I am a writer who has multiple scripts entered in the Slamdance Horror Script Competition.
Recently, Slamdance announced the new Grand Prize: $10,000 and acquisition of all rights and title by an independent production company. In said acquisition, the production company plans to produce a feature motion picture from the grand-prize winning script.
The winner will be paid five percent of the film’s minimum budget, which is $200,000.
So here’s my first question: Shouldn’t the writer be paid 10% of the film’s budget according to WGA standards?
As a writer who has primarily entered the competition with the hope of placing in the competition so I can attract queries from agents, I am a bit puzzled by this new Grand Prize. If a script is good enough to rise to the top of a competition like this, and if the writer is lucky enough to land a good agent, wouldn’t it be within the writer’s interest to look for a better deal?
Not to mention that upon accepting the Grand Prize and putting pen to paper, the writer is signing all rights of the script to the powers that be.
Would it be foolish for someone to decline the Grand Prize and take his or her chances with attracting an agent who might be able to find a better deal?
Yes, it would be foolish. If you win, you should take the prize money and the additional $10,000. (I’m assuming that the 10% of the budget comes on top of the prize money, but either way, take the deal.)
Why am I suggesting you blindly take whatever’s offered, when just two days ago I advised another reader to quickly get another lawyer? Because you live in Georgia. You’re treating the Slamdance competition as a sort of become-a-screenwriter lottery. The first, unspoken rule of lotteries is “always take the money.”
Could winning the competition help get you started as an honest-to-goodness screenwriter? Sure. But getting a movie made would be a much, much bigger help. Lots of writers win competitions but never get beyond that point. However, if you get a movie made — if you get a movie set up — you suddenly become an actual, working screenwriter. And the process of finding agents, managers and future work becomes much easier.
Now that your main question is resolved, let’s correct one fundamental misunderstanding:
Shouldn’t the writer be paid 10% of the film’s budget according to WGA standards?
Yes, in Fantasyland. There’s no WGA rule or standard. All there is is WGA scale, which indicates the minimum a writer can be paid for movies of a certain budget. These are flat figures, not percentages. (You can download a .pdf of the rates here.)
I’ve never been paid anything close to 10% of a film’s budget. My first feature, Go, cost roughly $6 million. I was paid $70,000. That’s half a million dollars less than I “should” have gotten.
For The Movie, I was paid low-budget scale — $35,782, plus a $5,000 script publication fee. (If we’d qualified for the WGA Indie rates, we could have brought that down to zero.)
And as a writer who’s written several very expensive movies, let me tell you, I’d love to be cashing $20 million checks. But it doesn’t happen.
Don’t get me wrong, a screenwriter can make plenty of money. But dollar signs shouldn’t be a driving force in choosing it as a career, no matter what level you’re talking about.