Do you dream of seeing your story on the big or small screen? Do you want to captivate audiences with your imaginative plots and multi-dimensional characters? If so, a career as a screenwriter may be perfect for you.
Screenwriting is a competitive field, but the demand for fresh stories and new writers is always high in the thriving UK film and TV industry. Whether you want to write hard-hitting indies, big-budget blockbusters, or binge-able box sets, this guide will walk you through the steps to becoming a working screenwriter.
First, you’ll need to hone your craft by studying screenplay structure, formats, and the foundations of visual storytelling. Then it’s time to put pen to paper, crafting shorts and features while connecting with the UK film and TV landscape.
Alongside developing sought-after writing skills, building industry relationships is key to getting your scripts commissioned and produced.
Follow the steps in this comprehensive guide to set yourself on the path to seeing your name on the big screen credits in 2023 and beyond.
Understand the Screenwriting Craft
Screenwriting requires a specific set of skills distinct from other writing forms like novels or plays. Before you start typing “Fade In:”, you need to learn:
Screenplay Structure and Format
Screenplays adhere to a very defined structure, from the overall three-act narrative to the scene contents. Script formatting follows precise rules as well, being much more sparse than prose with an emphasis on visual storytelling.
Studying screenplay structure helps you plot compelling narrative arcs. Formatting education ensures you follow industry standards like scene headings, action lines, and dialogue layouts. Resources to learn include:
- Screenwriting books like Syd Field’s Screenplay and Robert McKee’s Story.
- Screenwriting software like Final Draft with templates and formatting.
- Online screenwriting courses from platforms like Masterclass and NYFA.
- Script downloads to analyze from sites like IMSDb and The Script Lab.
At its core, screenwriting is visual storytelling. Learning fundamental narrative elements goes hand in hand with script structure study.
Key concepts include:
- Three-act structure – Setup, confrontation, resolution.
- Character arcs and motivations.
- Plot points and transitions.
- Genre conventions and tropes.
Analyze Acclaimed Scripts
Nothing beats learning from successful working screenwriters at the top of their game. Download scripts for movies you love and do a deep dive into:
- How they introduce characters and settings.
- Pacing, scene transitions, act breaks.
- Visual writing style and action lines.
- Use of themes and symbolism.
This analysis helps internalize strong screen storytelling instincts.
Develop Your Writing Skills
Being an excellent writer is pivotal to scripting stories that leap off the page. Focus on:
General Writing Techniques
Scriptwriting shares much with prose fiction writing. Develop skills like:
- Observational writing – describing settings and actions succinctly.
- Crafting organic dialogue – subtext, tone, avoiding exposition.
- Character development – backstories, motivations, flaws.
- Handling exposition – revealing details seamlessly.
- Writing lean, compelling scene description.
Short Form Practice
Start by honing brevity and visual writing through exercises like:
- Character sketches – One-page backstories.
- Treatments – Summaries of stories or scenes.
- Synopses – One-page story outlines.
These short pieces distill screenwriting skills without the pressure of full scripts.
Gaining an outside perspective is invaluable. Share work regularly at:
- Local screenwriting groups.
- Online workshops and writers forums.
- Screenwriting courses and events.
- Writers’ festivals and competitions.
Use feedback to self-evaluate and improve weak areas.
Once your knowledge and writing abilities grow, it’s time to write full narratives.
Writing short films allows you to learn fundamentals like structure on a small scale. Festivals like Sundance London showcase shorts, offering potential exposure.
Specs and Pilots
Try your hand at writing:
- “Spec” scripts for existing shows to display your grasp of format and tone.
- Original pilot episodes to showcase series potential.
Scripts like these may not sell, but add strong samples to your portfolio.
Feature screenplays are the end goal. Tips for crafting your first include:
- Start with a simple premise that hooks interest fast.
- Limit main characters and locations.
- Learn standard page count and pacing.
- Read produced scripts in your genre/budget range.
Use competitions, labs, or agencies to get your features seen once polished.
Some writers excel at TV’s long-form style and serialized plots. Strategies include:
- Study show bibles and pilot scripts to see how series are structured.
- Partner with an experienced TV scribe when starting out.
- Pitch original series ideas or spec episodes to producers.
- Take a writers’ room position to gain hands-on experience.
Understand the UK Film and TV Landscape
In the UK, most production funding comes through:
- British Film Institute
- BBC Film
- Screen Scotland
- Ffilm Cymru Wales
Key broadcasters and studios include BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky, Warner Bros and more. Do your research on what types of films and shows specific companies develop.
Getting scripts commissioned or optioned depends on understanding each company’s submission process and building relationships. Ways to learn the landscape:
- Attend industry events like screenings and markets.
- Follow industry publications like Screen International.
- Network with producers on sets or through social media.
- Join professional bodies like the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain.
Make Connections and Promote Yourself
Becoming a working screenwriter means putting yourself and your scripts out there. Ways to get noticed include:
Attending festivals, markets, classes, and social events to connect with:
- Agents looking for new clients.
- Producers open to script submissions.
- Directors hunting for material.
- Fellow writers who may collaborate.
Building an online portfolio showcasing writing samples and credits also draws valuable connections.
A reputable agent or manager opens doors to new opportunities. Seek representation by:
- Reaching out with targeted queries after some success.
- Participating in live pitch events.
- Gaining referrals from writer friends.
Build your reputation by engaging on Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms. Follow key players in the UK industry and share screenwriting adventures. Just remember to also focus on writing!
Set Small Goals
Don’t get overwhelmed looking at the big picture. Set progress milestones like:
- Completing a course or draft by a certain date.
- Submitting to a particular competition or fund.
- Securing a reading of a script.
Celebrate small successes on the path to a screenwriting career.
If “skilled screenwriter” is part of your career goals for 2023, this guide covered key steps like:
- Developing technical writing skills.
- Strengthening storytelling abilities.
- Studying successful scripts.
- Writing shorts and features.
- Understanding the UK production landscape.
- Making industry connections.
With dedication and persistence, you can transition from aspiring to working screenwriter. Use festivals, labs, competitions, and networking to get your scripts seen. Keep writing, revising, and seeking feedback to hone your voice. Stay current on UK film/TV trends.
Most importantly, keep envisioning the magic moment when you see “Written by You” on screen for the first time. Follow the passion that made you want to become a UK screenwriter, and the rest will follow.
Frequently Asked Questions
What qualifications do I need to become a screenwriter?
There are no formal qualifications needed to become a screenwriter in the UK. Relevant education like creative writing or film degrees can help, but most important is developing excellent writing skills through practice and study.
How much do screenwriters make in the UK?
UK screenwriters earn around £38,000 per year on average. Experienced writers or creators of hit shows can make over £100,000 annually. Income varies based on whether you sell scripts or work on staff.
How do I break into screenwriting UK?
Keys to breaking in include building a portfolio of spec scripts, networking in the industry, entering competitions, gaining representation, and perseverance in submitting material to producers.
How long does it take to become a screenwriter?
It usually takes 2-3 years of dedicated practice, writing, and networking to reach a professional level capable of selling scripts. But it’s an ongoing process of improvement.
Do screenwriters get paid well?
It depends on the level of success. While mid-level writers earn a decent living, A-list screenwriters can earn millions for high-profile films or TV series. Building a reputation is key.
Is it hard to get a job as a screenwriter?
Yes, it’s very competitive. Only the most talented writers get hired. Persistence, excellent writing skills, and self-promotion vastly improve your chances.
How much does Netflix pay screenwriters?
For original films, Netflix is said to pay around $100,000-300,000 for an independent feature script. However, established writers can earn much more for projects.
Do you need an English degree to be a screenwriter?
No, an English degree is not required. More important is writing talent. Many acclaimed screenwriters studied subjects like history, journalism, or even science.
Do screenwriters get paid monthly?
Most are paid per project, though staff TV writers get a monthly or per-episode fee. Feature writers get an upfront payment during scripting, then bonuses based on production.