Actors and directors may get all the attention in the film industry, but all the movies we know and love were ultimately made possible by film writers. What do film writers earn, on average, and how do you land yourself a job as a film writer?
Average Salary for Film Writers
The latest data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) demonstrates that the median annual salary for all writers and authors in the United States is, as of May 2020, $67,120. While the lowest-paid 10 percent of writers earn under $35,880 per year, the most fortunate boast a yearly income of $133,460 or more.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics adds that writes who work in the “performing arts, spectator sports, and related industries” have the very highest salary in the field — in this sector, which also includes film writers, the median yearly wage is as much as $82,350.
Because the BLS doesn’t maintain salary data that specifically pertains to film writers, we will have to examine information collected by privately-owned salary tracking platforms to find out precisely where a film writer’s earnings fit into this picture.
The most common official job titles in this field would be screenwriter (which can also apply to script writers who work in TV and other sectors) or film writer.
- The popular and generally extremely reliable salary-tracking platform PayScale estimates, based on the data they have received, that screenwriters earn an average of $78,611 per year. PayScale further reports that salary ranges from $34,000 to $206,000 per year are typical for screenwriters.
- According to Glassdoor, the average annual salary for screenwriters is $54,960 per year. The lowest-paid screenwriters earn $15,000 or just over, while the most generous salaries can exceed $208,000 per year.
- ZipRecruiter’s reports that film writers in the United States make, on average, $60,237 per year. This platform adds that the majority of film writers bring home annual salaries between $16,500 and $132,000.
It is important to keep in mind that an individual film writer’s yearly income will depend not only on the same factors that traditionally influence pay across all sectors — such as qualifications, experience, and location. Film writers also need to be able to “read” market trends to anticipate what types of scripts can sell, and they may experience creative peaks as well as lows.
In addition, film writers who belong to the Writers Guild of America and fall within their bargaining group can count on the minimum rates established by this union. For a film or screenplay with a budget of $5,000,000 or below, that minimum rate is currently $77,495.
What Do Film Writers Make Per Hour?
Film writers are among the professionals for whom average hourly earnings are most difficult to quantify. Writing, researching, revising, and attempting to place movie scripts can consume all of a film writer’s productive time. By the time a script is finished, there is no guarantee that it will sell. Nonetheless, PayScale estimates that screenwriters’ earnings average out at $23.96 per hour.
Aspiring film writers should keep in mind that this estimated average is merely a statistic. It is neither a guarantee nor a promise. There is no question that some aspiring film writers, especially those who have not yet successfully sold a script, risk putting in a lot of work and not being paid for it at all.
Based on Experience
Film writers who already have a track record of producing successful scripts — and perhaps a degree of fame — can expect higher earnings than those who are new to the field. PayScale’s data, which relates to screenwriters in general and therefore also includes TV writers, suggests that:
- Early-career screenwriters make, on average, $50,000 per year.
- Mid-career screenwriters earn an average of $90,000 a year.
- The most experienced screenwriters, who have been in the entertainment field for at least 10 years and have built an excellent reputation as well as a network of industry connections, potentially earn over $100,000 per year.
Based on Education
No formal qualifications are strictly required to be a film writer — excellent, uniquely creative, and timely movie scripts can sell regardless of the writer’s education. A perfect script will not be rejected solely on the basis that the film writer dropped out of college.
Regardless, and despite the fact that no clear data is available to show how a film writer’s educational background impacts their salary, it is helpful to keep in mind that certain areas of study can nurture a future film writer’s inherent talent and help them be more successful. A Bachelor’s degree in a related area such as creative writing or drama can, as such, be a good first step toward a career as a film writer.
Top Paying States for Film Writers
According to ZipRecruiter, California, Connecticut, Washington State, New York, Alaska, Massachusetts, and New Jersey are counted among the top-paying states for film writers. Film writers are not, however, necessarily bound to one location.
Job Outlook for Film Writers
The outlook for writers and authors in general is mildly optimistic; the Bureau of Labor Statistics currently projects that jobs in this profession will grow by nine percent over the coming 10 years. While writing jobs in the film industry are counted among the top-paying jobs for writers, however, this field is also unquestionably one of the hardest to break into and become successful in.
Some film writers will start their careers as writers’ assistants in film or on TV. Others will work as screenwriters in the television industry before moving over to film. The fact that this is not a field that offers any job stability ultimately means that the outlook for film writers is unclear, however.
What Exactly Does a Film Writer Do?
Film writers produce or contribute to producing film scripts. As simple as that brief definition sounds, aspiring film writers can expect to be engaged in a wide variety of different tasks. Among them are:
- Conducting in-depth research, including interviews, to ensure that all aspects of the script will accurately and logically fit into the setting of the movie.
- Staying up-to-date with the latest trends in the film industry to be able to determine what kinds of scripts will be popular with audiences, and, as such, sell well.
- Writing, editing, and revising film scripts, which includes plot, dialogue, and setting.
- Attempting to place a script with the best possible studio, a process that can take up just as much time as producing the script itself.
The fact that film writing is an unabashedly creative profession means that a film writer’s success will always depend on their creative flow. Because of this, exploring ways to nurture that creativity should always be an inherent part of the job description as well.
How to Become a Film Writer?
There is no single “recipe” for success. Aspiring film writers are almost certainly fueled by an undying passion for writing. They can build on this natural interest and talent by pursuing a related field of study in college. Creative writing is one example of a degree that could help to expand an aspiring film writer’s skills.
Following college, some aspiring film writers will immediately dive into the work of producing movie scripts. Some will initially work in TV or other sectors that call for script writers, including the video game industry and advertising. When an aspiring film writer is ready to try to place a script, they can start the process of offering it “on spec”, something that requires patience and a high tolerance for rejection.
Qualifications to Be a Film Writer
There are no prerequisite formal qualifications for film writers. Film writers do, on the other hand, have to be talented, skilled, and creative. Natural talent is almost certainly needed to become a successful film writer, but aspiring film writers can perfect their technical skills in college. Degrees in the following areas may be helpful:
- Creative writing
- English literature
Skills to Be a Film Writer
Film writers depend on excellent writing skills — which include in-depth knowledge of character and plot development, as well as creative writing and grammar skills. In addition, film writers will benefit from having:
- Strong research skills. A successful movie script will perfectly fit into the time or genre in which it unfolds, and making this possible is predicated on research.
- A deep understanding of psychology, something that is necessary to create compelling and interesting characters who feel “real” to the audience.
- Outstanding interpersonal skills, including relating to rapport-building, will help film writers place their scripts.
- Tenacity is another key skill for film writers. These professionals will inevitably deal with a high volume of rejection letters before they are able to sell a script.
Can You Be a Film Writer Without a Degree?
Yes. No formal qualifications are necessary to become a successful film writer, although certain degrees can help a future film writer perfect their skills.