Screenwriter

The Job and What's Involved

Screenwriters create ideas and bring stories to life in scripts for feature films, TV comedy and drama, animation, children's programmes and computer games.

As a screenwriter, you might develop your own original ideas and sell them to producers. Alternatively, producers may commission you to create a screenplay from an idea or true story, or to adapt an existing piece such as a novel, play or comic book.

Your work would typically involve:

  • Coming up with themes and ideas.
  • Researching background material.
  • Developing believable plots and characters.
  • Laying out the screenplay to an agreed format.
  • Preparing short summaries of your ideas and selling (known as 'pitching') them to producers or development executives.
  • Getting feedback about the first draft of your work from producers or script editors.
  • Rewriting the script if necessary (you may need to do this several times before arriving at the final agreed version).

You might also spend time networking with agents and producers, and handling your own tax and accounts. You would often combine writing with other work such as teaching, lecturing or editing.

As a home-based freelance writer you would arrange your own working hours. If you were part of a studio-based writing team, you would be more likely to work standard office hours. In either case you would often have strict deadlines to meet.

As well as working from your home or office base, you would also need to attend occasional meetings with agents, script editors and producers.

As a freelance writer, you or your agent would negotiate a fee for each piece of work. You might be partly paid in advance.

Depending on your contract, you might also receive a percentage of the profits from a feature film.

See the Writers' Guild of Great Britain website for recommended minimum pay rates for writers in film, TV and theatre.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

You will need imagination, writing talent and creativity rather than formal qualifications. However, when starting out you may find it useful to take a course that helps you develop your skills and understand dramatic structure.

You may also need to do other types of work to support yourself, as relatively few screenwriters earn a full-time living from writing.

Education and Training

Courses in creative writing and scriptwriting for all levels from beginner to advanced are widely available at colleges, adult education centres and universities.

Some screenwriters have degrees or postgraduate qualifications in creative writing, English or journalism, but this is not essential. You may have an advantage if you have writing and storytelling experience from another field such as journalism, advertising copywriting or acting.

You would normally start by coming up with your own screenplays and ideas, and trying to sell them to agents and producers. Once you have had some work accepted and started to build a professional reputation, producers might then commission you to produce scripts for them.

As a new writer, you could get yourself noticed by entering screenwriting competitions, which broadcasters and regional screen agencies sometimes hold to discover new talent.

You can also find advice about submitting your work to the BBC at the BBC Writers' Room website.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Although there is no formal training path for screenwriters, your skills will grow with experience.

Joining a writers' organisation could help you develop, as they can offer services such as script feedback, competitions, training and networking opportunities.

As an experienced screenwriter, you could choose to take an MA in Screenwriting. MAs are available full-time, part-time and by distance learning from several universities around the country.

You can search Skillset's website for screenwriting and script development training at all levels. Skillset can also advise you about funding your training as a freelance writer.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A screenwriter needs:

  • Excellent writing ability.
  • Creativity and imagination.
  • Storytelling skills and an understanding of dramatic structure.
  • Self-discipline and motivation.
  • Willingness to accept criticism and rejection of your work.
  • An organised approach to work, for meeting deadlines.
  • Good presentation and networking skills, for marketing and promoting your work.

Your Long Term Prospects

Some opportunities may be advertised in the trade press and websites, but it is most common to find work by approaching producers yourself, by signing up with a writers' agent, and through word of mouth.

Get Further Information

Skillset, Focus Point,
21 Caledonian Road,
London N1 9GB
Website: www.skillset.org

Skillset Careers,
Tel: 08080 300 900 (England and Northern Ireland)
Tel: 0808 100 8094 (Scotland)
Tel: 08000 121 815 (Wales)
Website: www.skillset.org/careers

Writers Guild of Great Britain,
15 Britannia Street, London WC1X 9JN
Tel: 020 7833 0777
Website: www.writersguild.org.uk

BBC Writers Room
Website: www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom

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