So how do you become a professional screenwriter? Well, screenwriting is one of the most desirable job roles in filmmaking and making success within this role especially difficult. The good news is screenwriters are highly paid, taking home an average of 2% of the film’s overall production budget.
In this article, you will learn about how to become a screenwriter, with a detailed job role breakdown and advice on finding work.
What Does a Screenwriter Do?
In short, a screenwriter writes the film’s script, either based on an original idea or by adapting an existing story. The screenwriter will be the first person hired by the film producer, who will do so through an agency or from a recommendation.
The film producer might wish to buy a screenplay from the screenwriter or hire them to work on a project. This project could be to write a screenplay based on an original idea, an adaption (e.g. a novel adaption) or work as part of a writing team (typical for a TV series).
When a screenwriter is hired to work on a project, the producer might have a deadline to finish the screenplay. If this is the case the producer will check up on the progress of the screenplay every few weeks. Screenwriter and Blogger John August advises – “For feature films, I’d be reluctant to hire a writer who couldn’t deliver a script in eight weeks. For television, writers sometimes have less than a week to get a one-hour episode written.”
A spec script (speculative screenplay), is a screenplay that has been written without being commissioned to do so. A screenwriter might have a handful of spec scripts complete to sell to film producers. When a screenplay is sold, the producer will then seek out production funding. It could take many months and more often years for funding to be attained. A screenwriter will only get paid once a producer has secured funding; as such it’s important to have several potential projects on the go at one time.
Occasionally a screenwriter will be asked to make changes to the script and dialogue whilst production takes place. This could be due to actor performance, changes to location or budget requirements. However, it is typical for the screenwriter to not be on set during filming. The screenwriter will likely have no involvement in the film after they have sold the screenplay.
Education and Training
Many professional screenwriters have some form of higher education. This could be a university degree in English, creative writing or media. You may also wish to attend a film school and take a screenwriting course. Many film schools also offer short workshops in screenwriting which is a more affordable option.
The best way you can learn how to write a screenplay is to read them. You can find the completed scripts of hundreds of film and TV shows online for free. The most recommended sites to find screenplays are – The Screenplay Database, TV Script Archive, and Daily Scripts.
There are also numerous books available teaching script format and how to become a screenwriter. Joining a writers group could also be beneficial, as it can be difficult to get feedback on your scripts when first starting out. You will only get good at writing screenplays through practice, typically screenwriters start out by writing short film scripts. Your first script does not need to be more than 10 pages long and you can try to get it made into a film by local independent filmmakers.
Finding Paid Work
It can be hard to break into the film industry and as a result, many screenwriters have day jobs when they are first starting out. Some screenwriters choose to work within entry-level film jobs such as production assistant or writers assistant. Note that writing assistant jobs are highly competitive and you will be expected to have some previous writing experience. Larger production companies might also offer internships within a writer’s room.
To sell your screenplay you will need to network within the industry. Attending networking events held at film festivals and organised by film councils can help. A popular way of being discovered is to enter screenwriting competitions. Websites such as The Black List and BBC Writers Room can provide a platform for your work. Many screenwriters also start out by writing for smaller projects such as short films or commercials.
A screenwriter will typically get 2% of the films overall budget. This means if a producer gains a budget of £1 million you get £20,000 in payment. For television shows, this will depend on your experience and the show’s popularity. Details on recommended UK writers rates can be found via The Writers Guild. Your wage will increase the more experience you gain, entry-level writing assistant jobs might not pay more than minimum wage (2019 UK rates £6.15 – £8.21 per hour).
In short, screenwriting is a tough job to pursue, it can take time to build up your experience and meet the right people in the industry. However, it is a highly creative job role that could prove to be an interesting and fulfilling career. Not to mention that if you do sell your screenplay you can make a hefty profit.