Do you want to be the next Richard Price (The Wire), John Logan (Gladiator, The Aviator and Rango) or Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show and Fresh Meat)? Of you course you do! Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place.
Scriptwriters are the incredibly talented people who write scripts for feature films, sitcoms, television dramas, radio plays, cartoons, TV adverts, West End musicals, and anything else you can think of where adlibbing actors just won’t suffice!
Creating characters, crafting dialogue and writing an engaging plot are all part of a scriptwriter’s job. Essentially, these creative dynamos form something which acts as the skeleton on which a director can map their creative vision.
The scriptwriting process tends to involve the following course of action: idea generation and research, planning, character development, and then writing. Scriptwriters write every aspect of a script, from the dialogue to the stage directions.
This lot write material which is intended to be performed. Consequently, this offers scriptwriters a different kind of creative challenge. Indeed, it’s essential that the dialogue is believable and the film or show ticks along at a decent pace. What’s more, scriptwriters must take other things into account, such as pre-watershed restrictions.
The majority of scriptwriters specialise in a particular genre, such as comedy, drama, sci-fi, fantasy, horror or action.
Some work as salaried staff writers for production companies,, but the majority of scriptwriters work as freelancers, selling their scripts ‘on spec’ or working on a contract basis.
If you intend to sell your completed scripts ‘on spec’, it’s advisable to secure an agent who can help distribute your work to their extensive network of contacts.
Some people, such as Michael Weiner (Mad Men and The Sopranos), M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and The Village) and Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation), combine scriptwriting with other roles in the entertainment industry, such as producing or directing.
Salary & benefits
There is certainly money to be made as a scriptwriter. However, there is quite a disparity between the earnings of the most successful writers and the lesser known writers out there.
Many full-time scriptwriters in the UK actually do other jobs to support their writing. Some work in academia and others undertake freelance copywriting and editorial projects for other publications. Often, the actual income that scriptwriters earn directly from their writing can be quite low.
The top screenwriters in the industry, however, can receive huge payments for their services. The highest ever amount paid for a spec script was $5 million, which Terry Rossio and Bill Marsilii received for Déjà Vu.
The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain is responsible for setting and regulating minimum fees for scriptwriters in the UK.
Freelance scriptwriters aren’t restricted by conventional working hours. The career path of a freelance scriptwriter can lack a certain amount of job security. Success is often dependent on people’s opinions and fluctuating market trends.
The job can sometimes be lonely, since writers don’t work in an office and rarely work alongside other people. However, a writer’s career will allow you to have a great amount of freedom, as you won’t be shackled to a desk in a sterile office environment.
You may be required to travel, both domestically and internationally, from time to time to meet with directors and producers and attend awards ceremonies.
Many scriptwriters have degrees in English, journalism or creative writing. However, scriptwriters from other academic backgrounds are actually very common. In fact, many successful scriptwriters don’t even have undergraduate degrees. Indeed, the industry is one that honours talent and ability in spite of academic credentials.
Scriptwriters can take short writing courses for training purposes. Postgraduate degrees aren’t necessary, but can provide essential training for those focusing on a specific area of scriptwriting.
Basically, all you need are excellent writing skills, an in-depth understanding of the acting process, the ability to create believable characters through well-written dialogue, excellent time management, stupendous research skills and a talent for networking.
Training & progression
You don’t need any specific training to succeed as a scriptwriter. You just need to be talented, hardworking and a little bit lucky. Watching films, reading and writing are the only training a scriptwriter needs.
Many scriptwriters do, however, train through peer workshops. These are especially useful in allowing new writers to get feedback on their work.
Since most scriptwriters are self-employed, the only actual career progression you can achieve is through an increase in popularity, by winning scriptwriting prizes and by generally becoming critically acclaimed.
What your career really depends on is how well your clients, readers or audience receive your work.