Big thanks to all who contributed to our first annual Scriptwriters’ Income Survey across Radio, Film, TV, Theatre and Animation. We hope it will inform your understanding of the rates of pay that have been offered to our members over the last five years and allow you to make informed choices when negotiating with producers in the future.
The survey is a compilation of historical data and does not constitute a rate card. Members must make their own judgement about the remuneration they are willing to accept for any future work.
A Note about Methodology
166 members responded to this survey. It asked for data on the highest and lowest payments each respondent had received in a number of areas of professional activity. Naturally, though many members write in different genres, many more do not and so few of the total number completed the full survey as some of the questions were not relevant to them. Therefore, sample sizes by area of activity are correspondingly smaller. Screenwriters, for example, constituted 6 in 10 of the sample. Playwrights accounted for 1 in ten of the sample.
Where respondents answered N/A, we interpreted that to mean they had not been commissioned in the last year. Where they indicated the most recent year that they had been commissioned other than 2021, we recorded that.
Where respondents entered ‘0’, we interpreted that as meaning that they had been commissioned to write but they had not been paid for that work (at the time they completed the poll).
Using those criteria, overall, 60% of respondents were paid to write last year, but 40% were not. Ironically, the percentages are reversed when we review those who availed of the PUP (4 in 10) versus those that didn’t or couldn’t (6 in 10).
To state the obvious, experienced writers, those with agents and those that win commissions overseas earn disproportionately higher fees than the majority of respondents in any category. Therefore, in addition to citing highest and lowest fees, we also include a median figure, which is the middle of range of all the answers as it offers a more accurate estimate of what many have, in fact, earned. We also include -where relevant- where patterns of payment fall in bands.
Not surprisingly, playwrights took a massive hit with theatres closed for much of the last two years. The highest payment for a play was €9000. 27% of respondents told us that they received no pay for their work. The lowest payment (other than zero) was €300. The median payment was €3000. At the high end, there was a cluster of payments priced at €6000.
If playwrights thought they were poor earners, spare a thought for those who write for radio. 35% of respondents told us they weren’t paid at all for their work. One lucky soul earned €5000 for their work but they were very much the outlier. The lowest payment after ‘0’ was €150. Low payments drove the median down to a mere €1000 though there was a cluster of payments €1500 and 2400 and that perhaps better reflects typical earnings.
Feature Film -Treatments
Analysing this category – together with TV Story bibles – is tricky because fees for writing treatments are often bundled with an associated screenplay. Where that occurs, it drives up the median. So, interpret these numbers carefully.
Firstly, 31% of respondents were unpaid for commissioned work in this category. The highest payment was €8000 (which would include a script), the lowest after ‘0’ was €100 (which did not). The median is €3000 and it does seem the sweet spot in this category for treatments without screenplays with quite a few payments falling plus or minus €500 of this number.
Feature Film – Screenplays
This category features some very high amounts which are accounted for by foreign sales (see the note about methodology above). Some lucky individual recorded €140,000 for their screenplay. You’ll not be stunned to learn that the air is pretty thin at that altitude and the next highest was €50,000. Most of the 42 respondents earned significantly less than that for their work. 30% weren’t paid for their work and the lowest payment after ‘0’ was €200. The median was €6500 with a large band around €12,000-14,000 but an even larger band between €5000-6500.
This category had the highest number of respondents stating they were not paid for their work – just under 4 in 10. The highest fee earned was €10,000, the lowest after ‘0’ was €150. The median was €1500 but about 35% were paid €500-1200.
TV – Story Bible
Like the Feature Film Treatments category, the numbers are skewed by composite fees that include a pilot script (26%) and is a field populated by experienced writers who can command higher fees. Thus, the highest fee was $90,000, the second highest €45,000.
36% declared they had written a bible but not been paid for it. The next lowest was €750. The median is €4500. The largest cluster of payments is between €5000-8000. The next is between €1500-4500.
TV – Treatment
Disappointingly, a very high number of respondents did not get paid for their work (37%). Nearly a third were not commissioned at all in 2021. The highest payment was €18,000 (pilot included), the second highest was €8000. The lowest after ‘0’ was 400. The median was €2000. The largest cluster is between €1000-3000.
TV – Screenplay
Again, reflecting the dearth of opportunity in episodic TV in Ireland, one-fifth of respondents didn’t get paid for writing their script and a further 3 in 10 were not commissioned last year. Combined, that’s just under half of all respondents (49.4%) in that category.
The highest fee reported was €34,000, the second highest €30,000. The lowest other than ‘0’ was €250 and the median was €7500. The largest cluster was between €2000-7500.
TV – Continuing Drama
Now, this was a category where the numbers went a little screwy.
Fair City and Ros Na Rún are the only two continuing dramas in Ireland and they both operate a 3-4 tiered series of payments based on the number of scripts the writer has written for the show. New writers are offered shadow scripts at lower rates until they have proven themselves but nobody – as far as we are aware – is asked to write a script for transmission for free. Nevertheless, 29 % of our respondents answered ‘0’ to the fee question. Make of that what you will.
The other anomaly was the highest recorded fee of €50,000 which – given the rigidity of rates both here and in the UK – is probably the compound amount paid for multiple episodes through the year. (If, dear reader, it was you, and we have misinterpreted your answer, please let us know.) Similarly, the second highest was the equally improbable €15,000.
At any rate, the second lowest fee other than ‘0’ was €700 and the median was €5000. The biggest cluster of payments were on or about the €5000 mark with a few at €3600.
Animation – TV
Animation has been the pathfinder in international TV co-production and sales yet 38% of respondents reported that they had not been paid for their work. The highest fee was €10,000, the second highest €9000. As the largest band of figures is €3000-4500, we suspect the higher numbers are for multiple episodes or longer durations. The median is €3500 and the lowest after ‘0’ is €600.
Animation – Feature Film
The category with the lowest response by far. 35% wrote their screenplay without pay. The highest fee was €30,000, the lowest after ‘0’ was €5000 and the median was €14,000.
There’s still money to be made from corporate communications – but not much. The highest fee was a credulity-stretching €52,000 – which is so out of whack with every other entry we really think one too many zero’s were added in error. The next highest was €15,000. Thereafter, the rest of the entries range from a low of €500 to a high of €3000.
We asked you a few qualitative questions as well as quantitative ones and the responses were interesting.
The number of commissions I’ve been offered has increased since the COVID crisis began.
35% Disagree or strongly disagree
27% Agree or strongly agree
39% No opinion
Producers are more interested in my work than pre-COVID.
27% Disagree or strongly disagree
35% Agree or strongly agree
38% No opinion
I doubt I will be working as a screenwriter in five years because:
11% The income is too low
55% The opportunities are too few.
22% Other interests or commitments will take precedence
The forbearance and commitment of us writers borders on the saintly. Nobody makes much money from theatre but plenty of money is made in film and TV in perpetuity, in all media and territories in the known universe, to use a phrase prevalent in contracts. The producers, the lawyers, the accountants, even the skilled crafts people who, across the typical 10 or 12 weeks of shoot necessary to turn your work into a film or TV episode -the work you created and honed – will often earn multiples of what you have earned.
Somehow, in this cock-eyed world, that is seen to be fair and equitable.
That between 30-40% of all commissioned work is unpaid for across all categories surprised us not at all. There is a culture of producers seeking work for free internationally but it is hard to think of another sector of the economy that structurally requires so much free work. When that is set against the low median fees that we have reported, it is a wonder that anyone writes professionally in this country at all.
Writing for theatre and radio is – economically speaking – a labour of love. Given that many plays take 18 months to three years to develop, the median of €3000 stands as an indictment of the low status of original writing for theatre and the need for further supports by the Arts Council to protect this essential piece of cultural heritage.
To give credit where it is due, the Basic Income For The Arts scheme and the Arts Council’s ‘Pay The Artist’ campaign are important steps in recognising and dealing with low pay for many arts workers but our survey gives the lie to the idea that the notionally more ‘commercial’ sectors of Film and TV offer a land of milk and honey.
Talking to our colleagues in Europe, the landscape is very different. The plurality of TV broadcasters, streamers and large indigenous film sectors mean there is a significantly greater volume of work. That some Guilds are trade unions and that writers have access to literary agents to negotiate on their behalf has led to far greater and more consistently policed remuneration.
Most significantly, Europe has a mature network of Collective Management Organisations or CMO’s that collect royalties on behalf of their members that accounts for 20% of some European writers’ income. Regular readers of our newsletter will know that we are in the process of establishing a CMO under control of the guild to provide Irish writers access to those income streams.
However, the buy-out culture of international streamers threatens the model of long-tail economics. That’s why the 2018 European Copyright Directive (and its transposition into Irish law) was so significant. It forces producers and those that buy their film and TV output to declare the income they have made on a yearly basis to authors so that they can evaluate whether the fees they have received are fair, appropriate and proportionate to the actual success of the project. And seek additional remuneration through the courts if they believe the pay they have received is inadequate.
Unbelievably but not surprisingly, members are asking us for advice on contracts which now contain clauses that attempt to weasel out of those very rights, which – given the data presented above – it should be clear that it is essential for us individually and collectively to reject such tactics at each and every turn.
Knowledge is power and power multiples through solidarity. Use it wisely.
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