Do you have a dream to become a screenwriter? Maybe you’ve always said that writing for film was your ultimate goal, and now is your chance to make it happen. With the right career move and some perseverance, you could be on your way to Hollywood within a year. To give you an idea of what you can expect, we’ve compiled a list of the most in-demand screenwriters’ salaries so you can ballpark how much money you’ll need to make and maintain a luxurious lifestyle as a low-wage employee in LA.
Average Screenwriter Salary Based on Experience
As you’d expect, experience largely determines compensation. To put it simply, the more years you’ve been writing for film, the more you’ll be able to command. The most in-demand screenwriters fall into two categories: those who’ve been writing for several years and those who’ve been writing for film less than five years. The former group can expect to earn anywhere from $50,000 to $75,000 per year, with the latter group earning around $40,000 to $60,000.
In terms of hourly rates, recent grads seeking entry-level jobs can expect to land a paying gig within a month or two. For seasoned professionals, however, it will take a little more effort to secure those precious gigs. Nevertheless, if you’re determined and have a plan, you can almost certainly land such a job. To give you an idea of what you should be aiming for, below we’ve compiled a list of the most in-demand screenwriter’s salaries as of 2020.
Highest-Paid Film Screenwriters
The top-earning screenwriters work on big-budget TV and film projects. More often than not, these are high-profile TV shows or blockbuster films. While your scripts may not necessarily end up being adapted for cinema, chances are you’ll have at least one or two stories that film producers would love to see made into a movie.
However, not quite as many screenwriters can be found in the highest-paid list as you’d expect. Around 75% of respondents reported that their biggest source of income is derived from teaching and coaching. Whether you’re an adjunct professor at a university or have developed a renowned workshop, if you can harness your expertise into a course or workshop, you can expect to earn several thousand dollars per month. Additionally, if you can create a DVD or online course that teaches aspiring screenwriters the ropes, you can also expect to make a decent chunk of change.
The 20 Highest-Paid Film Screenwriters
Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane and revisit some of the highest-paid film screenwriters from years past. Although these days’ screenwriters may not necessarily earn the same amount of money as their predecessors, they still manage to pull in a handsome wage.
In 2019, Ben Hodge was hired to write the screenplay for Joe and Anthony Andrews’ epic War of the Worlds, a joint effort between Universal and Legendary Pictures. Hodge previously won an Oscar for his adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. He’s also written episodes for The Handmaid’s Tale, The Haunting of Hill House, and Lost. His 2019 compensation: $500,000 plus $50,000 per week.
In 2019, George Tillman landed a coveted gig as showrunner for the fourth and final season of Netflix’s The Witcher. In addition to writing the first three seasons of the series, he also directed the first and second season. Until then, The Witcher was mostly known for being the source material for the highly acclaimed video game, also named The Witcher. Tillman’s 2019 compensation: $500,000 plus $50,000 per week.
In 2019, David Benham, a veteran of several high-profile films (including Black Swan and The Babysitter) scored a high-profile gig as executive producer of the Paramount/Skydance series, Altered Carbon. He also co-wrote the first two episodes of the series with Richard Wenk. Most recently, he supervised the scripts for The Predator and The Darkest Before The Dawn. Benham’s 2019 compensation: $500,000 plus $50,000 per week.
In 2019, Joe Cornish wrote and (co-) directed the brilliant crime parody The Funeral. He also adapted the screenplay for the 2009 comedy film Joe Versus the Volcano. In addition to his film work, Cornish also wrote the screenplay for the 2005 horror flick Don’t Look Underneath The Bed. He’s since gone on to write The Midnight Meat Train and Attack of the Fifty Foot Cheerleader. In 2019, Cornish earned $500,000 plus $50,000 per week.
In 2019, Academy Award-winner Stephen McFeely adapted the screenplay for the acclaimed Irish film, The Boxer. The Boxer won several awards, including a Golden Globe, making it Ireland’s submission for the 2020 Academy Awards. In addition to The Boxer, McFeely has also written the screenplays for Kinsey and Gangs of New York. In 2019, McFeely earned $500,000 plus $50,000 per week.
In 2019, two-time Academy Award nominee William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Midnight Cowboy) scored one of his most memorable roles as an exec producer on the CBS series, Extant. In addition to his producing role on Extant, Goldman has also written the screenplays for The Princess Bride, Soapdish, and The Trip to Italy.
In 2019, Mark Bomback (Black Panther, Avengers: Endgame, Game 5 of the Cubs-National League Championship Series) earned $350,000 plus $50,000 per week to write the upcoming Disney movie, Mars Attack! Mars Attack! will be released in theaters on August 5, 2020. Most recently, he adapted the script for Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch.
In 2019, Billy Ray (The Mask, Ironman 3, Captain America: Civil War) earned $300,000 plus $50,000 per week to write the upcoming Netflix series, Flaked.
In 2019, Scott Alexander and Joshua Logan (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Book of Mormon, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) earned $250,000 plus $50,000 per week to write the upcoming Disney movie, Seven Dwarves. Seven Dwarves is scheduled for release on April 10, 2022.
In 2019, Richard Wenk (The Handmaid’s Tale, American Gods, The Tick) earned $225,000 plus $50,000 per week to write the upcoming Netflix series, Altered Carbon. Altered Carbon is set to premiere on January 15, 2021.
In 2019, William Nicholson (Blade Runner, Silver Linings Playbook, Dune) scored one of the most prestigious gigs as a film director when he signed on to direct Joker. Joker is based on the 1988 comic book (and its subsequent TV show) of the same name. In addition to directing Joker, Nicholson has also written the screenplays for The Best Years of Our Lives, Silver Linings Playbook, and Dune. He co-wrote the screenplay for the 2000 film, Almost Famous. Nicholson’s 2019 compensation: $350,000 plus $50,000 per week.
Most In-Demand Scripts
While the above represent some of the most in-demand screenwriters as of January 2020, it’s important to remember that writing for film is a very competitive field. New scripts are continually being pitched to studios and networks in hopes of securing a contract, and established writers are constantly churning out new material in an effort to stay relevant. On that note, here are the most in-demand scripts as of January 2020.
- The Reaper, by Gucci Clementi
- Mansions of Madness, by Stephen King
- The Girl in the Spider’s Web, by Kogonada
- The Hunt, by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
- The Predator, by Drew Pearce
- Altered Carbon, by Richard Wenk
- Seven Dwarfs, by Scott Alexander and Joshua Logan