Script Sales

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by John Robert Marlow

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Spec scripts sold thus far in 2012 include adaptations based on historic events, comic books, and unpublished book manuscripts.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.

SCRIPT

PRICE

WRITERS

RELEASED AS

Deja Vu

$5 million

Terry Rossio
and Bill Marsilii

Deja Vu

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

Harry Elfont
and Deborah Kaplan

(unproduced)

Panic Room

$3 million

David Koepp

Panic Room

Mozart and the Whale

$2.75 million

Ron Bass

Mozart and the Whale

Jackson

$2.5 million

Brandon Camp
and Mike Thompson

(unproduced)

Jade

$2.5 million

Joe Eszterhas

Jade

The Superconducting
Supercollider of
Sparkle Creek, Wisconsin

$2.5 million

David Koepp
and John Kamps

(unproduced)

Twister

$2.5 million

Michael Crichton
and Anne-Marie Crichton

Twister

Untitled Will Davies
Romantic Comedy

$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.