If someone offered you a lot of money to do a sequel to GO, would you do it? Do you think a screenwriter has to take big money projects whenever they come along, just to survive in the business?
First off, no one is going to offer me a lot of money to write a sequel to GO, because barring a bizarre change of circumstances, there will never be a sequel. While the movie was moderately successful given its small budget, it was never the kind of breakout hit that merits a roman numeral after the title.
Which is kind of a shame, because I had a sequel plotted out in my head while we were still in production on the first one. It involved the Fourth of July, Mexican fireworks, head trauma and Muppets. For a brief time after our debut at Sundance, I was convinced I would be writing it. But alas no.
As for your second question, no. A screenwriter doesn’t have to take big money projects to survive, any more than an actor has to take multi-million dollar roles. It’s all about the choices you make for your career and your quality of life.
Screenwriters can work three ways. The first is when you write "on spec." That’s when you sit down and write a script all on your own, without any guarantee of being paid by anyone. While that doesn’t make for much economic stability, you have complete artistic freedom, because you answer only to yourself. GO was written on spec.
The second way a writer can work is "on assignment." That’s where a producer or a studio pays you a certain amount of money to write a script, generally based upon a property they own, be it another script, a novel or a TV series. CHARLIE’S ANGELS was written on assignment.
The third way for a writer to work is "on weekly." Usually, this only occurs when a movie is coming close to production, and the writer is hired to make smaller changes. The writer is paid every week, rather than every draft, and is working mostly as a craftsman, fixing problems rather than reshaping the story. It’s analogous to being a highly paid temp. Everyone’s nice to you, but they know you’re going away soon, and don’t become very attached. I worked on weekly for MINORITY REPORT.
To make a broad generalization, prominent screenwriters can make more more working on weekly than on assignment or on spec. That’s because if a movie is close enough to production to merit a writer working week-by-week, the studio is often willing to pay a higher rate.
But working on a weekly basis is exhausting and ultimately a little unfulfilling, because you don’t have a strong relationship with any of the scripts you work on. That’s why a writer will often turn down a project despite the paycheck attached.