Let’s be clear: most screenplays—like most books—do not sell. Unlike books, however, those screenplays that do sell, tend to sell for a lot.
Though the WGA minimum is in the $50-$90,000 range, the typical selling price for a spec script (a screenplay written on speculation, with no committed buyer) hovers in the neighborhood of $300-$600,000, plus bonuses.
Why the difference? When a studio or production company owns the rights to something and wants to keep costs down, they hire a writer for “scale” (WGA minimum). If Writer A won’t accept that price, they move on to Writer B. When buying a spec script owned by someone else, there is no Writer B—so if they don’t pay a decent price up front, they don’t get the script.
Though selling prices are often kept under wraps, details tend to leak over time. As of late November, over a hundred spec scripts have sold in 2012, many by newcomers. The following specs are known to have sold for $1 million or more in 2012. Three of them sold in the same 48-hour period. One of them–Black Box–sold the same day it was offered.
- Black Box by David Guggenheim
- Epsilon by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick
- Glimmer by Carter Blanchard
- Rocket’s Red Glare by Ken Nolan
Spec scripts sold thus far in 2012 include adaptations based on historic events, comic books, and unpublished book manuscripts.
For those wondering just how big the Hollywood Jackpot can get, this is a list of the 14 highest-selling spec screenplays of all time. Note that these are script deals only; screenplays purchased from established writer/directors, writer/producers, and writer/actors (who will also direct, star, or produce as part of the deal) are not included. Because directors, actors (and in some cases producers) are paid far more than writers, the overall prices of such hyphenate-deals (which sometimes include a percentage of the gross) do not accurately reflect the price paid for the script.
|Deja Vu||$5 million||
and Bill Marsilii
|The Long Kiss Goodnight||$4 million||Shane Black||The Long Kiss Goodnight|
|Snow White and the Huntsman||$3.2 million||Evan Daugherty||Snow White and the Huntsman|
|Basic Instinct||$3 million||Joe Eszterhas||Basic Instinct|
|Medicine Man||$3 million||Tom Schulman||Medicine Man|
|Bad Dog||$3 million||Dale Launer||(unproduced)|
|Married in the Morning||$3 million||
and Deborah Kaplan
|Panic Room||$3 million||David Koepp||Panic Room|
|Mozart and the Whale||$2.75 million||Ron Bass||Mozart and the Whale|
and Mike Thompson
|Jade||$2.5 million||Joe Eszterhas||Jade|
Sparkle Creek, Wisconsin
and John Kamps
and Anne-Marie Crichton
Untitled Will Davies|
|$2.5 million||Will Davies||(unproduced)|
NOTES: The Superconducting Supercollider deal was $2.5 million (up front) against $3.25 million (if made), with an additional deferred bonus (if made) of $1.5 million for Koepp.
Another screenplay—Steinbeck’s Point of View, by writers Brandon Camp and Mike Thompson—sold for $750,000 against $3,750,000, with a potential casting bonus of $2 million. Though the writers received only $750k up front, their total payment (if the film goes into production) will be at least $3,750,000—and could climb to $5,750,000.