How to Become a Screenwriter
A screenwriter writes the scripts for movies and television shows. In some cases, often with a partner, the writer conceives of the story and sees it through to its completion. In other cases, the writer is hired by a studio to write a script for a concept that has been created. Some television writers are on the staff of a particular show on a permanent basis, writing scripts on a strict deadline.
Writing on Set
While a lot of a screenwriter’s work is done at a desk, an aspiring screenwriter should understand the process at some of its later stages, where some of the important work is done. Some work the writer will have to do must take into account, once the film’s production has begun, some of the technical aspects of the production, including camera angles, lighting, etc.
Then, as the film’s production progresses, the writer, on the set, becomes a more integral part of the film crew. At this time, she must interact with the directors and producers of the film in a high-pressure environment. Sometimes, the writer must change dialogue or even come up with new plot points on short notice.
A writer for a television series may write a large percentage of a script by him or herself, but will also be expected to incorporate input from others. Generally, major decisions about the arc of the story on the series are made by executive producers or producers, and the writer must supply the fine details. The writer has to keep in mind his or her relations with the stars of the show and must also be accountable for reactions of fans and critics.
It is a highly-collaborative field, with many needs, concerns, opinions and desires affecting the outcome.
In addition to creativity, a screenwriter must have a sweeping and bold vision. He or she must be able to write for a wide audience that often has high expectations. The author must understand how to layer a narrative, including creating suspense, building clues, creating clarity, and coming up with compelling and yet believable plot points.
In particular, a screenwriter must be able to write good dialogue. It must create a character’s personality, but must also give the actors lines that they can speak naturally and that sound realistic. This is a skill that will take years to hone; one step is to listen closely to how people talk. One exercise is writing down as much of a conversation you overhear as possible. Paying close attention to dialogue in books and in movies is also beneficial.
Education and Training
The writer’s skill is what pulls him or her through. However, many screenwriters have Bachelor’s degrees. Some universities have specializations in screenwriting within a Mass Communications department and sometimes the English department. Some screenwriters have degrees in Film and Video or in Mass Communications without a screenwriting concentration. However, media entities that acquire the work of screenwriters do not require any degrees or levels of education.
There are some screenwriters who have an MFA (Master’s of Fine Arts) in Creative Writing.
Many screenwriters develop their craft by doing it, often laboring through one or two screenplays that never get produced.
Some screenwriters break into the business by selling a screenplay to a movie, television, or production studio, either with or without an agent.
Another way of breaking into the business is to work as a writer’s assistant. This position doesn’t entail writing at all, but is very much an administrative assistant position, which can include fetching coffee. But it gets your foot in the door, and allows you to make some relationships that can prove helpful.
Jessica Kardos, who works as a showrunner’s assistant on the TV show Covert Affairs started off as an assistant. She says, “Assistants are like a little fraternity of people, and you’re going to be tapping into those relationships throughout your career.”
Once one breaks into the business, it is up to him or her to keep working hard, keep his skills at peak, and continue to thrive.
According the The Art Career Project, in 2011, “low budget screenplays” were purchased from members of the Writer’s Guild of America for a minimum of $63,895; “high budget screenplays” sold for a minimum of $199,954.
To put it another way, LearningPath.org reports an average salary of $68,000 for screenwriters in 2014.
Chron.com makes a good point by saying, “There just are not enough jobs for the number of people wishing to make a living in this field.” This article also refers to the excessive number of scripts sent to producers in the industry.
Screenwriting is concentrated in a few areas. Not surprisingly, Los Angeles is the leading city for jobs in screenwriting. Not only are the actual positions there, but so are the agents who might represent a work.
New York City is another main location; films and television shows are shot there, and some production companies are located there. Chron.com states that Boston is now producing more films now and thus providing more opportunities for screenwriters in that city.
Producing your own movie
One way that many people break into the film industry is by producing their own film. This gives them experience and a video resume to use. An aspiring screenwriter might partner with an aspiring director to write a script that they produce independently. This gives one an excellent way of presenting samples of his or her work.
A person often wants to get into screenwriting due to a love of filmmaking. Some are also interested in writing—telling stories and connecting with an audience. Therefore, some people do some screenwriting but also take on related work to supplement the work they can get screenwriting.
Film production refers to all of the various jobs necessary to complete a film. These include camera operators, lighting experts, sound engineers, editors, etc.
A novelist tells stories in a way that is similar to a screenwriter. However, this kind of writing must be much more descriptive, since it does not involve using actors and actresses to act out the parts. Many writers produce both screenplays and novels.
A movie reviewer may work for a newspaper or magazine; or, she may be a freelancer, selling reviews to various publications. One might begin a movie reviewing blog, and if the reviews are insightful and well-written, be able to monetize the blog, or make money by selling advertising and through similar means.
As you can see, screenwriting is a very challenging and competitive career. In it, one is dealing with powerful people in one of the world’s most visible industries. The level of collaboration and the tricky nature of writing work that meets the needs of everyone involved makes it a very delicate, high-level enterprise.
Because breaking into the profession requires an interesting combination of talent and being connected, it is hard to know how likely it may be for a talented writer to be able to make his way as a screenwriter.
However, one has a responsibility to work hard to achieve one’s goals. If one achieves success as a screenwriter, it can be tremendously rewarding. A screenwriter’s work is seen by hundreds of thousands—often millions—and ca n become part of the fabric of life around us.