Dreaming of becoming a professional screenwriter in Canada? One of the most common questions aspiring writers have is: how much could I potentially earn writing scripts and stories for film and TV?
Unlike in Hollywood, there is less open discussion around screenwriters’ salaries in the Great White North. Pay scales are usually not advertised publicly. But for those looking to turn screenwriting into a full-time career, it’s helpful to understand what seasoned and entry-level writers can expect to make in Canada.
In this article, we’ll dive into the average salaries, factors impacting earnings, and tips for maximizing your income as a screenwriter in Canada.
Average Salary for Screenwriters in Canada
Most data shows that Canadian screenwriters earn anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000 CAD per year on average. However, incomes can vary dramatically based on experience level.
According to a 2018 WGC (Writers Guild of Canada) report, the average annual earnings for a Canadian screenwriter are:
- Entry-level: $40,000 CAD
- Intermediate: $60,000 CAD
- Established: $100,000+ CAD
Keep in mind these figures are averages across film, TV, digital media, and other writing platforms.
In a 2019 survey by the CMPA (Canadian Media Producers Association), the reported average salary specifically for film work was $88,500 CAD. Television tended to be a bit lower at $67,400 CAD.
Compared to the United States, Canadian screenwriters generally earn less than their neighbors to the south. The WGA (Writers Guild of America) pegs the median TV writing salary at US$260,706 and screenwriting salary at US$117,840.
Of course, the cost of living and taxes are also lower in Canada. But it’s worth comparing incomes as many writers work between the two countries.
For reference, the WGC recommends minimum rates per project type. For an original 1-hour TV script, the minimum is $23,190 CAD. For a feature film script, it’s $76,190 CAD. These are useful baselines when negotiating compensation.
Factors That Impact Screenwriter Earnings
Screenwriting salaries have a wide range for good reason. Many factors come into play that affect a Canadian screenwriter’s potential earnings.
Like most careers, earnings increase with more experience and credits under your belt. Entry-level writers with only a couple of IMDB credits make substantially less than veteran, award-winning screenwriters with decades in the business.
Built-up respect and relationships also help negotiate better deals. Proven box office earnings may provide leverage as well.
Type & Budget of Production
TV, film, digital media, and other platforms have different pay scales. Budgets hugely impact what writers make too. It’s no surprise an online web series pays less than a Marvel blockbuster movie.
Writers hired for high-budget, premium cable or streaming shows have more salary upside than standard network productions. Feature films with A-list talent also pay top dollar for scripts.
Staff vs. Freelance
Whether a screenwriter works as an employee of a studio or as a freelancer also impacts earnings potential. Staff make consistent income and usually benefits too. However, freelancers can work on more projects at once.
Freelance screenwriters may earn more on a per-project basis. But steady work for a studio provides stability. Many writers do a mix of both over their careers.
Like those drawn to Hollywood, screenwriters congregate in Canada’s major film hubs too. Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal have the most opportunities. Writers outside big cities may have fewer local connections and credits.
But with more remote work options, location matters less than before. Writers in smaller markets can still build careers through online networking and leveraging co-writing relationships.
Involvement Beyond Writing
Some screenwriters expand their income potential by getting involved with producing, directing, consulting, or acting in their projects. Taking on multiple roles leads to bigger paychecks.
Others choose to solely focus on writing. However, participating in the production process can provide valuable experience – and justify higher fees.
Tips for Maximizing Your Earnings as a Screenwriter in Canada
While raw talent goes a long way, screenwriters can employ specific strategies to maximize their earnings in Canada’s film and TV industry.
Build an Impressive Portfolio
Having superb writing samples showcases your skills better than any resume. Enter prestigious competitions like the Austin Film Festival. Seek experienced script readers for evaluations. Take workshops to refine your craft. A knockout portfolio opens more doors.
Relocate to a Major Market
Most job opportunities remain concentrated in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. If you’re based elsewhere, consider relocating – or at least spending chunks of time in these creative hubs. Nothing beats in-person networking and meetings to help your career take off.
Develop Relationships with Producers, Directors, Studios
This industry runs on connections and relationships. Meet key players at film festivals, and events, through introductions, and online communities – anywhere you can. Share your unique voice and passion projects. The more people know you and your work, the more opportunities come your way.
Know Your Worth – Negotiate Fair Rates
Always negotiate! Don’t default to the initial offer. Politely push for higher rates using guild minimums as a baseline. Point to your experience, past credits, awards, and the value you’ll bring to the project. Be confident advocating for fair pay. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Diversify Your Writing
Look for ways to diversify your writing output beyond film and TV scripts: graphic novels, plays, web series, branded content, etc. Taking on a variety of projects provides more income streams. Expand your skills through co-writing too. Broaden your appeal to buyers.
Leverage Overseas Markets
Don’t limit yourself to Canadian buyers and funders. Content produced here is enjoyed globally. Reach out directly to production companies in the US, UK, and beyond that purchase Canadian IP. The bigger your potential customer base, the higher your potential sales.
Increase Your Output
The most prolific, productive writers tend to earn the highest incomes. Set goals to complete at least 2-3 scripts per year. The more you write, the more opportunities will come through volume alone. Just be sure quality doesn’t suffer in the process.
While there are no guarantees in this creative profession, Canadian screenwriters can earn a respectable living in film and TV. Incomes largely depend on experience level, production type, relationships, and negotiating prowess. With talent, hustle, and smart strategies, writers can maximize their earning potential in Canada’s vibrant entertainment industry.
For further reading, consult the Writers Guild of Canada site for rate sheets and resources. The CMPA and provincial film commissions also offer great information on the Canadian screen industry. And connect with other local writers through groups like the Writers Guild of Alberta.
Does this help provide a comprehensive overview of how much screenwriters can expect to earn in Canada? Let me know if you would like me to modify or expand any section. I’m happy to keep polishing this draft with your feedback.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much do screenwriters get paid in Canada?
On average, Canadian screenwriters earn between $40,000 to $100,000+ CAD per year, depending on experience level. Entry-level writers make around $40k while veterans can make over $100k.
Do screenwriters make good money?
It depends. Experienced screenwriters writing big-budget films or TV series can make over $100k CAD a year. But many entry-level and freelance writers earn closer to $40-60k on average which is decent but not lucrative. Earnings tend to grow over time and with more credits.
How much does Netflix pay screenwriters?
For original films and series, Netflix is said to pay experienced screenwriters between $200,000 to over $300,000 USD depending on the budget and writer’s experience level. They also purchase spec scripts for six figures.
How much can a beginner screenwriter make?
Most beginners make around $30,000 to $50,000 CAD per year starting out. Incomes under $40k are common when just getting started and trying to break in. Pitching and selling that first script is critical.
Are writers in demand in Canada?
Yes, skilled writers are very much in demand as more films and TV series are produced in Canada each year. There is a strong demand for writers familiar with Canadian stories and culture. Opportunities exist for both experienced and new writers.
Do screenwriters make millions?
A small handful of “A-list” screenwriters can earn millions, especially for major blockbuster films. But most working writers will never see incomes in the millions. Reasonable pay can be earned with consistent work, especially on TV.
Is it hard to get a job as a screenwriter?
Yes, screenwriting is an extremely competitive field. Most “overnight successes” are the result of years of struggle. Persistence in the face of rejection is critical. But once you get that first foot in the door, it gets easier over time.
Why do most screenwriters fail?
There are many reasons aspiring screenwriters fail – giving up too early, scripts not resonating with buyers, personal issues, lacking relationships/credits, financial pressures, ineffective querying and pitching, etc. Success requires tremendous persistence.
Why are screenwriters paid so little?
There is an oversupply of aspiring screenwriters compared to the limited number of paying jobs. Plus “written by” credits alone (without producing or directing) limit leverage in negotiations. Pay tends to be based on experience and credits as much as quality.