Writing Plays/Screenwriting/screenwriting profits
QUESTION: Hi. I have a question about the money that screenwriters are paid. Once the screenplay is bought by a studio, are the original screenwriters paid additional money each time a sequel is made? For example, with the 'Hangover' movies. Do the original writers receive a profit from parts 2 and 3? Thanks
The quick answer is that the amount of money and residuals paid to the writer depends on the contract.
The longer answer is that there are WGAW (Writers Guild) minimums for 30 minute and 60 minute TV episodes. For features, the guide is that the writer is paid 10% of the production value of the feature. This value would change based on how the writer is involved in re-writes or if the writer is a producer on the feature.
To answer your question regarding sequels, unless the original writer contributed to the sequel script in some manner; e.g. wrote a treatment, synopsis, or scenes, then that person would not get any money from the sequel.
However, all these answers are dependent on the original contract. If you have a smart agent and good lawyer, then they could negotiate that the original writer receive residual money from sequels.
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QUESTION: Can you give me an example using the 10% fee? Thanks
Suppose a feature is budgeted for $10,000,000. The writer should get a $1,000,000 fee. Now, keep in mind that that fee would be if the writer was involved in the production all the way through from original screenplay through re-writes and possibly post-production.
If a prodco just options the original screenplay, their writer fee could be a tenth of the tenth or $100,000.
Keep in mind that a prodco would not pay a writer all the fee at one time. Normally, the prodco pays in increments. The prodco pays the writer about 1/3 of the fee at original screenplay purchase. A 1/3 is paid on completion of principal filming. The final 1/3 is paid on distribution. If there are any glitches in this process, the writer only gets paid up to that point. In other words, if the prodco buys the screeplay but never gets funding the writer only gets that first third. If the film fails to reach end of principal filming (film lock), the writer still only gets the first third. If the film never gets distribution, the writer only gets the first two payments.
Remember this - never, ever, ever take money off the back end. That is, you are paid out of the film's profits. All prodcos will tell you that the film never made money and then you do not get paid. Always make sure you get your money up front. Your agent and lawyer can negotiate that into the contract.
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QUESTION: You mentioned that production companies pay in 1/3 increments, but in this example, would that be 1/3 of the $100,000 if the company just buys the screenplay and the writer is no longer involved in the project? Also, you mentioned not taking money off the back end. Don't actors do this from time to time?
The simple answer is that it all depends on the contract.
If the writer is fired along the way, it happens, then that person is usually paid a kill fee based on the work performed until then.
If the prodco just buys the screenplay without having you work as the writer on the project, then the fee is based on some acceptable amount. Sorry to be so vague, but the truth is that all fees are negotiable.
Yes, actors and writers do take money off the backend. Just don't. Ever.