A screenwriter brings stories to life on the big and small screens through the magical craft of scriptwriting. Without skilled screenwriters to provide compelling original scripts and adaptations, the multi-billion dollar film and TV industry simply could not function.
But what exactly does a screenwriter do? What is the process behind creating the screenplays that lead to your favorite movies and shows? This comprehensive guide will examine the integral role of screenwriters across every phase of development, writing, and production.
Whether you’re an aspiring screenwriter looking to break in or just a film buff interested in learning what happens behind the scenes, read on to find out what’s involved in this complex, creative profession that lays the foundation for cinematic storytelling.
Main Job Description and Responsibilities
At its core, a screenwriter conceptualizes and writes the screenplays that eventually get turned into films, television shows, and other types of video content.
This starts with coming up with an original concept and story outline, developing memorable characters, writing narrative dialogue, and following proper screenplay formatting to bring the script to life on the page.
But the job expands far beyond just writing “FADE IN:” and “FADE OUT.” Here are some of the key responsibilities and duties involved in screenwriting:
- Crafting compelling, cohesive film stories from initial concept to completed script drafts. This requires extensive creative writing abilities.
- Conducting relevant research on topics, time periods, locations, and other elements connected to their scripts. Authenticity and accuracy matter.
- Adapting non-script source material like novels, memoirs, news articles, or plays into cinematic stories formatted correctly for the screen.
- Developing engaging characters with depth, motivations, and arcs that drive the narrative forward.
- Writing lively, efficient dialogue that reveals character personalities and advances the plot.
- Collaborating closely with producers, directors, actors, and other team members through rewrites during pre-production and film production phases.
- Providing writing services on rewrite assignments for existing screenplays outside of original concepts.
- Pitching original concepts and selling screenplays through networking, agents, and other relationships within the film/TV industry.
As you can see, being a professional screenwriter requires far more than just having a flair for writing and a passion for film. It demands a strategic blend of creativity, storytelling skills, industry knowledge, and communication abilities to craft scripts that come to life on screens worldwide.
The Screenwriting Process
So what does the full process of screenwriting look like from the initial idea to the final script? Here are the typical key phases:
- Story Idea Generation – This “eureka” moment can strike from imagination, books, news, personal experiences, or directing assignments.
- Outline Creation – The story arc is mapped out including plot points, sequencing, characters, locations, and structure.
- Treatment Drafting – A prose narrative summary of the story is written before the actual script.
- First Draft – The initial screenplay draft fully dialogues all action and scenes. Much revision is still needed.
- Revisions – Many rounds of edits and rewrites refine the story, characters, pacing, tone, structure, and other elements.
- Production Rewrites – Script updates happen during filming as changes arise, often in collaboration with directors and actors.
- Editing – Final tweaks may be made to fit the director’s editing choices and flow. The film story is locked.
As you can see, the script development process involves extensive revisions, input from others, and flexibility to adapt the screenplay throughout production. Writing “THE END” is really just the beginning of bringing the story to the screen.
Script Analysis Skills
What skills does a screenwriter need to master in order to develop scripts that work for the medium? Here are some of the key technical script analysis abilities:
- Understanding three-act structure – The prototypical story arc rising across setup, confrontation, and resolution.
- Character building – Creating protagonists and antagonists with depth, empathy, and logical motivations.
- Mastering subtext – Harnessing visuals, actions, and delivery to imply deeper meanings.
- Crafting dialogue – Writing dialogue that reveals character backgrounds organically while advancing the plot.
- Balancing action, description, and dialogue – Integrating just the right mix across scenes to best move the story forward.
- Maintaining tone – Ensuring the script’s tonal qualities remain consistent across comedic, dramatic or other styles.
- Pacing and transitions – Spreading plot progression smoothly across 120 pages with clearly connected scenes.
- Adapting for genre conventions – Tailoring stories to fit genre frameworks like romantic comedies or suspense.
The best screenwriters have a firm grasp on these core script components that separate amateur scripts from professionally polished ones ready to film.
Breaking Into the Industry
For aspiring screenwriters hoping to turn their craft into a career, here are some tips on starting out:
- Read screenplays – Both amateur scripts for technique analysis and professional scripts to learn proper formatting.
- Take screenwriting classes – Enroll in workshops and online courses to systematically develop core skills.
- Network relentlessly – Attend film festivals, seminars, and meetups and join organizations to make connections.
- Enter screenplay contests – Competition wins bring invaluable exposure and acclaim within the industry.
- Consider internships – Look for opportunities to learn from working professionals, especially in writers’ rooms.
- Write daily – Just like improving any creative skill, frequent practice makes perfect.
- Research agents/managers – These industry liaisons are gateways to selling your scripts to studios once you’re ready.
- Leverage screenwriting software – Tools like Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter, Celtx, and others to help efficiently format scripts.
With persistence and dedication to the craft, new screenwriters can open the door to seeing their creative visions come to life on screen. It all starts with that first “FADE IN.”
Conclusion – What is a Screenwriter?
Whether dreaming up an entirely new cinematic world or adapting a compelling story to script format, skilled screenwriters sit at the foundation of filmmaking. Their ability to create memorable narratives, characters, and dialogue lays the groundwork for every other aspect of movie magic to build upon.
While collaboration with producers, actors, and directors modifies the film story further through production, the screenwriter creates that crucial blueprint. Their creative choices reverberate through every scene that makes the final cut.
By understanding what’s involved in screenwriting, you gain an appreciation of just how much influence a gifted screenwriter has over the audience experience. Even though their name may only flash briefly in the opening credits, their contribution echoes through every pivotal plot twist right until that last satisfying “FADE OUT.”
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between an editor and a screenwriter?
The main difference is that a screenwriter creates the original story and script while an editor shapes and refines the actual film. Screenwriters write the screenplay that gets produced into a movie. Editors take the footage shot and piece it together creatively in post-production.
What is the difference between a screenwriter and a scriptwriter?
There is essentially no difference between a screenwriter and a scriptwriter. The terms are used interchangeably to refer to writers who specialize in crafting scripts specifically for film and television.
What qualities do you need to be a screenwriter?
Important qualities include creativity, storytelling skills, visualization, persistence, thick skin, imagination, discipline, knowledge of screenplay format, and mastery of cinematic elements. Strong writing skills are essential as well.
Do screenwriters get paid well?
Many professional screenwriters earn six-figure incomes. Top screenwriters can command high fees in the millions for their scripts. However, most aspiring or unknown screenwriters start out earning much more modest salaries.
Is it hard to get a job as a screenwriter?
Yes, breaking into professional screenwriting is very difficult. The most common route is starting with smaller indie films and working up the ladder. Networking, entering contests, getting an agent, and moving to L.A. can help open doors.
Who gets paid more – the writer or the editor?
On average, writers tend to earn higher incomes than editors in most cases. However, top editors at major publications may make more than beginning freelance writers. In film and TV, experienced, in-demand screenwriters make much higher salaries than most editors.
Is a screenwriter above the line?
Yes, screenwriters are considered above-the-line talent in film production budgets. This refers to lead creative talent like writers, producers, directors, and principal actors. Below the line covers technical crew and post-production staff.
Is a screenwriter a good job?
It can be a great job for creatives who love film and storytelling. However, it requires dedication through many frustrations and rejections along the path to success. Persistence, a thick skin, and commitment to the craft are prerequisites.