If you have a great idea for a movie or television show, the first critical step is finding a talented screenwriter who can transform your vision into an incredible script. But skilled writing doesn’t come cheap. So how much does it cost to hire a screenwriter nowadays?
The costs can vary widely based on the screenwriter’s experience level, the length and complexity of your project, and other factors. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll break down typical cost ranges, key considerations that impact prices, tips for budgeting smartly, and advice for hiring qualified writers while keeping costs affordable.
Whether you’re an aspiring filmmaker with a limited budget or a production company investing in a major studio film, read on to learn what goes into the process and costs of hiring a professional screenwriter.
Cost Ranges for Hiring a Screenwriter
The prices for hiring a screenwriter can vary quite a bit depending on the scope of your project and the experience level of the writer. Here are some typical cost ranges:
- Non-union, entry-level screenwriters: $5,000 to $15,000 for an original feature film script. Short films may range from $500 to $3,000.
- Mid-level or Writers Guild of America (WGA) member writers: $15,000 to $40,000 for a feature film script. Up to $10,000 for a short film.
- Established or award-winning screenwriters: $50,000 to $100,000 or more for features, depending on experience.
- TV pilot scripts: $15,000 to $60,000+ based on the writer’s credits and whether it’s network, cable, streaming, etc.
- TV show episode scripts: $6,000 to $25,000, sometimes based on the existing story bible.
Of course, these numbers are just general ballpark ranges. The exact costs for hiring a screenwriter depend on a variety of factors, which we’ll get into next. Prices tend to increase year over year with inflation. But this gives you a rough idea of what to expect cost-wise.
Key Factors That Impact Screenwriting Costs
Why can screenwriting prices vary so much? Here are the key details that affect the costs:
The Screenwriter’s Experience Level
The most obvious factor is the experience level of the writer you want to hire. Accomplished screenwriters with lots of credits under their belt can charge much higher rates. For example:
- Unknown, amateur writers: The lower end of the price range
- Writers with a few indie credits: Middle of the price range
- WGA members and Emmy/Oscar winners: Top end of price ranges
So if you want to attract an established screenwriter with hits already on their resume, be prepared for a bigger budget. Take a look at samples of their previous work to get a sense of appropriate price points when making offers.
Original Screenplay vs Adaptation
Is your project based on an original concept and story? Or do you need a screenwriter to adapt source material like a novel, comic book, real-life events, etc into a script?
Adaptations usually cost more because the writer has to obtain rights, follow certain creative restrictions, and translate a story from one medium into a distinct film/TV format.
Complexity of the Story and Project
Some concepts and genres are more complex than others from a writing perspective. For example, heavily researched historical dramas or hard sci-fi movies require extra effort compared to rom-coms or contained thrillers. The more research and precision a project demands, the higher the price tag.
Length of the Script
Whether it’s a 2-page short film script or a 120-page feature film epic, the length of the writing required makes a major difference in cost. Most professional screenwriters charge per page rather than a flat rate for a project. Standard asking prices range from:
- $35-100 per page for experienced film writers
- $30-75 per page for new TV writers
So the longer your required script, the more zeroes will get added to the price. A 100-page feature script costs a lot more than a 5-minute short at average per-page rates.
Rewrites and Script Polishing
The initial writing costs may only cover the first draft of the screenplay. But it’s common for projects to require rewrites, editing, and polishing to get the script just right. Most writers charge extra for revisions beyond the first draft.
Shopping, Pitching, and Notes
Does the agreed-upon price include the writer pitching the finished script to studios, producers, or actors on your behalf? Or providing extensive notes during development to refine the screenplay? Expect to pay extra for these time-intensive activities.
How to Budget for a Screenwriter Based on Your Project
By evaluating the specifics of your project, you can arrive at a realistic budget and price to propose when hiring a screenwriter. Follow these steps:
Assess the Length and Scope
First, detail the parameters of the project:
- What will the final runtime be – a 120-minute feature? 60-minute pilot? 30-minute short film?
- Estimate how many script pages you expect based on standard page-per-minute ratios:
- Feature films: 1 page per minute
- Hour-long TV: Around 60 pages
- Half-hour TV: 30 pages
- Is this an adaptation or an original concept?
- How extensive is the story – multiple characters? Many locations? Extensive research required?
Take into account all these scope factors as they expand the workload and costs.
Determine Average per-page rates
Next, research the typical per-page rates for the project type and writer experience level you want. While figures vary, here are averages:
- Entry-level, non-union writers: $35-75 per page
- Mid-level or WGA writers: $55-100 per page
- Experienced writers for studios: $100-250 per page
Multiply the average rate by the estimated page count to get a price range. For a 100-page sci-fi film from a mid-level writer at $80 per page, that’s $8,000.
Define the Total Budget
Pad the writing costs a bit to account for potential rewrites, notes, and pitching costs. Establish the total budget before reaching out to screenwriters so you can make fair offers.
It also helps to get quotes from multiple writers to comparison shop. Some may accept lower rates to build credits. Offering compensation beyond just upfront fees can also lower costs…
Tips for Hiring a Screenwriter on a Budget
While Hollywood pros demand top dollar, you can still find talented emerging screenwriters on an indie budget. Try these tips:
Hire Unknown but Talented Writers
Search film schools, writer groups, and screenplay contests to discover promising writers before they get signed by major studios. Their rates will be on the lower end while their creativity is high.
Be Clear on Project Scope
Prevent sticker shock down the line by communicating expected runtime, number of rewrites, pitching needs, and credit expectations upfront so it’s factored into the fee.
Pay for Only the Work You Need
Rather than an all-inclusive fee, itemize payments for specific deliverables. Only pay extra for rewrites and pitching if you end up requesting them.
Consider Collaborative Writing
Hiring a team of two writers and splitting costs can be more affordable. Pairing an emerging writer with a seasoned mentor is a creative option too.
Offer Backend Compensation
Lesser-known writers may accept lower upfront fees if you offer incentives like bonuses upon selling the script or back-end royalties down the line.
The process of hiring a talented yet affordable screenwriter requires careful consideration of project scope, industry rates, and creative negotiating tactics. But with the right budgeting approach and by focusing on undiscovered talent, it’s very possible to keep writing costs manageable, even with limited funds.
Hiring a professional screenwriter to turn your cinematic dreams into a compelling script is a major investment for any project. While the costs can climb into thousands for established writers, the typical range for an indie film or pilot episode starts around $10,000-$15,000.
With some industry knowledge, clear project goals, and smart negotiating, you can find qualified writing talent that fits within your budget constraints. Just be sure to set fair terms and compensation rates based on the expected workload.
Ready to start bringing your story to life on the page? Reach out to talented yet affordable writers for quotes today. With the right script as your creative foundation, you’ll be able to move forward with confidence toward completing your film or TV masterpiece.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much should you pay a screenwriter?
For an original feature film script, plan to pay $10,000-$30,000 for new but experienced writers, and up to $100,000+ for top studio writers. Budget $30-$60 per script page. Established TV writers earn $15,000-$25,000 for an episode.
How much do you pay a scriptwriter?
A script writer’s pay can range from $500 for a short film, $5,000-$15,000 for a feature for amateur writers, and up to $100,000 for well-known screenwriters. TV pays $6,000-$25,000 per episode based on credits. Most charge per-page rates of $30-$100.
Can you pay someone to write a script for you?
Yes, you can hire professional screenwriters through networking, staffing agencies, associations like the Writers Guild of America, or searching for freelancers. Define the scope and compensation rate based on factors like runtime and writer experience.
How much should a freelance screenwriter charge?
Freelance screenwriters can charge $50-$100 per page for film scripts, $10,000-$30,000 for an original feature script, and $6,000-$15,000 for a TV episode depending on experience level. Set rates based on past credits and WGA guidelines.
How much will Netflix pay for a script?
For non-established writers, Netflix pays around $30,000-$50,000 for an original feature film script purchased outright. But the streaming giant normally hires experienced writers with credits and pays competitive industry rates of $100,000 or more.
How do I submit a script to Netflix?
Netflix only accepts script submissions through reputable literary agents and managers. You cannot submit unsolicited scripts directly. The best path is having your script generate buzz at film festivals or competitions to get representation.
How much do scripts usually cost?
In general, scripts cost $30-$100 per page for features and TV. An amateur writer may charge $3,000-$10,000 for a full feature script, while the cost for an experienced Hollywood writer ranges from $30,000-$150,000 or more depending on the project.
How much does a first script sell for?
It’s rare for an amateur writer to sell their very first feature script, but it has happened for as much as $300,000-$500,000. However, new writers should expect to earn closer to $1,000-$10,000 for their first feature script sale to an indie producer.
What is the difference between a screenwriter and a scriptwriter?
A screenwriter specifically writes for film and TV while a scriptwriter is a broader term that includes playwrights, radio writers, etc. But in general, the terms are often used interchangeably, especially when referring to writing for movies and television.