How Much Money Do Movie Writers Get Paid?

by Jonathan Lister ; Updated September 26, 2017

Movie writers earn money by selling scripts or collaborating on existing film projects for a studio or production company. The salary of movie writers depends greatly on the demand for the subject matter writers are working on and writers' track record in selling successful screenplays.

Mean Salary Figures

As of May 2010, writers working in the motion picture and video industry earned a mean annual wage of $78,680 or a mean hourly wage of $37.83. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2,670 writers found employment in this industry as of May 2010. Employment in the movie and video industry represented just 0.75 percent of total industry employment for all writers across the country. As of May 2010, 40,980 writers were employed in various industries across the United States.

Independent Screen Writers

Independent screen writers can sell their work to the highest bidder. This leads to more erratic income but also provides writers an opportunity to earn a higher rate of pay and ultimately control who's in possession of the writers' creative work. According to the BLS, the mean annual wage for independent writers, including screen writers, was $101,110 as of May 2010. Their mean hourly wage was $48.61 as of the same year.

Royalties and Benefits

Writers established in other areas of the industry, including novel writers and playwrights, may transition to screen writing through a production company optioning a story the writer has published. This allows writers to assist in the screen writing process and earn royalties on the subsequent films' sales. Many of the most successful films in the modern era draw directly from books or stage plays as source material. Writers retaining the copyright of original story material can earn millions of dollars from successful film versions of creative works.

Writer's Guild Membership

The Writer's Guild of America is a national labor union dedicated to providing working protection for screen and television writers. Membership grants writers many benefits, including legal representation when writers finding difficulty getting paid for their work. The Writer's Guild also helps writers protect their intellectual property, including original story creations and characters.

2016 Salary Information for Writers and Authors

Writers and authors earned a median annual salary of $61,240 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, writers and authors earned a 25th percentile salary of $43,130, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $83,500, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 131,200 people were employed in the U.S. as writers and authors.

About the Author

Jonathan Lister has been a writer and content marketer since 2003. His latest book publication, "Bullet, a Demos City Novel" is forthcoming from J Taylor Publishing in June 2014. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Shippensburg University and a Master of Fine Arts in writing and poetics from Naropa University.