How do you turn a writer’s weekly paycheck of $20K into $9K?
First give it to Uncle Sam, his two agents, and his lawyer.
By the time the paycheck landed on his desk, it was diced so many ways you’d think he was Jimi Hendrix, paying child support.
I realize what this sounds like: “poor rich writer, only making $9K a week for banging on a keyboard, boo hoo!” Hashtag First World Problems. I get it. To put that money into context, I realized I put more money in the mail to him, in the first three weeks of December, then I’ll make in the year. That shit, my friends, is depressing.
Nevertheless, receiving a check for $9K when you’re told by the people with their hands in your pocket you’re actually getting paid double is something of a sucker punch. And that’s when you’re at the top of your game. Things start out much worse:
I wrote about our baby writer selling a pilot to a network for $75K. Unfortunately, he’ll only ever see about $40K of them monies ($43 if he’s lucky). Which begs the question:
Where did the other $35K disappear to?Rule of thumb: knock off a third for taxes, right off the top.
Which leaves us with $50K (still not bad.)
Now take off another 10 percent from the gross, for commission, if you only have 1 agent, and no lawyer.
That’s leaves you with $42.5K
For example, the $30K the network owes for a rewrite? By the time that check hits the mailbox, he’ll net $17K. Good money, sure. Great money? Not really, especially when you take into account that it’ll take 6 to 9 months to be fully paid out.
Has all this reading about money made you sick yet? Did you get started in this business to exercise your creative biceps while making films of “stories that need to be told?” Listen, if you’re not influenced by money, or money didn’t influence your decision to move to Los Angeles, go elsewhere.
Go make your films in NY.
Write poetry from your bungalow in Maine.
You can certainly stop reading a personal finance blog for Hollywood entertainment professionals and find a different site.
What’s our hang up over the intersection between creativity and commerce, anyway? Why can’t making art mean making money? To call earning a healthy wage “selling out” is a luxury only those without families and children can afford.
Create the Foundation FirstBack to our successful writers and their woes — by the time you see a “great” paycheck, it’s been chopped up to a “good” one. By the time you see a “good” paycheck, it’s been whittled down to “well, this might last me a week, I better get another gig.” The truth is:
The money isn’t as much as it seems. Be intelligent about spending it.
A gallery opening, a spec sale, booking a co-starring role — all these things can change your life. Don’t let it change your lifestyle right away. Which, of course, is much easier to say than to do. Which is why it’s so important to have a financial architecture in place, especially when you’re at the beginning of your entertainment career. If you can handle your shit when you’re making shit as an assistant or a baby writer, this will carry over when you’re finally making real money. The challenge is having the foundation in place:
This doesn’t mean not taking chances. Success, however you define it, requires risks. It means pushing and overextending yourself.
It can mean failing. Or losing everything and starting over at zero.
It can mean putting something in the world that gets spit back in your face.
Be cognizant of where you’re taking those risks — is it something you really care about, or is it the peripheral bullshit like a big house with three rooms you’ve never visited, and the Mercedes you can’t afford to gas up?
This is one of those lessons we need to work on now. While we’re still processing those big checks, instead of receiving them. Because when those big pay days are here, if that foundation isn’t in place, it might be too late.