Is TV script writing a viable career?–What do scriptwriters earn? And how to become a TV scriptwriter.
The most profitable form of writing? It’s ransom notes (and soap operas)…
As a script writer for hire, UK Script editor and UK script consultant, I’ve been a very busy in 2020 with my script coverage service and my script reading services. The corona virus pandemic has sadly seen many people under lockdown, out of work – or both.
People who have had a vague interest in a career as a scriptwriter have suddenly found themselves with lots of time on their hands – time to write that script (and seek professional feedback from me).
I’ve also been answering some questions about how screenwriting careers work – how to get into the business, how agents work, and how to get an agent.
I’ve also, been asked outright what script writers get paid… a fair enough question to ask if you’re thinking of changing careers…
So, is screenwriting a viable career option? Well, yes. Some script writers can easily earn £100k+ a year every year. But you kind of need to know what you’re doing.
A long time ago I taught screenwriting for the UK Film Council, and I ran a 12 month intensive course in Leeds. One of the lessons I gave was about the career path of a scriptwriter – how to get an agent, and how to get a regular gig as a script writer.
I wrote lesson up as an ebook which became ‘The UK Soap Opera Script Writers Handbook’, and I briefly self-published the 100+page document on Amazon Kindle where it proved ridiculously popular.
The book offers a direct route into the lucrative world of soap opera scriptwriting. I still have copies to send out to people as a PDF for a small fee. The book expertly covers the business aspects of being a professional script writer.
As for pay – below is taken from the writer’s guild website :
60 minute TV slot. Minimum payment £7500 +£7500 on transmission (plus repeat fees and any other buyouts).
So, the above means that a writer on a show like, say, Casualty – will earn around £20k. Per episode. I think the turnaround is about 3/4 months per episode.
That’s all well and good—but a writer on a soap like Coronation Street – will get £10k per episode. And the show commissions every three weeks–so technically, if the writer is part of the core team on Coronation Street, the writer could earn £10k every three weeks – all year round.
That’s footballer wages, not premiership, but decent EFL level.
Of course, writing Coronation Street is a tough gig – watertight deadlines, writer’s room meetings monthly, long term story conferences, script edits, rewrites, more and more deadlines that have to be hit. It’s like working in a sausage factory. Or maybe ‘chewing gum for the eyes factory’. But can you make a living doing it? Yes.
I did Emmerdale for a year (the little sister of ITV soaps) and cleared six figures (with repeats). It wasn’t for me long term, but it’s a great place to learn your trade (not many other TV gigs have you write something and see it on screen maybe a month or so later). You learn a lot, quickly.
So, if you are looking to have a go at changing career, or chasing that scriptwriting dream – the first step is to get your spec script read by a professional – BEFORE YOU SEND IT ANYWHERE . My Script Coverage service is popular, and if you ask, I’ll throw in a copy of ‘The UK Soap Opera Script Writers Handbook’ free of charge.
Don’t be shy, get in touch for an honest assessment and as much career advice as I can give.
Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire, UK Script editor and UK script consultant for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award-winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. His UK script coverage service, Script reading service and script development service are highly sought after.
You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb.
You can contact Matthew directly to purchase his ebook The UK Soap Opera Script Writers Handbook.