You'd Be Surprised at How Much Hollywood Writers Actually Make
How much do Hollywood writers make? The life of a writer might seem glamorous, but here's the scoop on what's going on behind closed doors.
If you've ever quoted a film in passing, posted a meme from a TV show, or obsessed over a particular storyline on Reddit, then you owe some of that love to a Hollywood screenwriter. While it's difficult enough to break into the entertainment industry without being a nepo baby or having a connection with a studio already established, the fight isn't over when you land your first gig as a Hollywood writer.
How much do Hollywood writers actually make? Keep reading for everything you need to know about the 2023 Writer's Guild of America strike and exactly what a screenwriter salary looks like.
So, how much do Hollywood writers make?
According to Indeed and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of April 2023, the current average income for Hollywood writers is $69,510 per year.
However, how much screenwriters in Hollywood make is dependent on many factors. First, the type of screenwriting, as writers are paid differently based on whether they're writing a feature-length film, a 60-minute episode of TV, or a 30-minute episode of TV.
Second, the project size. Films with larger budgets are often more willing to give screenwriters a considerable percentage of the profits. Third, a project's demand can affect compensation. Finally, screenwriter salaries may differ based on the employer or client.
It's important to note that the Writers Guild of America (WGA), a joint labor union representing writers in the entertainment world on the East and West coasts, has a minimum payment requirement for members to ensure writers receive fair compensation.
During the 2019-2020 season television season, for example, Variety reports that the guild minimum for a writer-producer was $6,967 per week. In 2023, due to inflation, that minimum would be $8,184.
Variety also reports that for a WGA member in 2023, writer-producers earn a minimum of "$41,773 for each 60-minute script, or $28,403 for each 30-minute script." However, staff writers are the lowest-level writers and are paid differently. In 2023, "[t]he median staff writer on a network show works 29 weeks for a wage of $131,834, while the median staff writer on a streaming show works 20 weeks for $90,920."
Why is there a writer's strike?
Writer's strikes have happened in the entertainment industry since 1960. According to PBS, the first WGA strike in 1960 lasted five months. There were also strikes in 1973, 1981, and 1985, with a strike in 1988 lasting the longest of all the writer's strikes in the United States at five months. The writer's strike between 2007 and 2008 lasted three months.
The WGA authorized a strike in May 2023 after multiple issues with the current contract were raised, including "minimum fees, royalties, staffing requirements, and even the use of artificial intelligence in script production," according to The New Yorker. Writer Adam Conover noted on Twitter that television studios are also trying to "turn writing into a gig job. Eliminating the writers room, forcing screenwriters to work for free, paying late night writers a "day rate.""
Another point of contention, per The New Yorker and explained by TV writer Janine Nabers, is the concept of "mini rooms," or condensed writer's rooms that take place before a show is greenlit, offering studios proof of concept but essentially working for shows that may or may not get made.
Janine said, "What you start to realize is that there is no advancing forward, because you're constantly in these rooms where you're being paid at a minimum. If your contract ends, and that show's not going to be made for another year, all of your work could just be erased."
On April 17, 2023, WGA members voted to authorize a strike after their three-year contract expired on May 1. The strike began after insufficient responses from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) on May 2, 2023, per Deadline.