How Much Money Can a Screenwriter Make?

by Rick Suttle

People wouldn't be cramming into theaters to see the latest vampire heroine or fantasy without the creativity of screenwriters, who create plots, subplots and character dialog to bring stories to life. While some are employed by movie companies and television show producers, the majority are freelancers. Bachelor's degrees are not essential in this field, but you do need to be determined, persuasive and have a flair for writing in the proper screenwriting format. If you succeed, you might just win an Oscar someday for best "original" or "adapted" screenplay at the Academy Awards.

Average Annual Income

Screenwriters earn average annual incomes of $68,060, as of May 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS includes screenwriter salaries under "writers and authors." If you are among the top 10 percent in earnings, you would make over $115,740 annually. Salaries for employed screenwriters are contingent upon experience and the filming budgets of production companies. As a freelance screenwriter, you earn advance payments or royalties, but you must sell your scripts to earn any money.

Salary by Industry

Incomes for screenwriters can vary considerably by industry. They earned $100,060 per year working for motion picture and video companies, according to May 2011 BLS' data. As an independent writer or freelancer, expect to earn an average annual income of $97,300. Many times, advertising or public relations agencies need scripts written for commercials or public service messages. Screenwriters in this industry earned $78,250 per year. Those who worked on television shows or movies made $63,900. (See reference 2)

Income by State

It stands to reason that California and New York are the highest-paying states for screenwriters, as the majority of movie and television production companies are located there. That said, you would make an average income of $93,700 per year in California and $87,250 in New York. In comparison, your income would be significantly lower in Washington, Texas and Florida -- $70,700, $54,990 and $51,910 per year, respectively.

Job Outlook

Jobs for writers and authors, including screenwriters, are expected to increase 6 percent from 2010 to 2020, according to the BLS, which is less than half the 14 percent growth rate of all occupations. As a freelance screenwriter, you can sell more scripts by tapping into all available markets: major Hollywood studios, independent film companies and even television stations. Hone your skills, take courses in screenwriting, choose original ideas for movies, and write screenplays that appeal to the masses.

Photo Credits

  • Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images