A neatly stacked pile of three screenplays with bound black covers and gold script titles sit atop a very tall pile of 100 and 50 dollar bills. An antique quill pen with a bright white plume rests on top of the screenplay stack. The background is a solid dark tone that makes the money and scripts stand out in vibrant clarity, showing the finely detailed textures of paper currency and engraved pen tip.

What is WGA Scale for Screenplay in 2023? A Full Breakdown

If you are working to sell your original screenplay to major studios in Hollywood, understanding the latest Writers Guild of America (WGA) minimum compensation standards is essential.

With the growing landscape of streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, and more needing premium original content, the demand for quality spec scripts continues rising annually.

But how much does the WGA say you should be earning for all your hard work crafting the next big movie? What exactly is the WGA scale for screenplays anyway? Does it vary based on the film’s budget?

I’ll answer these key questions and more in this comprehensive guide to WGA’s minimum compensation rates for 2023 and beyond.

You’ll learn the critical background of the Writers Guild of America, then dive into the specific base pay tiers for low-budget indies vs studio tentpole theatrical releases.

I’ll also overview additional important areas like residuals, credits, arbitrations, and the reality of negotiating writer deals in practice.

Let’s get started!

Background on the Writers Guild of America (WGA) Minimum Basic Agreement

First, a quick primer on exactly what the WGA is. The Writers Guild of America is a labor union that represents TV, film, streaming media, news writers, and more across the United States.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) functions as the key bargaining counterpart for the WGA to establish industry standards.

The WGA’s key purpose is to set minimum basic agreements for writer compensation and credits across film and television.

The idea is to protect writers from unfair treatment and predatory contracts by major studios and producers. The WGA’s minimum basic agreement establishes baseline recommended pay rates that writers should earn for their contributions across all stages of common writer workflows in the development process.

The WGA renegotiates these Minimum Basic Agreement standards with the AMPTP every few years to accommodate where the industry landscape stands.

For example in 2020, we saw a renewed focus on streaming content rate minimums given how networks like Netflix now rival major studios for script purchases. So WGA scale rates evolve over time.

Alright, let’s shift our full attention to current minimum rates specifically pertaining to original screenplays.

Low Budget Theatrical Films Defined

To clarify, low budget in this context refers to smaller independent films with a production budget between $5 million to $11 million in general. The movie is intended for theatrical release.

An “ultra” low-budget film lies on the lower end – $2.5 million or less for the full production. Different minimums apply here to accommodate shoestring budgets.

In terms of writer scale though, first off we have treatment or story contributions. This refers to an in-depth treatment detailing key narrative and character elements – essentially a descriptive outline of the film story.

Low-budget films have a $23,651 minimum for this writing phase. In the ultra-low budget realm, this drops down to $8,755 to start.

Looking at the next progression, we have the official first draft of the full screenplay and the final draft completion. Minimum rates are higher for these key delivery milestones. Low-budget first drafts start at $35,478 baseline, with $47,305 to finish the final draft ready for production.

Now in an ideal world, the heavy lifting would end after delivering a polished final draft. But rewrites are common (and sometimes extensive) in practice. This is why the WGA also establishes rewrite week minimums.

A standard low-budget film rewrites week nets $5,835 at minimum. Polish week rates for finer detail changes are higher. Usually, a writer’s contract will specify the number of guaranteed rewrite weeks.

High Budget Studio Films Defined

Now for bigger, higher budget studio pictures – think streaming movies or tentpole theatrical releases with A-list stars – higher WGA scale minimums apply. This makes sense given the higher box office upside.

Specifically “high budget” in WGA lingo means films with anywhere from an $11 million to $65 million budget. The very top blockbuster studio movies with budgets above $65 million are deemed “ultra-high budget” productions. Again, higher minimum compensation here.

For high-budget studio flicks, WGA treatment rates start at $94,324. Once that full first draft is delivered and approved, Writers Guild standards call for a $269,558 minimum payment. Upon final draft delivery, that number jumps to a $403,958 baseline.

Now an extra perk comes once production wraps – a production bonus is typical for studio films when box office bonuses apply. The WGA requires a $115,087 minimum but in practice, this number can grow much higher tied to box office milestones.

As streaming platforms drive more high-budget movie production, these higher-tier WGA minimums will become more relevant than ever for working screenwriters.

Additional Compensation Considerations – Residuals, Arbitration & Above Minimums

Of course, minimum compensation rates only scratch the surface of key payment considerations covered in the WGA’s collective bargaining agreement. I’ll overview some other notable areas:

First, residuals – this refers to the payment of percentages tied to distribution and re-use fees the production company or studio earns.

So for theatrical release box office totals, streaming licenses, DVD / Blu-ray sales, TV distribution, and more…writers earn residual checks over time per WGA formulas.

The WGA also governs credit determination policies – the criteria deciding which writers ultimately get credited for film or TV projects. Arbitration processes are also outlined for settling disputes over credits or owed payments.

Importantly, it’s worth reiterating that the WGA base rates outlined are strictly minimum standards. The reality is only amateur writers would accept mere minimum compensation.

Through agents and lawyers, experienced working writers typically negotiate deals above the minimum depending on experience and leverage.

But in all cases, the WGA scale provides an important framework suggesting reasonable starting points given different film production budget sizes and writer involvement phases.

The Bottom Line

So there you have it – a comprehensive overview detailing key Writers Guild of America minimum compensation rates and considerations to understand as a professional screenwriter in 2024 and beyond.

With the rise of streaming pressuring old network TV models, scriptwriters have growing opportunities to provide the needed original concepts that may just turn into the next big hit show or film with the right execution.

Understanding the latest WGA minimums gives you the confidence to negotiate fair writer deals rather than leaving money on the table.

While the negotiating dance between studios, producers, and creatives will always include some back-and-forth tension, maintaining awareness of industry standards helps level the playing field. Especially for new writers still establishing credibility, the WGA scale details provide an invaluable starting point.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is WGA minimum for a screenplay?

The WGA minimum compensation for completing a screenplay depends on the film’s budget. For low-budget movies, it ranges from $35k to $47k minimum for the first and final drafts. High-budget studio films have higher rates, from $270k to $400k+.

What is the WGA scale for low budget?

For WGA low-budget films (under $5-11M), the minimum is $35k for a first draft and $47k for the final draft screenplay. Segmented rewrites have lower rates around $6k per week depending on the scope.

How much does a WGA screenplay cost?

There are no fixed costs – it depends on the screenwriter’s negotiated rate. A new screenwriter could accept around WGA scale minimums from $40-$75k to sell their script outright. An established writer with credits commands higher fees in the six or seven figures.

How much do screenwriters make per script?

According to WGA statistics, the median usual base earnings for screenwriters is $98,975 per script. High-earning screenwriters make well over $300k for their scripts, not counting residuals or production bonuses. Total yearly compensation varies widely based on credits per writer.

Do screenwriters get paid royalties?

Yes, screenwriters are eligible to get royalty payments through residuals, which are based on a percentage of distribution revenue a studio/producer earns from the writer’s movie or TV episode over time through reruns, streaming licenses, and other channels.

What are the staffing minimums for WGA?

The current WGA minimum per episode script fees are $25k/30 minutes of TV and $38k/ 60 minutes of TV. The weekly flat staff writer rates are over $6k for standard order series (13 episodes/6 months). The floor rates rise incrementally for high-budget streaming series.

What is rule 8 of the WGA?

WGA Rule 8 covers the ongoing relationship of agents (representatives) with guild members and prohibits certain conflicts of interest in deal-making. In 2019, the WGA implemented changes to Rule 8 regulating agencies taking packaging fees and aligned ownership interests in production companies.

Do you pay WGA dues on residuals?

Yes, the WGA collects 1.5% dues on writers’ residuals and other income. The annual cap before a member’s dues convert to flat rate dues is $500k currently, so very high-earning writers pay reduced proportional dues over this threshold.

What are WGA residuals?

WGA residuals refer to royalties that compensate writers based on a percentage of the distribution revenue earned by studios from the writers’ produced film or TV content. This supplements upfront payments. Residuals are paid out from revenue channels like theatrical release, streaming licenses, syndication, DVD/Blu-Ray sales, and more over time per WGA formulas.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *