Many aspiring writers and movie buffs dream of becoming a professional screenwriters one day. It seems like an ideal career – you get to use your creativity to craft stories for television and film, which could potentially be seen by millions of viewers.
However, like any coveted career in the entertainment industry, it is extremely competitive. For every blockbuster screenplay that makes it onto the big screen, there are thousands of rejections along the way. So is pursuing the screenwriter dream really worth it in the end?
In this article, we’ll examine the pros and cons of being a professional screenwriter. What are the rewards and fulfillment that come from screenwriting success? But also, what are some harsh realities aspiring screenwriters need to be prepared for? Read on for an inside look at the screenwriting career path.
Pros of Being a Screenwriter
Flexibility and Freedom in Your Work
One of the big pros of screenwriting as a career is the flexibility and freedom it offers. Screenwriters can work from home or anywhere they want, as long as they meet their deadlines. You don’t need to commute to an office or work standard 9-5 hours.
Many screenwriters work as freelancers, taking on projects from different producers or studios. This gives you variety in your work and the ability to set your own schedule. The freedom to be your own boss is appealing to many.
Fulfillment in Storytelling
For storytellers at heart, there’s immense creative fulfillment in bringing stories to life on screens. Screenwriters get to imagine vivid characters, engaging worlds, and compelling narratives. The ability to emotionally move audiences through plot, drama, or comedy is very rewarding.
Seeing their words come to life visually through skilled actors and directors is a dream come true for many screenwriters. The storytelling process from start to finish – from blank page to final cut – is an exhilarating experience.
Unlike fiction authors or playwrights, screenwriters actually have solid earning potential, especially if they can break into writing for major Hollywood studios. The top echelon of professional screenwriters earn six to seven-figure paychecks.
To put the earnings in perspective, the average weekly income for a screenwriter is around 3,000 USD, which adds up to $156,000 a year. The top 10% of screenwriters earn over $208,000 annually. While not everyone reaches these highs, the opportunity is there.
Recognition and Prestige
Screenwriters behind highly acclaimed or commercially successful films often enjoy industry prestige and public recognition for their work. Quentin Tarantino, Aaron Sorkin, and Steven Zaillian are just a few contemporary screenwriters whose names have become well known.
Seeing your name on the big screen during the opening credits as “Written by…” is a hugely gratifying experience. Walking down the red carpet at a premiere or winning awards like the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay are amazing recognition of your talents.
Cons of Being a Screenwriter
The Odds Are Stacked Against You
This is a reality check aspiring screenwriters need to be aware of. The film industry is incredibly competitive, with one estimate stating there is a 1 in 15,000 chance of selling your first screenplay. That is slimmer odds than many other creative fields.
One reason is there just aren’t that many films greenlit each year versus the thousands of unsolicited scripts studios receive. Most professional screenwriters struggle for years before they make any noteworthy sales. Be prepared to face constant rejection early on.
Irregular Income and Periods of Unemployment
Screenwriting can be a feast or famine career, especially in the early years. Earnings can fluctuate wildly depending on how many assignments or script sales you book. Periods of unemployment between paid gigs are common during the ups and downs.
Building connections and gaining a reputation for delivering high-quality scripts on deadline takes time. Have substantial savings set aside to cover dry periods. Many take side gigs in fields like advertising, technical writing, or tutoring to pay the bills.
Writing Goes Through Extensive Revisions
As a screenwriter, your precious written words will go through endless rounds of revision during pre-production and filming.
Scripts will get marked up by producers, studio execs, directors, and actors – everyone seems to have an opinion. Major plot points or characters sometimes get changed entirely.
This can require you to develop a very thick skin when others critique your writing. You need the ability to take feedback and make necessary changes to move the production forward. Letting go of some creative control is part of the process.
Stress of Deadlines and Details
Screenwriting isn’t all fun brainstorming dialogue and creating characters. There are intense deadlines to meet and detailed aspects like scene structure, stage direction, transitions, and more to perfect. Juggling revisions from multiple stakeholders adds extra stress.
Succeeding as a screenwriter requires organization, time management skills, and ability to work under pressure. Missing deadlines can seriously damage your reputation and career prospects.
Collaboration Not Solitary Work
Imagine yourself as a lone genius screenwriter banging out brilliant scripts in isolation. Now erase that fantasy! Screenwriting is highly collaborative – you’ll be working closely with producers, directors, actors, and execs during rewrites and production.
You must be able to handle criticism without taking it personally. Communication skills to articulate your creative vision while also compromising when needed are vital. If you prefer solo work, this could frustrate you.
Tips for Succeeding as a Screenwriter
If the prospect of the screenwriter career path excites you despite the challenges, then here are some tips to set yourself up for success:
Study Screenwriting Techniques Extensively
Great writing just flows naturally, right? Unfortunately not. Mastering screenplay format and structure requires in-depth study and practice.
Take courses and read books on screenwriting basics like format, plot structure, scene design, character development, and effective dialogue.
Read and analyze successful scripts. Attend workshops or seminars with working screenwriters to gain priceless insider knowledge and technical skills necessary in this field. Join a screenwriting group for feedback.
Network Tirelessly to Make Industry Connections
As in many careers, who you know will be just as important as what you know as an aspiring screenwriter. Attend film festivals, screenwriting expos, studio mixers, and any events where you can connect with producers, agents, directors, and other industry insiders.
Building your network takes time and effort. Follow up with contacts, offer your scriptwriting services, and seek informational interviews. Consider interning or working at an agency mailroom. Making the right connections could lead to your big break.
Build an Online Portfolio of Spec Scripts
Spec scripts are sample scripts you write independently, without being paid, to demonstrate your skills for the purpose of getting hired. Having 3-5 polished spec scripts in your portfolio showcases your abilities to producers and studios.
Post excerpts on your screenwriting website or filmmaking blogs to gain exposure. Enter reputable screenwriting contests that offer cash prizes but also provide invaluable visibility – winners often get representation and script deals.
Develop a Thick Skin to Rejections
Coping with rejection is part of the screenwriting career. As mentioned, even seasoned screenwriters still face frequent rejection after decades in the business! You need perseverance and a thick skin.
Bounce back quickly from disappointment. Enter new contests, perfect your scripts during re-writes, add fresh projects, and keep networking. Don’t get bitter or discouraged. With hard work and resilience, your big break will come.
Consider Adjacent Fields like Playwriting
Don’t abandon your screenwriting dreams if the Hollywood path seems unclear. You can still flex your writing skills in related fields. Many acclaimed screenwriters got their start in playwriting which has parallels including strong dialogue and compact dramatic writing.
The lower production costs for plays make them more feasible to produce. You can build writing credits and learn dramatic mechanics while continuing to work at breaking into film and TV.
Is Being a Screenwriter Worth It?
Despite the long odds and difficult journey, for storytellers with a passion for film and TV, pursuing screenwriting can absolutely be a fulfilling career. The ability to see your creative visions transformed into living, breathing films enjoyed by worldwide audiences makes hard work and uncertainty worthwhile for many.
Like any dream job, it requires dedication, sacrifice, perseverance through hard times, and belief in your talents even when others don’t. But for those willing to put in the sweat and sacrifice, reaching that Hollywood dream is not impossible. That blank page of yours could be the next great movie in the making.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do screenwriters make good money?
Screenwriters have the potential to make good money, especially if they are able to sell scripts to major studios and have their movies produced. However, earnings can fluctuate wildly. The top 10% of screenwriters earn over $208,000 annually, but many earn much less, especially when starting out.
Is a script writer a good career?
Being a script writer can be a fulfilling creative career for those passionate about film and TV. However, it’s an extremely competitive field and success is not guaranteed. Writers need dedication and persistence to make it a viable long-term career. It’s good for those who can handle rejection and uncertainty.
Is it hard to get a job as a screenwriter?
Yes, breaking into screenwriting is very difficult. There is a lot of competition for a limited number of job openings. Most professional screenwriters struggle for years doing low-paying or unpaid jobs before selling their first script. Networking and building a portfolio of sample scripts is key.
How realistic is it to become a screenwriter?
It’s a highly competitive field, but with talent and hard work, it is realistic to break into screenwriting. The odds are stacked against you, but not impossible. Be prepared to write for many years before gaining success. Have a backup plan as income will be inconsistent.
How much will Netflix pay for a script?
For non-established writers, Netflix pays around $30,000 to purchase script rights. But for well-known or award-winning writers, Netflix has paid between $3-5 million to acquire scripts. Netflix is also now offering some writers salaries in the low six figures to produce content.
Why are screenwriters paid so little?
There is an oversupply of aspiring screenwriters compared to the limited number of films being produced. Most screenwriters are not well-known and have little negotiating leverage early in their careers. Writers are seen as replaceable. But pay increases substantially once writers have credits on successful films.
What degree do I need to be a screenwriter?
No specific degree is required. Many study film, creative writing, or English in college. However real-world screenwriting experience through internships, workshops, and writing original scripts is most important. Television writing experience can also lead to screenwriting.
What skills does a screenwriter need?
Key skills include excellent writing ability, creativity, imagination, knowledge of script formats, ability to work collaboratively, openness to feedback, perseverance, networking, and marketing abilities. Thick skin and coping strategies for rejection are crucial.
What course should I take to become a screenwriter?
Useful courses include those focused on screenwriting fundamentals, storytelling methods, script development, film analysis, and screenplay formatting. Both in-person and online courses from film schools, writers’ organizations, and industry professionals can provide a solid base.