Being in the midst of the “great streaming wars” means that subscription streaming services are dramatically increasing their in-house TV and film production to keep pace with the more competitive marketplace. For writers looking to capitalize on that, just how much can a Netflix screenwriter make when they sell a script to the streaming giant?
Generally speaking, Netflix screenwriters can make anywhere from $12,000 to $3.5 million for a project that’s bought and produced. That price point varies greatly based on the genre and scale of the project, the number of screenwriting credits you have to your name, and the strength or long-term potential of your IP.
With projections that Netflix could ramp up spending to a whopping $19 billion USD on content production by 2025, there’s no reason why you can’t be on the upper end of that pay scale. Selling a project to a streamer versus a traditional production company or studio also means there’s more potential for a sizable up-front payment, in lieu of the “back end” or residual payments of the old production economy.
Now let’s see what it takes to sell a Netflix script and how much a Netflix screenwriter makes when they do.
How Do I Sell my Netflix Script?
When dealing with a multi-billion dollar streaming company there are steps that need to be taken before you get your script looked at and ultimately sold.
Per the Netflix Help Center: “Netflix only accepts submissions through a licensed literary agent, or from a producer, attorney, manager, or entertainment executive with whom [they] have a preexisting relationship.”Any idea that is submitted by other means is considered an “unsolicited submission.”
What that boils down to is this: In order to sell your script to Netflix you need to get in contact with someone who has a preexisting relationship with the streaming company.
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If you can’t think of anyone in your immediate circle who’s working on a Netflix project, that’s okay. Netflix employs an entire team of literary agents, creative executives, and buyers dedicated to finding and vetting content through already established channels.
The next step for you, then, is immersing yourself in one of those established channels. You need an agent or manager who already lives in that world and has these streamers on speed dial to advocate for you and your project. It will take time to build a script portfolio and to impress the right person, but they are your essential bridge between getting in the room with the check-writers of the world and being an “unsolicited submission.”
Is It Hard to Sell a Script to Netflix?
While you’re trying to get in contact with Netflix, their team of content scouts is also trying to get in contact with great scriptwriters which could be you! Netflix wants to find the best content: it’s what draws people in and what keeps people subscribed.
Because Netflix only accepts submissions through preexisting relationships, the difficulty of selling a script to Netflix depends on your degree of connection to someone who works at or with Netflix and at what level that person holds within the streaming service’s organization.
For most writers, however, who have no prior credits and no preexisting relationship with Netflix, it can be a bit of a challenge to sell a Netflix script.
The good news is that there are a multitude of rungs going down the corporate ladder at Netflix and even further outside of the organization. There are thousands of agents, legal experts, and producers who have some kind of link to the streaming giant, and who are actively looking for the next unsung hero to bring them a stroke of creative genius.
It’s all about establishing a working relationship with an agent or manager who has their foot in the door at Netflix, a very small order for just about anyone at an established firm. To get on their radar requires determination and a whole lot of writing samples to show off your range and expertise.
Another avenue worth considering is submitting your Netflix script to screenwriting competitions where you can get your script in the hands of industry professionals such as literary agents, producers, and writers, many who have likely worked in some capacity for a Netflix produced project. From there it’s just a matter of promoting yourself and fostering good working relationships with any professional connections you make going forward.
How Much Do Netflix Screenwriters Make?
Now, say your script places well in a screenplay contest, you land a sweet internship, you’re able to find representation, or you remember that Ted Sarandos is actually your godfather. You’ve got your in, but how much are you going to make when you finally sell your Netflix script?
At Netflix, the pay for screenwriters varies largely depending upon prior experience. According to the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA), writers with no prior screen credits earned a median of $250,000 in total guaranteed compensation (not bad for a first paycheck). On the opposite end, those writers who had two or more prior screenwriting credits earned nearly double that with a median of $450,000 and a maximum reported of $3.5 million in compensation.
When it comes to how much Netflix pays for a script, a good baseline to consider is the WGA Minimum agreement. As Netflix is a WGA signatory, they have to abide by the guidelines set forth by the Writer’s Guild Schedule of Minimums. That means, for a single draft of an original screenplay, Netflix pays $42,138 for a script, with compensation only going up from there.
You may be wondering, “What happened to the $3.5 million I was going to make on my new blockbuster movie?!” There is a huge range of possible payment because the budget, the type of project (film, television, miniseries, etc.), and the writer’s experience varies greatly from script to script.
Additionally, the level of production involvement will affect how much a Netflix screenwriter makes. Providing revisions or editing on another writer’s screenplay may net only a few thousand dollars while a multi-step deal for an original work can easily add up to millions in compensation.
These multi-step deals may include payment for a story, a treatment (a summary of the story, themes, characters and overall tone) or any number of script rewrites. Some deals are even broken up further depending on deadlines, incentives, residuals, and more.
The Bottom Line
The range of pay that Netflix screenwriters make and the price Netflix pays for a script is vast. Ultimately, you will want to have a literary agent or manager taking care of the financial side of things when you do sell a Netflix script to ensure you’re paid fairly.
If you’re considering selling a Netflix script and worried about how much Netflix writers make, here’s a tip: ask for whatever you think is ridiculous and work your way down from there. Demand for original content on subscription services has never been greater; Netflix is aiming to be atop the pile and is willing to shell out the cash to get there.
If you already have a script written, don’t be afraid to submit to screenplay contests and promote yourself or even produce the project on your own. Netflix purchases a large portion of their media from film festivals or other avenues where the product is already complete.
Wherever you are in the murky process of creation, from start to finish, your task is simple: Focus on writing the best screenplay you can and the money will follow.