Standard Beginning Wages for Union Scriptwriters
© 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.
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.
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.
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.
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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