How Much Should a Writer Charge to Write a Pilot?
For this question, I’ll defer to the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA), as they have a schedule of minimums that advise all writers on appropriate rates for such things. These rates are based on a fair wage for writing as compared to the potential profits a production company or distribution company can make from your work. Please note, the numbers below are the low budget minimums.
For Story and Teleplay, effective May 2016, you should charge the following:
15 minutes or less = $6,613
15-30 minutes = $11,023
30-60 minutes = $20,878
60-90 minutes = $31,818
90-120 minutes = $42,030
These numbers reflect your initial screenplay. Here are the additional fees you should charge for rewrites and/or polish passes.
For Rewrites, effective May 2016, you should charge the following:
15 minutes or less = $2,463
15-30 minutes = $4,217
30-60 minutes = $8,039
60-90 minutes = $11,870
90-120 minutes = $15,684
For Polish, effective May 2016, you should charge the following:
15 minutes or less = $1,225
15-30 minutes = $2,102
30-60 minutes = $4,015
60-90 minutes = $5,940
90-120 minutes = $7,845
Now, you specifically asked me: How much should a writer charge to write a pilot for an independently produced TV series with a startup production/entertainment company?
So why did I share the WGA minimums? Chances are you are not in the WGA and the production company you are working with doesn’t have the money to pay WGA minimums, even for low budget work.
I shared these minimums with you so that you know what your work is worth. In fact, these minimums are the lowest on WGA’s schedule and I encourage you to read the minimums for network television or feature film, as they are quite generous.
But, if you are working with a startup company that can’t pay you a fair wage, it’s important that they know what an appropriate wage is so that they can pay you accordingly. That’s not to say you shouldn’t work for low wages or for free. I certainly did, especially in the early stages of my career, and creating a network of people based on this kind of work helped me transition to full-time, appropriately paid work later in my career.
Only you can know where you are in your career and what an appropriate wage is, but you must consider this: eventually you will have to stand up for yourself and ask for an appropriate wage. Production companies will always try to pay you as low as possible so that their profit margin is as high as possible. If you are aware of the minimums, the absolute lowest pay that someone represented by the WGA is able to accept, then you are better armed to negotiate with production companies and raise your rates.
Hope this helps!
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