Have you ever wondered who comes up with the intricate plots, compelling characters, and sharp dialogues of your favorite films and TV shows? Who decides all the exciting twists and turns in the story that keep you hooked? The answer is – screenwriters!
Screenwriting brings stories to life on the big and small screens. Screenwriters create the blueprints that guide an entire production. Without skilled screenwriters, even the most talented directors and actors would have nothing to work with!
But what exactly does a screenwriter do? What are the key roles and duties involved in this career? This guide will provide a comprehensive overview of the multifaceted work of a professional screenwriter.
What Does a Screenwriter Do? The Many Roles of a Screenwriter
A screenwriter performs a wide range of roles throughout the complex process of developing, writing, and producing a screenplay. The key responsibilities include:
Writing the Script
This is the core role of the screenwriter – to write the screenplay that will eventually become a movie or TV show. This involves:
- Developing unique story ideas or adapting existing books, plays, short stories, or other source material into a script.
- Creating the narrative structure and plot points with protagonists and antagonists clearly defined.
- Crafting the character arcs and motivations, writing the character descriptions and dialogues.
- Writing vivid scene descriptions to set the visual tones.
- Structuring the script into acts and scenes following industry standard screenplay formatting.
- Conducting extensive research on topics depicted in the script to ensure factual accuracy.
The job entails bringing an idea to life on paper in a way that engages audiences emotionally and logically when produced on screen.
Revisions and Rewrites
Screenwriting is an iterative process that demands constant revisions. A screenwriter may deliver several drafts before achieving the final shooting script. This involves:
- Working closely with the director, producer, and production team to incorporate their vision and feedback into revisions.
- Rewriting and polishing scripts repeatedly based on constructive feedback from stakeholders.
- Maintaining the core creative vision and voice while integrating executive notes.
- Refining dialogues, updating plot points, modifying pacing and structure as needed.
The ability to revise while preserving the essence of the story is critical for screenwriters.
While writing requires solitude, screenwriters also need to collaborate with various stakeholders through the creative process. Key collaborations include:
- Having extensive creative discussions with the director to align on overall vision and tone for the film.
- Talking through character motivations and plot dilemmas with actors to guide their interpretations.
- Attending table reads and rehearsals to see their words come to life and take feedback.
- Brainstorming ideas with fellow screenwriters or writers’ room teams for TV shows.
- Working with producers to ensure budget parameters and production practicalities are met.
Maintaining strong working relationships and communication channels is vital for success.
A screenwriter’s job doesn’t end once the script is sold. They play an important production support role:
- Providing on-set supervision during filming to advise on script continuity, consistency of vision, and characterizations.
- Rewriting particular scenes on short notice if needed to work within budget constraints or filming locations and schedules.
- Approving any revisions or improvisations to dialogue done during filming in alignment with the director.
- Advocating for their creative vision throughout the filming process.
This hands-on production role ensures the screenwriter’s original goals for the story are achieved from script to screen.
Skills Needed to Be a Great Screenwriter
Screenwriting, like any creative profession, requires a diverse blend of skills to be successful. Here are some of the top abilities needed:
First and foremost, great screenwriters are master storytellers. They have:
- A creative imagination to develop compelling worlds, characters, and plots.
- Instincts for high-stakes drama and exciting twists that will grip audiences.
- An understanding of fundamental storytelling principles and narrative structures.
- Voice and style to make the characters and dialogue truly pop from the page.
Screenwriters need technical know-how including:
- A mastery of screenplay format, structure, and editing techniques.
- An eye for visual details and cinematic style.
- Knowledge of filming budget limitations and production logistics.
- Awareness of industry trends, standards, and conventions.
Strong collaborators and communicators thrive as screenwriters. Key skills include:
- Diplomacy to receive constructive feedback from multiple stakeholders.
- Active listening and conflict resolution abilities.
- Leadership to guide interpretations of the script during production.
- Networking abilities to meet directors, producers, and agents.
Screenwriting is an extremely competitive field. It requires:
- Persistence to push through constant rejections when pitching ideas.
- Determination to rewrite relentlessly while retaining creative vision.
- Resilience to bounce back after projects fall through.
- Thick skin to handle the subjective criticism that comes with creative work.
Passion for Filmmaking
Above all, an absolute passion for movies, TV, and great storytelling fuels a screenwriting career. Aspiring screenwriters should commit to this path only if they are fueled by a love for cinematic arts. For the passionate few, a screenwriting career can be tremendously rewarding.
Day in the Life of a Professional Screenwriter
Now that we’ve explored the key duties and necessary skills, what does an average day look like for a working screenwriter? While no two days are alike, here is a snapshot:
- Morning – Catch up on reading trade publications and industry news over coffee. Do a brainstorming writing sprint on a new story idea.
- Afternoon – Attend a story concept meeting with the producers of an upcoming project. Pitch and discuss several character and plot options. Collaborate on an outline for the first draft script.
- Evening – Do an intensive writing session to make headway on a screenplay draft that’s under deadline. Write scenes, dial in dialogue details or polish character introductions.
- Night – Wind down by watching a movie or show related to a project being worked on for inspiration. Analyze story structure, character arcs, themes, and other elements.
Screenwriters also have less structured days focused solely on writing, as well as days on set providing production support, taking general meetings when not on contract, and promoting completed projects upon release.
While the workdays are long, they provide the immense satisfaction of bringing impactful stories to life on screens big and small.
Finding Screenwriting Success
How does an aspiring screenwriter go from blank page to box office hit? Here are some key tips:
- Hone your craft through classes, books, screenwriting software, and practice. Start with shorts.
- Network, enter contests, and pitch your unique ideas until you make connections.
- Get a literary agent who can get your scripts to producers. Sign with a studio early on if possible.
- Build a strong portfolio of spec scripts to showcase your original voice and style.
- Be ready to work long hours and make endless revisions. Passion powers perseverance.
- Understand filmmaking budgets, trends, and conventions to sell more scripts.
- Build genuine relationships throughout the industry to get recommended for jobs.
- Keep generating new ideas while relentlessly improving your writing skills. Originality opens doors.
- Work hard but also pat yourself on the back. Screenwriting is a challenging career filled with rejection. Stay motivated!
While the path is challenging, amazing rewards come to those who put in persistence and hard work. The careers of legendary screenwriters like Aaron Sorkin, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and Steven Spielberg demonstrate the heights that can be attained.
If you have incredible stories to tell and a tireless commitment to the craft, then a screenwriting career may be for you! It all starts with a dream, determination, and that first blank page.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between a screenwriter and a scriptwriter?
The main difference is that a screenwriter specifically writes scripts for film and television while a scriptwriter writes scripts for any type of production including plays, radio shows, commercials, etc. Screenwriters focus solely on screenplay writing.
Do screenwriters get paid well?
Experienced screenwriters who sell scripts to major studios or are hired on production teams can earn six-figure salaries. However, many aspiring screenwriters earn lower wages at first. The WGA minimums for feature film scripts start at around $70,000 and scale up based on the film’s budget. TV pays per episode.
What is the purpose of a screenwriter?
The purpose is to conceive and write the blueprint for a film or TV production in the form of a script. Their creative vision informs all aspects of production. They tell the story through writing acts, scenes, characters, and dialogue.
What skills does a screenwriter need?
Key skills include excellent writing ability, mastery of story structure, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, visualization, perseverance, and a passion for filmmaking. Strong research skills are also very useful.
Is screenwriting difficult?
Yes, professional screenwriting is very difficult. There is intense competition, high pressure, constant rejection before success, the need for technical skills along with creativity, and a lot of rewriting and revisions. But difficulty makes success more rewarding.
Are screenwriters ever on set?
Yes, many screenwriters are present on set as their scripts are filmed to ensure their original vision is maintained and make tweaks as needed during production. Their involvement varies based on the project.
Why do most screenwriters fail?
Most fail due to lack of perseverance, poor writing skills, weak concepts/ideas, inability to collaborate, chasing saturated genres vs originality, and inadequate understanding of industry standards and trends.
How much will Netflix pay for a script?
While amounts vary widely, the WGA minimum for a low-budget feature film at Netflix would be around $42,000 currently, scaling up based on the film’s budget. Established writers earn much more.
How hard is it to get a job in screenwriting?
Extremely hard, as most jobs come from reputation and recommendations. Unknown new writers have to create standout spec scripts, enter competitions, network relentlessly, and keep writing until they sell material to catch a producer’s eye.