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Standard Beginning Wages for Union Scriptwriters

Updated on July 14, 2012
Source

© 2012 by Aurelio Locsin.

In the United States, the Writers Guild of America negotiates the compensation for both movie and television scripts on union productions. The organization was founded in 1933 to counteract increasing salary cuts for writers. The current collective bargaining agreement was negotiated in 2011 but was revised in May 2012, with rates applicable to May 2014. Additional contracts to supplement the agreement are also available.

TV Employment

In general, scriptwriters do not receive a regular wage. Instead, the WGA specifies minimum compensation for each script, whether such an effort is a five-minute narration or a full theatrical feature. Regular pay is rare and then only for only for specified contract terms. For example, for week-to-week employment, TV writers earn a minimum $4,244 per week until May 2013, and then $4,329 per week until May 2014. If they are guaranteed 14 weeks of compensation, they make $3,945 per week until 2013 and $4,024 per week up to 2014. For a guaranteed 40 weeks of compensation on a full-year contract, weekly minimums drop to $3,325 until 2013 and $3,392 until 2014.

Movie Employment

For scriptwriters employed on a contract to write movies, weekly rates run $5,291 to 2013 and $5,397 to 2014. If guaranteed 14 weeks of compensation, they make $4,911 per week until 2013 or $5,009 per week until 2014. For a guaranteed 40 weeks of compensation on a full year contract, they earn $4,173 per week until 2013 or $4,256 per week until 2014.

Movies

Scriptwriters for theatrical features earn a range of $65,013 to $122,054 up to 2013 for an original screenplay that includes a treatment, which is a multi-page summary of the screenplay. Installment payments are due as follows: $29,457 to $48,779 when the treatment is delivered, $25,601 to $48,779 for the first draft and $9,955 to $24,496 for the final draft. For 2014, earnings range from $66,313 to $124,496 with $30,046 to $49,755 for the treatment, $26,113 to $49,755 for the first draft and $10,154 to $24,986 for the final draft.

TV

Compensation for TV scripts depends on a complex combination of dates, program types, broadcast companies and program length, among other factors. For example, a network prime time program that runs 15 minutes or less earns the scriptwriter $12,986 for both the story and teleplay up to 2013 and $13,246 up to 2014. Installments are due at 30 percent for the story, the difference between the story and 90 percent of the minimum for the first draft, and the balance for the final draft. Programs running between 15 and 30 minutes earn $23,767 up to 2013 and $24,242 up to 2014. For 15-minute programs that are not on network prime time and with budgets over $150,000, the compensation is $7,284 until 2013 and $7,430 until 2014. At 30 minutes and for budgets of $215,000, compensation jumps to $13,343 until 2013 and $13,610 until 2014.

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    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 4 years ago from Northern California, USA

      I would be a very happy writer if I could land a job in any one of the above categories on a consistent basis. It is good to see that writers can earn a decent level of pay for their work.

    • GoForTheJuggler profile image

      Joshua Patrick 5 years ago from Texas

      Ah yes, I am quite familiar with these numbers. Every screenwriter keeps up with this info, as we always have something to sell. Thanks, alocsin - voted up, useful, and interesting!

    • thelyricwriter profile image

      Richard Ricky Hale 5 years ago from West Virginia

      Alocsin, another informative and awesome article my friend. I would love to have one of these jobs. Not only because of the money, but because I enjoy that type of writing. Awesome job my friend. Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

      Hi, this was really interesting, I think I will get writing! lol! voted up! cheers nell

    • alocsin profile image
      Author

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Well, at least you got to see your work on the little screen, Green Lotus!

    • alocsin profile image
      Author

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      The WGA protection service is very useful, Angela Blair.

    • Green Lotus profile image

      Hillary 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Your Hub is terrific as always, Alocsin.

      I was a scriptwriter for years for many big TV networks. It's unfortunate that so many of the mega-networks, including The Turner/TimeWarner Networks, (CNN,TNT, TCM, Cartoon, ect) and the Scripps Networks (HGTV, Food Network, DIY ect) are non-union. The pay for scriptwriters doesn't come close, and it's a lot of work :(

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      I have always thought that Scriptwriters lead such exciting lives and their jobs are so interesting. I see that they have the best paying jobs overall.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      These salaries and guaranteed paid scales are higher than I would have thought...especially knowing that not all television shows or series last that long or not all movies become box office hits. The entertainment business seems a bit risky, but if things go in the right direction, can also be quite lucrative. Thanks! Voted up and interesting.

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 5 years ago from Central Texas

      I'm a member of Writers Guild of America -- however, just protecting my own work so far and have not ventured forth to take (nor have I been offered) any other jobs. I had no idea the pay scale -- surely sounds good! Thanks for pertinent information - and very well written, too! Best/Sis

    • bryanbaldwin profile image

      bryanbaldwin 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      I've been working on a screenplay and very curious about industry specifics such as this, thank you.

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Great information. This is one union that I support. They do so much to help writers from being underpaid and copied. These are encouraging numbers. Great hub!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very interesting information my friend! Nice job of research!

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 5 years ago from Thailand

      Wowsers ... what incredible salaries! Mind you, I guess they don't get paid all the time and the stress, plus effort, must be quite tiring.

      Voted up, interesting, sharing and tweeting.

    • point2make profile image

      point2make 5 years ago

      That's interesting information Aurelio. I wasn't aware of the compensation levels for this type of writing.....thanks for the info. voted up!