This article is a quick overview of how professional screenwriters are to be compensated per guild rules. New screenwriters who are not yet members of the guild are not bound by these minimums.
The Writers Guild of America (WGA) is a labor union representing the interests of professional writers of radio, film, television and new media. “Scale” is the term used for the minimum dollar amount that a WGA signatory (a company that agrees to abide by the guild’s rules) must pay a screenwriter. And all studios and most production companies in Hollywood are WGA signatories. These minimums include what a WGA signatory must pay a screenwriter to purchase or option a “spec” script or to commission a writer to write a script.
For example, an original spec screenplay’s purchase price as of 2017 is as follows:
- For a LOW budget film which is budgeted at less than $5 million, the script must be purchased for $71,236
- For a HIGH budget film which is budgeted at $5 million or more, the script must be purchased for $133,739
- Company may option material from a “professional writer” for a period of up to 18 months upon payment of not less than 10% of minimum. Each renewal period of up to 18 months requires payment of not less than an additional 10% of minimum.
Each kind of writing job (a new original screenplay, treatment, outline, rewrite, etc.) has a set price. These rates are negotiated and determined by the WGA every year or so. Rates may be tiered depending on the budgets of the projects or type of TV show (cable vs network) etc.
To see the current WGA schedule of minimums you can download them from the WGA’s website here.
For more info, see our blog post: How much to screenwriters REALLY make?