Let’s break things down by the numbers.
If you’re reading this, you’re likely dreaming of the day you take your feature spec out to the market and the flurry of negotiations that will build into an all-out bidding war. It’s the dream of many, after hearing the tales of $4-5 million spec sale in the 1990s or reading the breakdowns of the spec market to track trends with genres and buyers.
However, the market has changed a great deal since the beginning of Shane Black’s career, and many new writers aren’t fully aware of the more likely numbers for selling a feature script. So let’s take a look!
The first thing to look at is the WGA Minimums, a document updated every few years with the absolute minimum a writer can be paid for in any situation (i.e., feature vs. TV vs. new media; low budget vs. high-budget, etc.). If you look at the first page for a theatrical script in 2021 (May 2, 2021 – May 1, 2022), the very first numbers listed state that a low-budget script (under $5 million budget) minimum is $79,432, and a high-budget script (over $5 million budget) is $149,106. But that includes a treatment. Most feature writers have a written spec script written, there isn’t a treatment.
If you look further down at section C, you’ll find original screenplays excluding treatment or “Sale/Purchase of an Original Screenplay”. In that area, it states that a low-budget script minimum is $53,360 and a high-budget script minimum is $109,236. And remember that these numbers are before taxes or the percentages for your representation.
The WGA Minimums document further breaks down all the steps in screenwriting for which you may be paid. Whether it’s a treatment, story, rewrite, polish, etc. These numbers are lower than a straight original spec purchase. Many writers can work on a single movie, however, whether they’re credited or not.
OWAs, also known as Open Writing Assignments, are essentially freelance jobs to bring a producer or director’s idea to life or rewrite an existing project.
As we know, though, the dream is still to sell a spec for numbers that make headlines and, while the spec market is not as active as it used to be, scripts are still being sold. As more films go into production, more studios and production companies make sales to bring new projects to the big screen.
Not every announcement of a feature spec sale comes with the sales numbers, but when they do, they are often low-mid six-figures. This was the case with Daniel Kunka’s Lift. Kunka has sold a few spec features, and you can listen to him discuss his experience selling feature scripts with the Act Two podcast hosts and Coverfly mentors. Features that sell for higher figures will have a major attachment and/or a writer with a proven track record, as we saw a few years ago with the project Bright.
Another thing to remember when looking at all of these deals is that the WGA refers to “high-budget” as any project with a budget over $5 million, which is most movies. Rewrites and polishes on that spec you sell will nab you another chunk of change. There doesn’t have to be a movie with a $100 million budget for you to be paid well, so your lower and mid-budget productions that aren’t indie fare can still wind up being a great deal for you.
After a year with movie theaters taking a huge hit, people are excited to get fresh voices on the screen again. They’re hungry for content. Take advantage and get your script out there!
Enter the 2021 Launch Pad Feature Film Screenwriting Competition. The Early Deadline ends April 30th!