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Posts Tagged ‘Iowa City’

“When I look out and I see people, who most likely have no idea who we are, responding to our music, it’s pretty damn rewarding.”
Roadkill Ghost Choir frontman Andrew Shepard
Band on the Rise article by Donovan Farley

For the past year or so I’ve been using Saturday’s to repost some of the screenwriting posts going back as far as 2008—the start date of this blog. But because music is such a major part of films, I think from time to time I’ll mention more musicians, bands and composers—so for the first time in a long time I’m starting a new category simply called music.

And today’s band is the Roadkill Ghost Choir (@RoadkillGhosts). They’re from Central Florida and made their national TV debut earlier this year on the Late Show with David Letterman. I don’t think their music has been featured in any movies yet, but it’s just a matter of time.

Having a banjo and a trumpet mixed in with guitars, keyboards, and drums puts a little extra independence into this indie band.

The band formed in 2011 in DeLand, Florida and profiled this month in the Orlando Weekly and interviewed on WPRK.

P.S. Roadkill Ghost Choir’s folk-rock music has been called neo-Americana, and for whatever reason their song Beggars’ Guild reminds me of the Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash duet of Girl from the North County from The Johnny Cash Show in 1969. (A  TV show, by the way that U2’s Bono watched as a kid. Bono later helped Cash have a musical resurgence in his later years.)

P.P.S . A nice tie-in to a blog called Screenwriting from Iowa is Roadkill Ghost Choir played last year in Iowa City. Screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) —an inspiration for starting this blog went to college at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

Americana-related posts:
The Civil Wars
Off Screen Quote #22 (Bob Dylan)
Postcard # #38 (Lincoln Highway)
The Tennessee Williams Project
Creativity & Milking Cows “All the good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow.” Grant Wood (Iowa painter, American Gothic)
Postcard #61 (Hannibal, MO)
Postcard #62 (Beale Street)
Postcard #63 (Graceland)
Postcard #52 (Pascagoula)

Scott W. Smith

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“To have the president of the United States join us in discussing the issues of our time is a special honor.”
University of Iowa President Sally Mason
Iowa City, Iowa
April 25, 2012

Iowa has been a popular state this week. First Lady Michelle Obama was here on Tuesday and President Obama was here yesterday. It appears from the interviews I was hired to shoot for a D.C. group on Tuesday and Wednesday in Des Moines, that these days Michelle is more popular than her husband.

From what I (a registered non-party voter) can gather from the African-American, the Romanian immigrant, the retired Marine, and the transgender college student we interviewed—all who voted for Obama in ’08—I think you might hear a lot about hope and change (and “It’s the economy stupid”) in the next presidential election. But those slogans will be coming from a different corner.

(It’s fun to be paid to be a fly on the wall. This should be should an interesting election year.)

Three 15 hour+ days have me running to keep up on the blog, so here are a couple of photos I took in passing during my shoots this week that I’ll include in my “Postcards from the Road” category. (Bonus points if anyone can tell me who the pro bowler is from our meal stop yesterday at the hipster-60s style High Life Lounge. “Isn’t it time you lived the High Life?”)

To do my job to help the economy I made it 3 for 1 postcard day.

P.S. On my midnight drive home last night I kept awake listening to Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine: How Creativity Works CD book. I’m was enjoying the content so much I could have just kept driving north on I-35 past Minneapolis, and even Duluth, and just gone all the way to Winnipeg. If you haven’t heard of the book, check out my post Bob Dylan’s Brain.

Scott W. Smith

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“If Indiana Jones were a cameraman his name would be Scott Duncan.”
Moe Shore
Abel Cine blog post by Moe Shore 

“I have several cameraman that I’m close to—that I respect and love, but there’s Scott [Duncan]—and then there’s everyone great, and then there’s everyone else.”
Natalie Jowett
Producer-ESPN/Maggie Vision

There are some talented shooters who have made a bigger name for themselves by being on the forefront of embracing social media. These days some of those creative people probably make more money teaching workshops and getting paid equipment endorsements than actual shooting assignments.

Then there’s Scott Duncan. A true director/cameraman/photographer rock star. And though he’s kind of mix of Lance Armstrong and Bob Marley, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of him or his companies Scott Duncan Films/Other Films. But he’s a good source of inspiration of what one can do with a camera, so I’ll spend two or three days showing some of his work.

His resume is deep. He’s shot for ESPN, Survivor, The Apprentice, BMW, Ford, IZOD, and five different Olympics. His work has taken him around the world working with not only high-profile clients, but with a diverse group of high-profile people.

Once you see his work, you won’t be surprised that he’s also won eight Emmy Awards—but you may be surprised that he’s based in Iowa City, Iowa. (With a presence in L.A.)

And though we only live an hour a part, I’ve actually never met him. I first heard his name in 2004 when I was on a shoot in Colorado Springs and met an ABC producer who when she found I was from Iowa said, “Oh, you must know Scott Duncan.” I had never heard his name before that. I then became aware of his work and have even had two cameraman friends in Orlando (Mike Murray & Mike McAleenan) who’ve worked with Scott on various Survivor gigs around the world.

Enjoy. (The best seven minutes you’ll probably have today.)

Related post: 10 Cinematography TIps (Roger Deakins) 

Scott W. Smith

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“I wanted the reader to know that not all is lost. And then show, within the story, what was worth saving.”
Justin Cronin
On his new book The Passage

“There’s a little bit of Iowa in everything I write.”
Justin Cronin


First let’s look at the numbers behind Justin Cronin’s new book The Passage about a vampirepocalypse.

Justin Cronin’s age: 47

Pages of his new book The Passage: 766

Price paid by Ballantine Books for trilogy: $3.75 million

Price director Ridley Scott’s production company paid for rights: $1.75 million

Odds that Cronin will return to being a college English teacher any time soon: 0%

Before you think Cronin got lucky, realize that he is a graduate of both Harvard and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. That’s a couple hundred grand worth of the finest education in the history of civilization.

He’s had many short stories published, some novellas and two serious literary novels (The Summer Guest and Mary and O’Neil). He’s won a PEN/Hemingway award and The Stephen Crane Prize.

Stephen King said of The Passage , “Read fifteen pages and you will find yourself captivated…”

I only needed to read the first sentence before I was captivated;

“Before she became the Girl from Nowhere—the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years—she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy, Amy Harper Ballafonte.”

Somehow it’s reassuring to know, that in the future, the girl who sets out to save the world was born in Iowa. Yes, it is another vampire book but this week on Iowa Public Radio’s The Exchange Cronin told the host Ben Kieffer why his vampires are not like the sexy ones in the Twilight series, “The thing about the vampire story is that’s it’s really good soft clay and you can really do what you want with it. And you have to also…The handsome debonair underwear model vampire has been done.”

The book was released last week and it’s been called the hot book of the summer. Cronin was back in Iowa City Tuesday to read from his book and sign copies at Prairie Lights. While on The Exchange radio show he mentioned his affinity for Iowa. Though he had lived in New England, Hawaii and California before he moved to Iowa to attend the Iowa Writers Workshop he said, “I just fell in love with the place.,,I thought (Iowa City) was the best town I’d ever lived in. (Iowa) is beautiful and surprising which is what art is supposed to be, beautiful and surprising.”

I have not read or seen any of The Twilight Saga, and while Cronin’s book sounds like a more literary vampire book, time will tell if his apocalyptic, non-sexy vampires will be as popular. (The book that people really seem to be comparing it to is Stephen King’s The Stand.)

And while vampire stories have been around for at least 200 years, Cronin points out that the subject of immortality has a longer history saying, “You can look at the Garden of Eden as a vampire story.” I can honestly say I’ve never made that connection before. But two things I do know; Cronin is now a very wealthy man, and vampire stories will never die.

Related post: The Juno-Iowa Connection

Scott W. Smith

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When millions of people tune in tonight to watch the season six première of Lost (The Final Season), they won’t be thinking about the state of Iowa—but that doesn’t mean the show doesn’t have a Hawkeye connection. It actually has several.

Fans of the show know that fictional character Kate (Evangeline Lilly) was born and raised in Iowa. But a lot less people know that in real life both Michael Emerson (who plays Ben Linus) and Terry O’Quinn (who plays John Locke) have Iowa roots. When season five ended Ben Linus and John Locke were central figures in the final plot.

What are the odds of two actors going to college in Iowa 30 plus years ago ending up in the middle of a cultural TV phenomenon?

According to a news release at the University of Iowa, O’Quinn attended the University of Iowa in Iowa City back in ’74 & ’75 and Emerson received a BFA from Drake University in Des Moines in 1976.

According to the news release, “Both actors are also Emmy winners. O’Quinn won the Best Supporting Actor award in 2007 for his work as Locke. Emerson won for Outstanding Guest Actor/Drama in 2001 for his recurring character William Hinks, a psychotic serial killer, on the series The Practice.”

More proof that talent is talent and sometimes comes from unusual places.

Speaking of Emmys and Lost, I learned last week that a fellow I graduated from film school with (Jay Keiser) has been nominated twice for Primetime Emmy’s for sound design while working on the TV series Lost.

I look forward to this season to see how the writers pull all the storylines together.

Scott W. Smith

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“The most fantastic thing about Mr. Fox is the way he shows that while our flaws can bring us down, sometimes, too, we triumph in spite of them and because of them.”
Nancy Churin, review of The Talented Mr. Fox
Dallas Morning News

“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorn.”
William Cosgreve
The Mourning Bride (1697)


There are no speeches about the dangers of infidelity in the movie Fatal Attraction. No one says, “There is a proverb that goes, ‘For the lips of the adulteress drip honey, And smoother than oil is her speech; But in the end she is bitter like wormwood, Sharp as a two-edged sword.'”   No, the film does what film does best, it visually and viscerally tells a story. Remember the old adage  — show, don’t tell.

Back in the early 80s producer Stanley Jaffe saw a short film called Diversion by James Dearden and thought it had potential to be a feature. Jaffe’s producing partner Sherry Lansing agreed and they had Dearden write a feature script that both Jaffe and Lansing loved but was turned down by every major studio. Though Jaffe had won a Best Picture Oscar for producing Kramer vs. Kramer a few years earlier it was not thought there was an audience for a film like Fatal Attraction. (No one ever said winning an Oscar made finding funding any easier.)

It took them over four years to get the film made and it not only found a large audience but earned five Oscar nominations. Its altered ending is legendary and may have cost Glenn Close the Oscar, and while it’s possible that the original ending may have been better it also may have been less satisfying for audiences and released and forgotten. We’ll never know.

Here is a key scene in the movie that is a hybrid of the fourth draft of Fatal Attraction and the dialogue as spoken in the finished film. It’s a wonderful scene that captures the essence of fine screenwriting.  The scene appears at 13:30 into the film after Dan (Michael Douglas) and Alex (Glenn Close) who are business associates have trouble getting a cab in the rain and end up sitting down for a drink.

It’s a scene full of subtleties and subtext. A display of simplicity and complexity. An interesting sidenote is the character Alex was originally named Eve, nothing subtle about that which was why it was probably changed.

(We pick up in the middle of the scene where they are sitting down at a restaurant. And you’ll have to endure the funky formatting because my WordPress isn’t allowing me to format this correctly.)

There is a brusqueness in her manner towards the WAITRESS, suggesting a certain lack of empathy with the other women. The WAITRESS goes off. Alex folds her hands and looks at Dan as if to say, ‘What next?’.

DAN
Ahh, it’s funny – being a lawyer’s
a bit like being a doctor. Everyone’s
telling you in their innermost secrets.

ALEX
You must have to be discreet.

DAN
Oh, yeah.

ALEX
Are You?

DAN
Am I what?

ALEX
Discreet.

He looks at her, an ironic smile playing about his lips.

DAN
Yes, I’m discreet.

ALEX
Me too.

She holds his gaze. There is a moment of complicity.

DAN
Can I ask you something? Why don’t you have a
date tonight? Saturday night.

ALEX
I did have a date. Stood him up, that was the phone
call I made. Does that make you feel good?

DAN
It doesn’t make me feel bad.

There is a momentary lull. Finally:

ALEX
So where’s your wife?

Taken by surprise, Dan fumbles for his words.

DAN
Where’s my wife? My wife is in the country with
her parents visiting for the weekend.

ALEX
And you’re here with a strange girl being a naughty boy.

Dan holds up his hands to protest his innocence.

DAN
I don’t think having dinner with anybody is a crime.

ALEX
Not yet.

DAN
Will it be?

ALEX
I don’t know, what do you think?

DAN
I definitely think it’s going to be up to you.

Alex smiles, She is enjoying the game.

ALEX
Can’t say yet. I haven’t made up my mind.

DAN
At least you’re very honest.

ALEX
We were attracted to each other at the party.
That was obvious. You’re on your own for
the night that’s also obvious. We’re two adults…

A beat.

DAN
Check.

—–

It’s a scene that was wonderfully written and acted. It was also well directed by Adrian Lyne. Dearden received and Oscar nomination for the script and the character Alex Forrest was named by AFI as the #7 villain in movie history.

Lastly, while Dearden did receive sole writing credit for Fatal Attraction, I should point out that Nicholas Meyer was brought in to do some additional writing. Meyer is a graduate of the University of Iowa (B.A.–Theater & Film) and best known for writing a couple Star Trek films, but he was also nominated for an Oscar for screenwriting The Seven-Per-Cent Solution that was based on his New York Times #1 bestselling novel of the same name. The Papers of Nicolas Meyer (working scripts, story ideas, galley proofs, reviews, etc.) are available for research at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

Related post: Screenwriting Quote of the Day #95 (Nicholas Meyer)

Scott W. Smith

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“Most screenwriters are unemployed, chronically unemployed.”
Screenwriter Tom Lazarus (Stigmata)
Secrets of Film Writing

“It’s either very lucrative and exciting, or nothing.”
Screenwriter Anthony Peckham (Invictus) on screenwriting

(Note: Though this post is now several years old it continues to get solid hits because it’s such a basic question. I’ve chosen not to update the NFL references because that’s a continually moving target. Just exchange the names for the current hot players of whatever year you’re reading this post.)

When people think of how much professional football players make they tend to focus on the big numbers. Brett Favre’s $20 million dollar one year contract with the Minnesota Vikings. Payton Manning’s $99.2 million seven year contract with the Indianapolis Colts. But the truth is most rookies in the NFL earn around $300,000 per year. Deduct taxes, agent fees, a down payment on a house, and an expensive sports car or two and there’s not that much left. (Relatively speaking, of course.)

Then factor in that most pro football careers last less than four years (NFL=Not For Long) and you can see why the majority of players who play in the NFL really have under a million dollars to their name when they retire.  And when you factor in a history of NFL players making bad investment decisions it’s not hard to understand why so many end up filing for bankruptcy when their short careers are over. (Hence, the ESPN documentary Broke.)

Often when people think of Hollywood writers they tend to once again think of the multi-million dollar deals. (Like Basic Instinct banking Joe Eszterhas $3 million—back in the early 90s.) But the truth is most writers (factoring both union and non-union) won’t make any money this year from their writings. (According to the Writer’s Guide of America-West (WGAW) recent report, of the 8,129 union members in 2007 3,775 were unemployed.) Depending on different sources working WGAw members seem to average between $40,000-$110,000. per year. (Key word there is “working” WGAw members.) Factor in the cost of living where most writers live (New York & L.A.) and  that’s probably about the earning power of (just a wild guess) $20,000-65,000. in much of the country.

On the film side a good rule of thumb is scripts can make up between 2-5%  of the total budget. So on a $50 million dollar film that could be as much as $2.5 million.(The highest paid spec script to date I believe  is $5 million to M. Night Shyamalan for Unbreakable, though that may have included his directing fee.)  But it also means on a $200,000 indie film could mean the screenwriter was paid $4,000. (And independent films make up the majority of the 500 or so feature films made per year. )

“When you’re not in the [WGA] you’re just grateful for anything that’ll you give you a month of rent or a couple months of rent. My first couple of jobs were New York independent things…of course, there wasn’t a lot of money for an untested writer. So if somebody had read some things you’d written, or a play you’d written, or a script you’d written on spec then sometimes you’d get paid 5,000 bucks, if you’re lucky, on a good day maybe 10,000 bucks.
Screenwriter Chris Terrio (Argo) taking about getting his start on DP/30

Of course, what screenwriters make globally will vary greatly. In Nigeria—Nollywood— they are making a lot of movies, but most budgets are sub-$100,000. And even in Hollywood what screenwriters make will vary. At the top of the Hollywood feature film food chain are working WGA writers who generate writing income several ways. Nailing down those exact numbers is hard, but this is how the top screenwriters can make $100,000 or $200,000 a week and millions over the course of the year:

—Writing assignment (developing new script from book, article, or an idea)
—Punch-up a script (take an existing script and add action and make it more dynamic, tweak the dialogue, and/or add humor to make funnier)
—One to three week polish of a script 
—Page one re-write. Take an existing screenplay that has promise, but needs a lot of work, and make it a script worth producing.
—Residuals (DVD/Blue-Ray/digital sales, Tv and foreign rights)
—Speaking (college and corporate work)
—Spec work (selling a screenplay without a deal from a producer or studio)
—Story meetings (A gathering of writers to kick around story concepts. Seen by some as a negative direction for the industry, as it’s the equivalent of kicking tires.)

On the TV side writers can be paid per script or as a staff writer. The highest paid are the ones who create a hit network show and stay on as producer/writers. If that show stays on the air for five years and goes into syndication then they can afford to buy a small tropical island.  (Largely based on the success of the TV show Seinfeld, Jerry Seinfeld’s net worth is in the hundreds of millions—and maybe over a billion dollars by the time you read this.)  A good gig if you can land it, but that doesn’t describe most TV writers.

“On balance, television writers today are the highest-paid practitioners of the literary profession in history. But mark the phrase on balance. If you can sell two one-hour scripts per year, which is a pretty good average for a freelance writer, that’s about $40,000 per year, before taxes. That figure is comparable to or less than the yearly average of elementary school teachers and considerably less than plumbers. The majority of working writers fall into this financial category. It’s only when you get the top 5 to 10 percent that you find writers and hyphenates who routinely earn six figures a year or more.”
J. Michael Stracznski, writer/producer
(Babylon 5, Changeling)
The Complete Book of Screenwriting

Granted that book was published in 1996 (and I think the minimum range for a 90 minute or less story & teleplay these days is around $30,000.*) but in a world of reality TV programing there is less scripted work being produced. (I know there are a lot fewer soap operas being produced than in 1996.)

“In 24 hours, NBC has just three hours of dramas and comedies. And, on some nights those make way for Dateline or Deal No Deal.”
Charles B. Solcum
Written By, August/September 2009
page 19

I have a writer friend with network credits in L.A. who was recently offered a job on a cable TV program that would pay her just a little more than her unemployment benefits. When you live in a land where rent is $1,500-3000. per month these are trying times. One more reason to live outside L.A., right?

Screenwriter John August recently wrote an excellent post What’s wrong with the business where he addressed some of these issues. I’ve quoted from that article before, but this is worth repeating because the industry is changing and the young, creative people coming up are going to embrace the changes;

“To become one of those inventors of industry, you need to surround yourself with similarly ambitious people. Film school is a good choice, but so is living and working in the right neighborhood in Silverlake or Brooklyn or Austin — or more likely, a place I wouldn’t even realize is a hotbed.”
Screenwriter John August
(Big Fish, Corpse Bride)

Could that hotbed be a place like Des Moines, Iowa? Steven Spielberg thinks so. He told Katie Couric on the NBC Today Show back in 1999, “I think that the Internet is going to effect the most profound change on the entertainment industries combined. And we’re all gonna be tuning into the most popular Internet show in the world, which will be coming from some place in Des Moines.”

Wait a minute, didn’t John August go to Drake University in Des Moines? That Spielberg is a genius, you know? And didn’t Diablo Cody go to school in Iowa City? If John August and Diablo Cody ever move back to Iowa then you know that this blog will at least be assured a small footnote in the history of screenwriting.

I wouldn’t bet on that anytime soon, but I would bet that within ten years places now known more for football like Minnesota & Indianapolis (as well as Detroit, Austin, Atlanta, Memphis…and, of course, Cedar Falls) will see writers and filmmakers rise up (and stay put) as they embrace the digital revolution and the opportunities it brings.

Related Post: Investing in Screenwriting. (I have a quote in there by Max Adams who explains how a $500,000. feature script option can really translate to a mere $3,500. per year for the writer who worked on that script.)

* To see current Writers Guild of America’s Theatrical and Television Basic Agreement visit the WGA-West website.

Update 12/09: Since this is a popular post as far as views I will update it from time to time and welcome your input on correcting any numbers. While reading over the WGAw report I made another connection between screenwriting & the NFL. On the film side there were 1,553 male writers employed in the last year of the report. That’s about 150 less writers than players in the NFL any given year. If you’re a female writer it just gets harder as they make up just 24% of all members in the guild. I don’t write these stats to discourage you but to help you know how solid your writing has to be to make a living doing this. And to also encourage you to keep your eyes open for alternative ways to earn a living in film, TV, and the Internet.

Update 3/12/10: Just read on Scott Myers’ blog Go Into The Story that the average production worker salary in the motion picture and tv industry is $74,400 a year.

Update 5/14/10: Residuals are another way film and TV writers get paid. I once worked with an actress who had worked on a popular TV show back in the day who told me she made $40,000 a year in residuals. A nice base. Check out the post Question: Do screenwriters get a percentage on the back end? by Scott Myers.

Update 11/08/10: Interesting article about football player (Keith Fitzhugh) who turns down NFL offer to keep his train conductor job.

Update 1/15/11:  “Let’s talk money, because no one ever does. A top tier screenplay deal these days might be for a million dollars or more. Most are far, far less, but let’s work with those crazy high numbers, in fact let’s say 2 million dollars, though nobody is paying that any more. Wow that’s a lot of money. But consider. With a writing partner, that gets cut down to $1,000,000., and after taxes, lawyers, agents, managers, and the WGA, let’s hope you get to keep $400,000.

That’s still a truckload of money, life changing, but they don’t give you that all at once. It might take six months to a year just to get the contract done, and the deal is contingent on the film going into production, and if it does that might take a year or three or five, and also the WGA has to grant full credit at the end of it all, which often doesn’t happen. But let’s say it all goes well, which means the ‘highest paid screenwriter in history’ is actually taking home around $200,000. a year, at least on that one deal. Which is good money, real good money, more than I ever imagined making, and let me tell you I do own a dream home in the hills … but it’s not in the fly-a-Learjet-to-your-own-private-island-in-the-Caribbean category.”
Screenwriter Terry Rossio (Shrek & Pirates of the Caribbean)
Interview with John Robert Marlow 

Update 2/11/11 “For every writer I know that lives high on the hog I know twenty who buy their bacon at Costco.”
Josh Friedman (War of the Worlds)

And this from the book Power Screenwriting:
“The truth is, the odds of writing and selling a screenplay are probably just as great as winning the state lottery or the next Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes. Yet, with the emphasis directed towards the big bucks sale, the aspiring screenwriter may be deprived of one of the greatest transformational processes known to man: spinning a well-told story.”
Michael Chase Walker

Update 3/24/11: “Most writers never sell scripts. Why should you be any different?”
Christopher Lockhart who is the Story Editor for WME
From the post The Right Stuff on his blog THE INSIDE PITCH.  

Update 5/29/11: This is the WGA’s current minimum basic agreement (MBA) for a screenplay purchase:
Between $500,000 & $1.2 million budget: $42,930
Between $1.2 million and $5 million: $42,930
Between $5 million or more: $87,879

Keep in mind those are union numbers—and minimun numbers at that. (Top writers making much, much more than scale.) But if a non-union company buys your script expect less. If you wrote the screenplay with another writer cut those numbers in half, and of course, deduct for taxes, lawyers, agents, etc.

Update 7/6/11: This post is by far the most viewed post of all time on this blog and you may enjoy this post today from Scott Myers on his blog Go Into The Story: Reader Question: How much does a top screenwriter get paid for a rewrite?

Update 11/08/11: “Most writers are middle class; 46% did not even work last year. Of those who do work, one quarter make less than $37,700 a year and 50% make less than $105,000 a year. Over a five year period of employment and unemployment, a writer’s average income is $62,000 per year.” Writers Guild of America, West

Update 2/22/12: Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2010 listed the mean annual wage for writers (including screenwriters) and authors at $65,960 (with $109,440 being in the 9o percentile).

Update 12/11/13: Even though this post is now four years old it continues to get steady hits and is by far the most viewed post I’ve ever written. But I’d like you to take the time to jump over to the post and read what Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arendt has to say about what I call The 99% Focus Rule. And a positive thing  that’s happened since I originally posted this is quality cable TV has exploded —as well as groups like Netflix producing their own programs— opening up new opportunities and a broader income stream for writers.

Update 6/11/17: While this post was on how much screenwriters get paid in the U.S., I should at least touch on the various ways writers can get paid for their work. This seems to be the core areas:
Spec script (You don’t get paid to write unless the script sells.)
Writing assignment (A writer is asked to write the script.)
Open assignment (Where several writers are asked to come in a pitch their take on what they’d do with a concept and one of the writers is chosen.)
Rewrite/polish (Could be as short as one day, but one to three weeks seems to be common. Enough time to take a script in various stages of either pre-production, production, and post-production and work your magic. Punch up the humor, tighten the structure, round out a character—something that makes the script better. I’ve heard the numbers between $100,000-$500,000 a week tossed around so that’s great money for those who get that kind of work. (Though the WGA minimum for a polish is in the $12,000 range when I last checked.) And it could also be a page one rewrite where a studio or production company likes a basic concept of a script the bought, but it needs a complete overhaul before it goes into production.
Staff Writers on network on cable TV shows
Residuals Backend money that comes from things like DVD sales and when a feature plays on TV. Jerry Seinfeld has made hundreds of millions of dollars as the co-creator of Seinfeld which has made an estimated $3 billon in syndication. So if you really want to make a killing as a writer the gold at the end of the rainbow is having a hit TV show.

Closing thought: “There’s more to life than a little money, you know?…Don’t you know that?”
Sheriff Marge Gunderson in Fargo
Written by Ethan Coen & Joel Coen

Scott W. Smith

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