripts for far less than that?

Anamorphic
08-27-2005, 02:54 PM
I understand that, but the pay scale seems to demand 57K for *any* delivered script. Surely there are numerous scriptwriters willing to sell their scripts for far less than that?If you're not in the guild, you can sell a script to a non-guild signatory company for whatever you and they decide on. Before I was guild, several years ago, I sold a screenplay to a company for $5,000, and I was happy to get it at the time. Once you're in the guild, however, you can't sell a screenplay for less than the guild mandated minimum. And you can't work for a non signatory company. Of course, you can do it under the table under an assumed name, but if you get caught, you're out of the guild.

As far as the implication that $57,000 is an outrageous amount for a screenplay... the average big-budget film these days, including prints and advertising, is approaching 100 million, if it hasn't already passed it. Hell, even take a comparatively low-budget feature for, say, 20 million. $57,000 is a VERY small percentage of that amount. Why shouldn't the screenwriter, where the movie starts, make a decent percentage of the cost of the movie?

astro
08-27-2005, 03:04 PM
If you're not in the guild, you can sell a script to a non-guild signatory company for whatever you and they decide on. Before I was guild, several years ago, I sold a screenplay to a company for $5,000, and I was happy to get it at the time. Once you're in the guild, however, you can't sell a screenplay for less than the guild mandated minimum. And you can't work for a non signatory company. Of course, you can do it under the table under an assumed name, but if you get caught, you're out of the guild.

As far as the implication that $57,000 is an outrageous amount for a screenplay... the average big-budget film these days, including prints and advertising, is approaching 100 million, if it hasn't already passed it. Hell, even take a comparatively low-budget feature for, say, 20 million. $57,000 is a VERY small percentage of that amount. Why shouldn't the screenwriter, where the movie starts, make a decent percentage of the cost of the movie?

It's not any outrageous amount for *a* screenplay. Some go for millions of dollars. It's (to me) a suprisingly high *minimum* amount in an industry where the supply (typically) of wannabe screenwriters and screenplays vastly outstrips demand.

Rube E. Tewesday
08-27-2005, 03:27 PM
It's not any outrageous amount for *a* screenplay. Some go for millions of dollars. It's (to me) a suprisingly high *minimum* amount in an industry where the supply (typically) of wannabe screenwriters and screenplays vastly outstrips demand.

You could probably say that about the minimum rate for any unionized job, though. The quoted minimum is that arrived at after hard bargaining by the people who have shown they can deliver the goods.

Anamorphic
08-27-2005, 03:29 PM
It's not any outrageous amount for *a* screenplay. Some go for millions of dollars. It's (to me) a suprisingly high *minimum* amount in an industry where the supply (typically) of wannabe screenwriters and screenplays vastly outstrips demand.Heh. Try working as a script reader for a studio or production company for a few weeks. I guarantee you you'd change your mind about this very soon! 98% of the scripts out there are really, really, really unreadably terrible. People think that a lot of lame scripts get made? You should see the ones that DON'T get made. Just because there's an endless supply of wannabe screenwriters out there, doesn't mean many of the screenplays are worth the 3-hole punched paper their printed on.

A guild-signatory studio or production company (all of the major ones and most of the minor ones) CANNOT hire a screenwriter to work for less than the Guild minimum. Supply and demand doesn't enter into it. Unless they break their agreement with the guild (and they're not about to do that), they CAN'T pay less than the minimum.

soulmurk
08-27-2005, 04:30 PM
Slightly off topic, but out of curiosity:

Does a scriptwriter (guilded or no) typically get paid one sum for their script, or do they also get royalties based on sales and merchandising and whatnot?

Sam Stone
08-27-2005, 04:44 PM
From what I've read about what script writers have to go through, $57K doesn't seem like that much. I've read about episodes like this:

1. Hand over script to studio. Studio loves it.
2. Uh oh. Location problems means script needs slight rewrite.
3. Head of studio read new script. Doesn't like scene he originally liked. Do another rewite.
4. Big name star signed for movie. Doesn't like his part. Demands rewrite of major portions.
5. Producer decides script can't be shot in budget now that big star has $10 million of the production money. Must revise three scenes.
6. Big name director on board. Doesn't like script. Prefers original script, but with changes. Try to meld demands of big star back in to original script.
7. Shooting begins. Studio calls - lines not working for actors. Need rewrite of key scene by 8 AM.
8. Trouble on the movie. Director unhappy, and leaves. New director has different 'vision' for movie. Script trashed. Can I write a new one by next week?

etc... Between the big egos, ad-libbed lines that change the meaning of key scenes, production difficulties, and all the rest, it's amazing that coherent movies get shot at all.

The ones that really baffle me are the producers that get into big bidding wars for expensive scripts and pay millions for them - and then production changes change the script beyond all recognition anyway.

Marley23
08-27-2005, 07:34 PM
Think of it in terms of the amount of money that goes around in the movies. Actors in a big movie can get paid a ton, directors can make a ton... it doesn't really surprise me that in a business where a small film usually costs a couple million dollars, a screenwriter can get a minimum of $57,000. The ones who've proven they can write things that make big bucks can do much better.

archmichael
08-27-2005, 07:34 PM
It's not any outrageous amount for *a* screenplay. Some go for millions of dollars. It's (to me) a suprisingly high *minimum* amount in an industry where the supply (typically) of wannabe screenwriters and screenplays vastly outstrips demand.
The screenwriter is one of the most fucked over players in the movie industry, so I don't know where you get the impression that $50K for a script is generous.

If a minimum is a simple formula of supply and demand and you consider how many people want to be movie stars, the SAG minimums would end up being the Federal Hourly Minimum.

It's not that simple. It's like asking why pay bit actors SAG rates or unknown character actors like Danny Trejo so much, when you can hire one of thousands of aspiring actors.

Belowjob2.0
08-27-2005, 08:03 PM
Anamorphic, excellent observations.

One thing that hasn't been brought up is the option. A producer or manager can option a script, for as little a dollar or for thousands of dollars. This gives the holder of the option exclusive rights to buy the script within a set period of time - six months, a year. The holder of the option then uses the script as the basis for setting up a deal with production companies, studios, stars, private sources of funding. If the deal can be made, then the writer is paid for the screenplay.

As Anamorphic points out, the fee for a screenplay is a tiny part of the total budget for a typical motion picture. The buyers aren't just paying for a script, they're paying for a script that will catalyze the deal. It has to be a script that will make the stars, the director, and the studios sign on.

They will all be risking their careers, their livelihoods, and millions of dollars in the bargain. In hopes of minimizing risk, the power players prefer to go with established writers, people who have already written hit movies and TV, or at least, recieved screen credit for hit movies. The supply of these writers is small, and the half million to million dollar paydays that they get are just small slices of big pies.

Each of these power players is looking for certain elements in the script, elements that they believe will allow them to achieve their career goals. These elements may or may not have anything to do with artistic quality. Many actors don't want to look weak, or have too much to say, lest their weaknesses in technique be exposed. Many actresses don't want to appear unlikeable. They want to play characters that will resonate with their core fan base. Some directors want stories with lots of explosions. Studios may or may not want nudity, may or may not want minorities in prominent roles, depending on how they see their target audience.

Writers who can satisfy all these often contradictory and competing demands and still put together a compelling story are just not that common. Just as important is the fact that Hollywood runs on personal relationships. Stars, directors, producers, and studio execs don't just want skilled writers with established track records. They want skilled, proven writers whom they already know, with whom they are on a friendly basis. It really, really helps to have gone to the same school, to have worked on the same shows, to have performed in the same clubs, and to be of the same socio economic and ethnic background. "Who do you know? Who do you play basketball with? Who do you play poker with?" are real questions that agents ask aspiring screenwriters before they decide on taking the writers on as clients.

pesch
08-27-2005, 10:04 PM
In fact, after reading Edward Jay Epstein's reports in Slate that talk about how much studios are getting for their movies (such as in this article (http://slate.msn.com/id/2124078/?nav=navoa)), I'm wondering if writers aren't getting paid enough.

I know that there's a wide variety of returns on movies, but since DVDs have come into wide circulation, given their low production costs, the studios are raking in billions. And the writer gets a minimum of 55K? Something ain't right there.

Dr. Rieux
08-27-2005, 10:12 PM
On the other hand, there's something wrong when crapmeisters like Akiva Goldsman or Joe Eszterhas get even guild minimum for their scribblings.
Of course, that's just my opinion--YMMMV.

Belowjob2.0
08-27-2005, 10:56 PM
And the writer gets a minimum of 55K? Something ain't right there.

That's a floor. It's the price that would be paid to a first time screenwriter on a relatively low budget picture. Mix six figures, that is $300,000 to $500,000, is typical for a sale by an established writer. Even established writers don't sell every year, though, so the money has to last the writer over the course of three to five years while he or she tries to get another assignment or make a sale of original work. (Most work comes from assignments.)

If you can get into the elite group of the top 30 or 40, you can be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for a few weeks work rewriting a script for a movie that is either in production or about to go into production, where the script still doesn't meet the satisfaction of the stars or the director.

On the other hand, there's something wrong when crapmeisters like Akiva Goldsman or Joe Eszterhas get even guild minimum for their scribblings.

However one may feel about his writing style, Ezterhas proved himself as one of the top magazine feature writers in the US, and used his skills at attracting magazine readers to seque into feature film writing. He was already well tied into the rock music part of the entertainment industry through his work for Rolling Stone magazine, and he went on to write several hit movies. The hits, the relative ease with the world of famous rockers and actors, and the edgy, distinctive persona, made him the go to writer for a certain segement of Hollywood.

As for Goldsman, eventually the people who buy his stuff will realize that it's crap. :p

rjung
08-28-2005, 12:52 AM
Heh. Try working as a script reader for a studio or production company for a few weeks. I guarantee you you'd change your mind about this very soon! 98% of the scripts out there are really, really, really unreadably terrible. People think that a lot of lame scripts get made? You should see the ones that DON'T get made. Just because there's an endless supply of wannabe screenwriters out there, doesn't mean many of the screenplays are worth the 3-hole punched paper their printed on.
<Pulls up chair, pops popcorn>

Tell, tell! :D Want stories!

Marley23
08-28-2005, 12:53 AM
Anamorphic is right. I had a similar job for Nickelodeon as an intern in 2001. I didn't read a ton of scripts, but there were some terrible efforts. I'll try to remember the details of the worst ones.

Marley23
08-28-2005, 02:00 AM
Here's one I enjoyed telling some friends. It may be less funny now.

One day, I got a really professional-looking script. It didn't just have a title, it had a logo, a draft number and everything. Sadly, the logo was the highpoint of the script. It was awful and hit every cliche imaginable. The plot was as follows: talented basketball player acts like a jerk one too many times, gets banned, dressed in drag to make the WNBA, learns lesson about life and love blah blah blah. Yes, it was (as I said to my superior) a ripoff of Mrs. Doubtfire, set on a basketball court. There was a horribly stereotyped rapper character who was kind of offensive, and it was obvious the writer had neither listened to hip-hop nor spoken to any black people before writing it.

The thing sucked, but I had a bad feeling about it. It looked too professional (as long as you didn't read it), unlike anything else I read that summer. A year and a half later... (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0247444/releaseinfo)

Barbarian
08-28-2005, 07:07 AM
I know that there's a wide variety of returns on movies, but since DVDs have come into wide circulation, given their low production costs, the studios are raking in billions. And the writer gets a minimum of 55K? Something ain't right there.

That's because the Writers Guild of America, West, is run by a bunch of pansies who were too skeered to bargain for a good deal during their last round of contract negotiations. The union basically folded on the issue of DVD royalties and kowtowed to every other company demand.

Belowjob2.0
08-28-2005, 07:07 AM
Tell, tell! Want stories!

How aboout awful ideas for movies submitted to real producers?

Query Letters I Love (http://queryletters.blogspot.com/)