After a year of development with my managers/producers, my script just landed a director. But the “package” we’re putting together is still floating in the ether.
As we now enter another round of notes in an effort to find an actor for our film, I’m suddenly left with the real question of payment — when a studio eventually buys the script, package intact, how much can I hope to earn, and whom do I trust to negotiate the sale?
I have no agent at this point. My manager is very well-connected and on the up-and-up, but as he will take a producing credit for this film, I know he’s after his own interests as well as mine, and I want to make sure he’ll get me the highest possible paycheck for my efforts. Can I trust him to do so?
The line between manager and producer seems a blurry one. Assuming the film’s budget is around $15M and I’m a first-time writer, what can I expect?
Ready? The answer is $86,156.
That’s currently WGA scale for an original screenplay. At $15 million, your movie would very likely be made for a company that’s a WGA signatory, and would fall in the “high” budget category.1 All of the major studios are signatories, as are most of the production companies you’ve heard of. If you’re with one of these places, the least they can pay you is WGA scale, and you’re automatically a member of the guild.2
So that’s how much you should expect to earn. Should you hope to get more? Yes. And maybe you will, especially if you have multiple interested buyers. But I’d urge you to emotionally condition yourself for that number and be delighted with anything above it.
If a deal comes together quickly, use an entertainment attorney to negotiate on your behalf. You’re right to wonder whether what’s best for the producer-manager is necessarily best for you. It’s an uncomfortable conflict of interest at times. But your interests are absolutely aligned in one way: you really, really want to get this movie made. A slightly better offer from a place you don’t believe will make and distribute your movie isn’t a better offer at all.
Once your project starts getting attention — you sign an actor, some deals look possible — you’ll find it easier to start talking to agents. Your manager should be making introductions. Buyers and actors’ agents might have suggestions. Once you sign with an agent, he or she will start making deals on your behalf in concert with your manager and attorney. But it’s not an essential component right now.
It’s scary and exciting think about What Might Be, but far more important is the work in front of you.
Keep writing. I know far too many screenwriters who pinned all their hopes on one script that never quite found footing. The actual career is getting to paid to write, not selling specs.
- Movies with smaller budgets — and microbudgets — can be made under other WGA terms with different rates. ↩
- Some buyers have non-signatory divisions specifically to get around these requirements, enabling them to hire non-WGA writers for less. But if your producer-manager allows this to happen, he should be run out of town. Your director is probably DGA. Whatever actor you’re attaching will be SAG. You should be WGA. ↩