Have you ever dreamt of writing a movie script? While filmmaking is a complex process involving several components, the script forms the base of a movie. As it describes the complete story of the movie, including its characters and their actions, there is a specific format for writing screenplays.
But the question is do screenwriters really earn in millions? Yes, they do! Some write and sell for the money while some are really the storytellers at heart. Now if you are thinking to start with it, you can consider using a screenwriting software to enhance your writing.
And if you are confused whether you can make good money from screenwriting, let me tell you about the screenwriters who made a million dollars from their scripts.
1. Joe Eszterhas
Joe Eszterhas is a Hungarian-American writer, born on November 23, 1944, in the village of Csákánydoroszló in Hungary. Before breaking into films, he worked as a senior editor for Rolling Stone and a reporter for The Plain Dealer.
Eszterhas got nominated for the National Book Award for his non-fiction book – Charlie Simpson’s Apocalypse. That opened the gates to his screenwriting career. He was contacted by an executive at United Artists – Marcia Nasatir, for writing screenplays.
He then wrote the story of F.I.S.T, which became his first produced screenplay. He further contributed to the script of Flashdance in 1983 and wrote successful screenplays like Jade, Big Shots and Showgirls etc. Ezsterhas received a paycheck of $3 million for ‘Basic Instinct’ which was the highest amount ever paid for a screenplay until that time.
He is also a New York Times bestselling author of books like American Rhapsody and Hollywood Animal.
2. Shane Black
Shane Black is an American film director, screenwriter, producer and actor. He was born on 16th December 1961, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He majored in film and theatre from the University Of California, Los Angeles. Black decided to write for a living in his senior year when his classmate Fred Dekker showed him a science-fiction script he had written for an assignment.
After completing his graduation in 1983, he worked as a data entry clerk for Summer Olympics, an usher in a movie theatre and a typist for a temp agency. However, as he had a keen interest in scriptwriting – with the help of his friends and family, he developed a script named The Shadow Company, which attracted executives from 20th Century Fox.
Finally in about six weeks, Black wrote his first script – Lethal Weapon that landed him a deal of $250,000 with Warner Bros. Since then, Black has written well-known films like The Last Boy Scout for $1.75 million and The Long Kiss Goodnight for $4 million. He also appeared in the blockbuster movie Predator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
However, to learn script writing you don’t have to go to film school. Nowadays, there are a number of screenwriting courses on Udemy and Coursera available which can help you make a wonderful career in this field. You don’t necessarily require a conventional degree; these courses provide extensive knowledge that can make you a fine writer.
You can also learn about writing by studying books on screenwriting. Books give you valuable insights and complete information on the same.
3. Adam McKay and Will Ferrell
Adam Mckay is an American film and television writer, producer and director. He hails from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and did his schooling from Great Valley High School. He initially auditioned for an onscreen performer at the Saturday Night Live (SNL). Although he didn’t qualify, the scripts submitted by him landed him a job as a writer.
Will Ferrell is an American actor, writer, producer, comedian and businessman. He was born on 16th July 1967, in Irvine, California. After completing his graduation, he moved to Los Angeles, where he successfully joined the comedy group – The Groundings. He was then called for an audition at Saturday Night Live and got selected. Ferrell worked there for 7 years. During this time, he met with McKay.
After leaving SNL, Ferrell and McKay collaborated to form Gary Sanchez Productions. Together they have written numerous films and television shows like Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy, Step Brothers etc. with their highest-earning being $4 million for Talladega Nights.
4. David Koepp
David Koepp is an American screenwriter and director. He was born in Pewaukee, Wisconsin and graduated from the University Of California, Los Angeles in 1986. After graduation, he worked for a film distributor and got a chance to meet with the writer and director – Martin Donovan. Together they wrote Apartment Zero.
Koepp drafted his first screenplay Bad Influence, which was read by Universal Pictures. Casey Silver, former chairman and chief executive officer of Universal Pictures, hired him as a contract writer for the studio. He was reportedly paid a sum of $4 million for his thriller film Panic Room.
Koepp is now the ninth most successful screenwriter according to the U.S. box office receipts. His best-known films include Jurassic Park (1993), The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), Spider-Man (2002), Toy Soldiers (1991) and Mission: Impossible (1996).
5. Evan Daugherty
Evan Daugherty is an American screenwriter, born and raised in Manhattan, New York. He created a screenplay named Shrapnel for which he secured first place in the 2008 Script Pipeline contest. In 2009 Warner Bros announced that their director for the movie Kung Fu Panda was working on another movie, so they handed the writing duty to Daugherty.
Soon after that, Daugherty wrote his first original script – Snow White and the Huntsman which was sold to Universal Pictures for $3.2 million. He wrote the script as a homework assignment at New York University. With the suggestion of his professor, he came up with the idea of writing Snow White in a more action-adventure way.
In just a few years, he made his space in Hollywood. Ever since Snow White and the Huntsman was released, he has written some brilliant scripts like Killing season (2013), Divergent (2014), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) and Tomb Raider (2018).
Now that you know that scripts can be sold for millions, let’s take a look into how to actually sell a script.
How to Sell a Screenplay
Once you have drafted a compelling script, the next thing that crosses your mind is how you will sell your screenplay. While there are several ways to sell scripts which I have covered in my other article on selling scripts, some best ways are:
Pitch-Fests, like the Virtual Pitch Fest, provide a platform where you can showcase your work and exchange ideas with industry insiders. Hollywood agents and studios are always scouting for talented writers here.
2. Reaching out to producers
Reaching out to producers either directly or through their agents can prove to
be one of the best ways to sell a script. You can watch the Film Courage YouTube channel for more on this. Film Courage is also on my list of best screenwriting YouTube Channels.
Building a good network is imperative in the screenwriting business. As you connect with more people, you get greater opportunities to present yourself. If you are lucky, some producer or director may become interested in your draft.
4. Screenwriting Contests
Try submitting your script to screenwriting contests. Some first time writers have been hired by studios like Paramount, Lionsgate, etc.
Screenwriting can be a highly rewarding career if you have a passion for creative writing. Every visual story requires a great script to be appealing to the viewers. An effective script can make your content stand out from the rest. Some of us are sceptical about the earning potential from screenwriting. If you have the right skills, no one can stop you from achieving your dreams.
In this article, I have talked about a few screenwriters who have made their mark in the industry with their hard work and talent. I hope you find their journey interesting and it inspires you to do better.
Who knows! You may become the next screenwriter to sell a million dollar script.