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How Much Money Can I Make Selling a Movie Idea or Movie Concept?

by Kristin Swain, studioD

When you develop a movie idea or concept, you naturally want to sell it to a production company. You may have big ideas about how much money you can make. The script for "Lethal Weapon" sold for $250,000. As a writer, M. Night Shyamalan sold "The Sixth Sense" for $2.5 million. Before you start planning how to spend all of that money, consider a few things, such as your experience, the potential profitability of your concept and what type of cinema your project would do best in.

Write a Script

As a writer, when you go to a pitch meeting with a producer, you're pitching your movie concept or idea, but what you're selling is the script. To do that, you have to have a completed script to exchange for payment. Before you decide to start marketing your idea, make sure that you have a well-written script to back it up. Even if you or another screenwriter later rewrites the script, a well-executed script is what makes you money. Keep in mind that you can't copyright a movie idea or concept, but you can copyright a script.

Writers Guild of America

If you sell your movie concept and script to a studio, you may have to join the Writers Guild of America. The requirement to join the WGA is a good way to help develop your career as a screenwriter, because the guild requires that members get a minimum amount for movie scripts and ideas they sell. The minimum amount that you can make for a script as a WGA member depends on your contribution to the script production process. When you sell a treatment or idea, you can make between $20,960 and $47,940. When you complete a treatment, script and final draft, you can pull in a minimum payday between $34,936 for a nonoriginal screenplay and $119,954 on the high end for an original screenplay with treatment.

Traditional Deal

In a traditional deal, you pitch your movie idea to a studio, and the producer loves it. In this case, the producer may offer you an option deal on your script. You agree to give the rights to make your story into a movie for 3 percent of the film budget, with part of the money paid upfront as an option fee and the second part paid on the first day of principal production. If the film doesn't go into production, you don't receive the remainder of the 3 percent. Many options last for three to five years. When an option expires without production of the film, you keep the option fee that you already received and are free to sell the script to someone else.

Alternative Payments

Sometimes, an independent film company producer may choose to not offer a traditional payment structure for your idea. Instead, the producer may offer you a one-time payment for the film rights to your idea, based on the time that he estimates you put into script. Theoretically, one page of a script takes two hours to write. To estimate cash value, multiply the average wage for a scriptwriter by two and then by the number of pages in your script, or $26.64 x 2 x 90, for a total of $4,795.20 for a 90-page script. Another alternative payment method may be for the producer to offer you payment on the back end. In this instance, you're selling your script and movie idea for the possibility of making a percentage of the profits once the movie's made, distributed and sold on DVD or through digital formats.

About the Author

Residing in Los Angeles, Kristin Swain has been a professional writer since 2008. Her experience includes finance, travel, marketing and television. Swain holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication from Georgia State University.

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