As you may know, Hollywood writers from the Writers Guild of America are on strike, seeking a larger cut of DVD and Internet-based revenue from their employers. This video apparently summarizes their predicament.
I’m pretty ambivalent about this labour action. I’m at least a year behind in my TV watching, and the writers are hardly Polish steelworkers. But I did wonder–how much do TV writers earn?
I know nothing about television writers’ compensation, so I’ll just report what I could find on the Writer’s Guild of America website. On that site, I found a 2004 Schedule of Minimums, which describes (as you might expect), the minimum compensation for various types of projects. There’s some industry specific language there that I don’t fully understand. If anybody works in the industry, please let me know where I’ve gone wrong.
Grey’s Anatomy and Soap Operas
Krista Vernoff is a writer and producer on “Gray’s Anatomy”. I picked Ms. Vernoff because I saw a video featuring some “Grey’s Anatomy” actors striking in solidarity. She’s got a lot of producer credits, but in season two she’s credited with writing three episodes.
Assuming Ms. Vernoff wrote both the story and the teleplay for each episode, she’d earn a minimum of US $30,823 per episode, or about US US $92,500 for the three she wrote. This has nothing to do with the popularity of “Grey’s Anatomy”–these are standard minimums for writing sixty minutes or less of network prime time TV. Maybe there are bonuses or premiums for working on popular shows? I assume that Ms. Vernoff was also compensated for all those episodes in which she’s credited as supervising or executive producer. It’s unclear what that work is worth.
According to the aforementioned video, Ms. Vernoff also earns four cents for every “Grey’s Anatomy” DVD that’s sold. Is that four cents or 3/22 of four cents? I’m not sure, but there’s some additional money to be made there.
Network prime time television is pretty splashy, admittedly. What about somebody who’s slaving away for a daytime soap opera or so-called “strip program”? If you’re the head writer on an hour-long soap opera, you earn US $31,879 a week, minimum. If you’re a contributing writer on a soap opera, you earn a ‘script fee’ of US $3,087 per script.
They’re Making Out Okay
I may have this all wrong, but it looks to me like television writing pays pretty well. That video claims that, at any given time, 48% of writers are out of work. I’d be curious how they arrive at that figure, but it’s not surprising. If you’re a freelance writer and not currently writing something, then do you qualify as unemployed?
The video also makes much of the threat to writers losing their houses, health insurance and not being able to support their families. If those wages are at all accurate, I wonder how dire the threat to their hearth and home is? If they’re not, I’d love for one of the writers of the United Hollywood blog to clarify some typical TV writer compensation.