aka: screenwriter, screenplay writer, scriptwriter, or writer

Screenwriting is one of the most competitive job roles in the film industry. There are lots of different ways to start your career in this role. The good news is screenwriters are also one of the highest paid filmmakers. In fact, they take home an average of 2% of the overall film budget.

On this page, we list everything you need to know about becoming a screenwriter. We break down the job role including duties, education, career route, salary, and how to find work.

What is a Screenwriter?

The screenwriter or screenplay writer creates scripts for the screen, such as for films, television programs, and video games.

Every screenplay begins with an idea. Then, screenwriters use their ideas to write scripts. When they finish the script, they pair with a producer or director to create the project. The majority of the time, the screenwriter is the first person the producer hires on a project.

When the producer finds funding, the screenwriter gets paid. Often writers get paid in installments throughout the year rather than all at once.

What Does a Screenwriter Do?

In short, a screenwriter writes the film’s script, either based on an original idea or from an existing story. The screenwriter will be the first person hired by the film producer.

The film producer may 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), or work as part of a writing team (typical for a TV series).

When the producer hires a screenwriter, they might have a deadline to finish the project. If this is the case, the producer will check up on their progress every few weeks.

Screenwriter Job Description

Screenwriters are freelancers who work in above-the-line job roles. However, sometimes they work full-time on shows such as soap operas and sitcoms. 

A spec script is a screenplay created independently. Screenwriters might have a handful of spec scripts complete to sell to film producers. When they sell the script, the producer will then seek out funding.

It could take many months and even years for a producer to find funding. The screenwriter will only get paid once a producer has secured a budget. Because of this, writers need to have several projects on the go at once.

Sometimes a screenwriter will make changes to the script when filming. For example, because of changes to the location or budget. However, it is more common for the screenwriter not to be on set and only work during pre-production.

Pre-production Duties

Firstly, the screenwriter will write a screenplay. They may need to work with a writer’s team and make changes based on the film’s budget. During pre-production, they will attend production meetings with the producer and director. Sometimes screenwriters will need to pitch projects directly to producers.

  • Write a screenplay
  • Create the final draft
  • Work with a writer’s team
  • Have production meetings
  • Pitch projects to producers

Education and Skills

It’s common for a screenwriter to have a degree either 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. There are also numerous books available teaching script format and how to become a screenwriter.

Most of all 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 low-budget film.

Key Screenwriter Skills:

  • Screenwriting format
  • Creativity and imagination
  • Teamwork, communication
  • Self-motivation, organization
  • Networking and pitching

Screenwriter Career Route

The screenwriter is an above-the-line job role in the film industry. You can work up into this job role by starting your career as a PA or script reader. However, you might attract a director and producer to your project if you learn how to pitch and network

Many screenwriters begin their careers by working on indie films or low-budget shows. Then, after building up contacts, skills, and a portfolio, they move up into higher-budget projects. 

Screenwriters can work in various media sectors, from TV, radio, and games. However, many writers have a topic or genre that they like to work within.

Screenwriter Salary  

You can get anywhere from 2-5% of the film’s overall budget. So, the bigger the budget, the more money you will make per project. Keep in mind that many writers start their careers by working on low-budget projects.

In addition, how much you get paid will depend on whether or not it is a union project. The Writer’s Guild of America has pay rates for every type of project, from shorts to TV series, and features. However, to join the WGA you will need previous professional experience.

Research from the WGA shows that for new writers, the average for a first draft screenplay is $100,000. With a maximum reported one-step deal at $300,000. The numbers increase with redrafts and for more experienced members.

Finding Work

Some screenwriters choose to work within entry-level film jobs such as production assistant or writers assistant. You will need to build a portfolio before applying for any writing work. 

You can find entry-level jobs on film job sites or by searching for training. In addition, large companies such as the BBC and NBC frequently hire staff for freelance and full-time job roles. You can also directly contact local companies and ask for work experience. 

To sell your screenplay, you will need to network within the industry. A popular way to meet people is to enter script competitions. You might also find networking and pitching opportunities at film festivals. 

Please note that it’s common for writers to have another job at the start of their careers. You might work in another film job role or have a part-time job. What matters is that you can support yourself until you can pursue screenwriting full-time.

US 🇺🇸UK 🇬🇧
Shore ScriptsBBC Writer’s Room 
Shore scripts run screenwriting contests for writers worldwide. Their competitions include the short film fund and feature contest. Winners receive cash prizes, mentorship and meetings with producers. Shore writers have gone on to work for major film studios.  The BBC writer’s room works with writers across the UK. Their mission is to help and discover new writing talent. They do so through writer’s groups, offering script advice and running script contests. In addition, they have regular open calls for original screenplays. 

Wrapping Up

To sum up, screenwriting is a tough job to pursue. It can take time to build up your experience, portfolio 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.

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