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Screenwriting Help E-Mail (Previous)

Updated every Monday, one selected e-mail will be posted and answered here each week. With many years of experience in the film and television business, I look forward to providing answers to your questions (often with a humorous eye) about screenwriting or the entertainment industry in general.  Please send your e-mailed questions to: Script Advisor.  You may also wish to visit our Screenwriting Help E-Mails - The Archives.

This week's question: 

Can I make a lot of money with my first script?

Algeron in Wyoming

This week's answer: 

Money-making Screenplay

It's possible that you can make a lot of money with your first script, Algeron.  The first thing you want to do, though, -- after you write it, of course -- is to sell it.  That's the best way to make a lot of money with any script.  Also, it will help if the script is well-written (and I don't just mean "typed neatly" -- not that a neatly typed screenplay is not preferred -- especially by readers who read a lot of poorly-typed ones).  If a producer likes it enough to want to shoot your script (with cameras; not taking aim at with a gun, or anything like that.  And they don't actually shoot your script, per se, but, rather, actors who act out the story in your script.  I mean they shoot the actors with cameras, not guns.  Although... actors are shot by guns in the movies.  But not with real guns.  They use pretend guns.  But the cameras aren't pretend; they're real, and cost big bucks  to shoot a script) then he might give you a lot of money for that privilege.  

It depends on what you mean by "a lot of money" since everything is relative (especially relatives, themselves.) First-time screenplay sellers (FTSS's) may not make as many dollars as they will when they sell a few more.  Producers have a tendency to not want to make FTSS's rich all that quickly, or at all.  I advise, when you're looking over an option or sales agreement, read the fine print.  Then read the fine print of the fine print.  It's not that you're going to have to give away your first-born (I believe -- but you never know.  The issue of "first born giveaway" I think is an issue of contention for the possible upcoming writers' strike -- which is not to be confused with the results of the Writers Bowling League.  And they're not all that interesting to watch, being that the writers, after throwing their balls, are always trying to negotiate with the one who is keeping score or want take their turns over to get it just right.)

You can earn all way from thousands to in the hundreds of thousands for your screenplay.  It depends on so many factors, but these factors all depend on one thing:  money.  So your money depends on money.  I'll try to explain.  Usually the FTSS is offered a percent of the budget, so if the budget is a big one, the screenwriter's share rises proportionally to that budget.  And that budget can surely grow as bigger (not corpulently speaking) actors get involved; and the more box office draw (or "DVD draw" might be more suitable these days) the actors have, the more they will be paid, and, therefore, the more the movie's budget for your script will need to grow.  Television usually pays less than feature.  Straight-to-DVD projects normally pay less than feature and TV.  It all depends on how the producer wants to sell and show the finished project.

Don't despair if the first offer for your script doesn't seem to cover the Beverly Hills mansion you envision for yourself.  Don't give up hope if the number seems small.  Think on the bright side.  It will probably buy you a year's pass to sit in the "Hollywood bus" that drives by that Beverly Hills mansion.  And don't forget to bring your laptop.  

You can write your next screenplay on the bus.


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