You’ve written a script. You’ve polished it, re-written it, performed a table read, re-written it again, you’re sick of the thing. It’s time to let this thing hit the market. But what is the market? How much is a script worth? Is it a feature or TV? How much more do you get for hour-long vs half-hour. Thanks to the WGA schedule of minimums we have the answers to all this! But you don’t need to read the entire WGA minimums document, StudioBinder has all your answers right here.
WGA MBA Minimums
What are the WGA minimums?
Screenwriters get paid for their work, and to protect writers, the WGA (Writers Guild of America) exists. The screenwriting landscape is constantly changing and evolving, so the WGA minimum basic agreement is updated every 3 years or so. This is called the WGA MBA (minimum basic agreement).
As you can see, there will be a fair amount of terminology thrown around in this article, so before we begin, let's make sure we all understand what “WGA schedule of minimums” means.
WGA MINIMUMS DEFINITION
WGA minimum basic agreement
The WGA MBA minimums represent the LOWEST amount of money a WGA member can receive for writing a script. If you are not in the WGA, you are not guaranteed these rates. It’s one of the key benefits of working within a union. These WGA rates are also called “WGA scale.” New writers will likely start at a number close to these figures. There are different rates for theatrical vs. TV, and for different types and lengths of the TV program, etc. Many of which you’ll find in this article.
KEY POINTS: WGA MINIMUMS
- These numbers aren’t averages or salaries, this is the minimum amount a WGA writer can be paid for one script
- Non-WGA writers aren’t guaranteed these rates
- There is typically a high-budget and low-budget rate
- The rates increase year-over-year
Remember, you won't take home the number you see. You still need to pay agents, lawyers, managers (if you have one), and taxes. You might even have to split it with your writing partner. Screenwriting earnings have a WIDE range of outcomes.
Screenwriter earnings vs WGA agreement
But we aren’t here to talk about that. We’re here to talk about the WGA schedule of minimums. Okay. So there are a few words in there people might not know. Let’s define them.
- Treatment — A somewhat vague term for a summary of a film or television show. It should communicate all of the essential scenes, themes, and tone of the projects, characters, and maybe even some dialogue sequences. They can be up to 30 pages long.
- Story — You helped develop the general idea of the script and perhaps some characters, but you didn’t actually write the screenplay.
- HIGH — In this scale, high means over a $5,000,000 budget.
- LOW — In this scale, low means under $5,000,000 budget.
- Rewrite — Pretty self-explanatory, but in this context, a rewrite would involve major changes to a script.
- Polish — Basically a small rewrite. The line between polish and rewrite can be fuzzy.
- Option — The buyer can own the rights to the movie for a certain period of time. During that time, they have the option to buy the script at any point. Once the time-frame ends, if they didn’t buy the script, you get the rights back.
Alright, that’s the terminology. We've got the entire WGA Schedule of Minimums PDF here if you'd like to download a copy. Otherwise, we'll walk through the highlights. Let’s start with theatrical minimums and what is WGA scale for a screenplay?
WGA 2020 Theatrical Minimums • Read WGA Minimums
WGA MBA Minimums — Theatrical
What is WGA scale for a screenplay?
The WGA minimum rates for theatrical are as follows.
WGA Schedule of Minimums — Theatrical
- WGA minimum for screenplay with a budget of $5,000,000 or more: $145,469
- WGA minimum for screenplay with a budget of $5,000,000 or less: $77,495
- Option prices: 10% of script minimum
- Week-to-week feature employment: $6,307/week
- This number goes down the more weeks of guaranteed work you have. The minimum would be $4,975/week.
If you want more info on optioning and the process of actually getting money in your pocket, this video does a good job of explaining.
WGA Basic Agreement • How writers make money
Theatrical is the flashiest. These films win Oscars, play in theatres, and when you hear about high-paid screenwriters, you’re normally talking theatrical... But most jobs are in TV.
In 2019, 5,118 WGA writers reported earnings in TV/digital while only 2,188 reported earrings in theatrical. Let's talk TV.
WGA MBA MINIMUMS — Television
What is WGA scale for television?
This is a little more complicated. TV WGA minimums vary based on run-time, prime time, episodic vs non-episodic, all sorts of stuff.Here is the document.
WGA staff writer minimum
There are so many specifics to TV that the document can be overwhelming. We also have a few new words to define:
- Pilot: The first episode of a new TV show
- Teleplay: The script for an episode of TV
- Bible: A document (often used to sell a show) holding information like character descriptions, plot summaries, world-building, character arcs, and season arcs for a show. We even have a bible template you can use.
- Network Prime Time — ABC, CBS, FBC, NBC
I can’t summarize all the WGA minimum rates in a few bullet points, so I’ll focus on what I deem the most relevant items:
- Week-to-week, WGA staff writer minimum: $5,069/week
- This number goes down the more weeks of guaranteed work you have to a WGA minimum of $3,964/week
- Network prime time bible: $60,828
- Under 30-min "network prime time" story & teleplay: $27,000
- Under 60-min "network prime time" story & teleplay: $39,858
- Under 30-min "other than network prime time" story & teleplay: $15,903
- Under 60-min "other than network prime time" story & teleplay: $28,907
- High budget basic cable 1-hr drama story & teleplay: $30,780
WGA scale vs actual salary
So we’ve talked TV and Theatrical, but there is an elephant in the room folks… What about the streaming portion of the WGA agreement?
Screen Writers Guild Rates
SVOD WGA minimums (streaming)
Called “new media” on the WGA minimum basic agreement, this category is easily as important as the first two, maybe more so. This encapsulates Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, all the streamers.
WGA staff writer minimum
Here, not only is budget a factor, but also the size of the streamer
- A platform with over 20 million subscribers pays the highest WGA minimum rates
- Rates decrease again when a platform has fewer than 15 million subscribers
The runtimes and size of streamers are all over the place so make sure you read the right section!
Here are some of the key numbers for the largest streamers in the WGA MBA minimums:
- 20-35 min program with a budget between $1-$2.1 million: $15,903
- 20-35 min program with a budget of $2.1 million or more: $27,100
- 36-65 min program with a budget between $1.7 - $3.8 million: $28,907
- 36-65 min program with a budget of $3.8 million or more: $39,858
- 96+ min program with a budget between $3 - $4.5 million: $56,932
- 96+ min program with a budget of $4.5 million or more: $73,784 (If non-episodic: $80,647)
The numbers are practically identical to prime time network TV. And, luckily for writers, the payday isn’t over yet! We still need to discuss residuals.
Click here for our guide to the best movies available to stream.
WGA MBA MINIMUMS — RESIDUALS
The WGA MBA and residuals
A residual is money you earn based on the reuse of your work. This includes DVD sales, selling to streamers, selling to cable companies, syndication, and they can keep coming for a very long time.
Hollywood Screenwriter John August has been in the business over 20 years and is very open about his residual income.
For his first feature film Go (1999), here’s what the residuals look like.
Residual payments with WGA rates
More recently, here is the performance of his high-budget films Charlie and The Chocolate Factory (2005) and Aladdin (2019):
Residual payments on WGA scale
Now, John August is a highly-paid screenwriter, but bottom line, residuals add up fast. Here’s the most pertinent info from the new WGA basic agreement:
- Free TV, pay TV, basic cable, new media sales: 1.2%
- First million in video/DVD: 1.5%
- Every sale after the first million: 1.8%
- First 50,000 units in electronic sales (iTunes): 0.36%
- Every sale after first 50,000 units: 0.65%
- The same numbers as above for DVD, iTunes sales, etc.
- Under 30-minute high budget prime time 1st rerun: $13,511
- Low budget: $13,511
- Under 60-minute high budget prime time 1st rerun: $24,558
- Low budget: $19,774
- After the 1st rerun...
WGA residual rates after the 1st rerun
- Under 30 minute cable TV rerun: $4,899
- Under 60 minute cable TV rerun: $8,408
With streaming, at times you need to negotiate residuals, but here’s what’s in the WGA schedule of minimums:
- Percent of distributor gross after the first 26 weeks of a high-budget project: 1.2 %
- Electronic sales (iTunes): 1.2%
- If reused in traditional media (cable, DVD, theatrical, etc.): 2%
- Rights for high-budget 20-35 minute program: $15,178
- Rights for high-budget 36-65 minute program: $27,588
- Rights for high-budget 96+ minute: $54,332
Year-after-year the rate drops. There is also a thing called the “subscriber factor” that plays a role in the formula. You also might be entitled to foreign residuals.
Residual payments on WGA scale - SVOD
Residuals can be confusing. Very confusing. The nice thing is that they are large sums and can keep coming and coming.
Random WGA Agreement Minimums
Miscellaneous WGA rates
I couldn’t include everything from the entire WGA agreement document. If I did, I’d have a 50-page article. Not ideal.
There are more specifics and more details available if you need them. However, here are some of the more miscellaneous items that I found useful:
- Under 90-minute story and telescript high budget: $37,718
- Low budget: $30,800
- Under 120-minute story and telescript high budget: $49,421
- Low budget: $40,674
WGA Minimums - Documentaries
WGA minimum basic agreement • Comedy Variety
Narration — Theatrical
If you’re asked to place narration on your own story and screenplay
WGA minimum basic agreement • Theatrical
If asked to write narration on someone else's screenplay:
- High budget: $86,191
- Low budget: $42,366
Narration — Television
If asked to place narration on your own story and screenplay
If asked to write narration on someone else's screenplay
There is an exception if the project isn’t “assembled in story sequence” and the writer was unaffiliated with the script. In that case, the writer gets a bit more.
Script Publication Fee
For Theatrical, once the script is published or the DVD is released: $12,500
Sequel Payments & Character Spin-Off Payments
TV — If a company makes a sequel where “separation rights apply” these are the rates due. This applies to sequels and spin-offs.
Recurring Character Payments
There’s a lot of ways for writers to get paid. Thankfully, lawyers and accountants should handle all of this.
Don’t spend all your time reading the WGA agreement, get out there and sell! Or write!
You know the WGA minimum amount a script is worth, but what about the maximum? Most writers work within the WGA but there are also plenty of non-union writers as well. Learn how much screenwriters actually make in our next article!