The subtitle of this article tells the tale: “…the life of a modern screenwriter.” Truth to tell, though, we think it would apply to just about any writer, anywhere and any time:
by Sally O’Reilly
Writing for the screen has always been insecure, competitive and emotionally demanding – and that’s on a good day. It’s not a calling for the maverick genius; collaboration is mandatory. While novelists, playwrights and poets are in sole command of their work, the screenwriter must be prepared for constant rewrites, and even if their script is deemed filmable, it’s often no more than the blueprint for a director to bring to life. Even so, the allure and the glamour remain: the flash of cameras at Cannes or Beverly Hills, the chance to create stories that are beamed around the planet.
Hard work and determination are prerequisites. Whether the aim is to write for the small or large screen, it’s often difficult to get a commission, and new writers usually work extremely hard for little financial reward. According to the Writers Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) the BBC pays budding writers on one of its so-called “shadow schemes” less than a third of the minimum wage.
Those enrolled in these schemes are paid a one-off fee of £1,000 to write a trial script for one of the broadcaster’s long-running soaps. They must write three drafts in three months, with no certainty of a commission. The WGGB fee estimate is based on the length of time that it takes to write three drafts, and they calculate that this works out at just £2.38 per hour. (According to a Guardian article, the BBC queries these figures and stresses that such schemes can give writers their first break.)
The problem is that too many people are chasing too few opportunities. According to a recent survey carried out by The Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) “The Business of Being a Writer”, average earnings for professional writers (those who spend more than 50% of their time writing) were just £11,000 in 2013. Only 11.5% of writers manage to live solely from their craft.