Screenwriter

  • Screenwriter

Every film, whether blockbuster hit or shoestring indie, begins with a screenplay. It is said that there have only ever been seven plots (boy meets girl, etc.), and everything else is derivative—you’re always just rewriting Shakespeare. That being said, it remains the screenwriter’s challenge to create a story that becomes the blueprint for a fresh, entertaining escape into 120 minutes of fantasy, horror, romance, or adventure. 


Duties

The screenwriter’s journey toward a movie deal starts with the pitch meeting. A concise, dynamic presentation illustrates to the producer that you are capable of crafting a compelling script with engaging characters. Based on a successful pitch, the producer will enter into a contract with the screenwriter to draft a script. For members and signatories of the Writers Guild of America there are specific rules that govern this contract. Writers who enter into an agreement for work with a WGA signatory are required to become members and remain in good standing with the WGA. The contract will detail upfront the screenwriter’s salary, length of time he or she has to complete the first draft, deadline for the read and notes to be completed, and subsequent rewrites.

At any point in the process the producer may decide to replace the commissioned screenwriter or kill the project; then it’s back to pounding the pavement for meetings. If the screenplay receives the green light to go into production, the writer will be held to the initial contract that outlined stipulations for any on-set passes (rewrites), consultation during editing, and publicity appearances at screenings. 

Skills & Education

A degree is not required for work as a screenwriter, but a relevant education is invaluable. Majors in creative writing, English, or film production are helpful. Courses in literary theory will help you craft your own unique voice by studying criticism of other authors. Scriptwriting may be included in the creative writing track or be available as part of a university’s film degree. It is recommended that you take classes in entertainment business to learn how to properly manage your career as a freelancer. Screenwriters should certainly have storytelling talent, but just as important is a realistic understanding of the industry, a skin thick enough to take constructive criticism, and a gift for networking. Having the passion and charisma to charm the pants off any room of jaded executives doesn’t hurt, either. 

What to Expect

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Filmmaking is a collaborative process. Producers, directors, stars, and studio executives all make cuts and contributions to the script; it is a living, breathing body that is constantly evolving until the film is in the can. You cannot afford to be overly protective of your work, nor can you take it too hard when the screenplay you slaved over for months is suddenly hacked and slashed to fit a new vision—that’s show business.

An agent is a great asset to a screenwriter; the agent uses his or her own contacts and the reputation of the firm to shop your work around the studios. It is also recommended that you register any spec material with the WGA and/or the Library of Congress. Look for opportunities to attend events like the American Film Market, screenwriting workshops, and film festivals as a chance to network. Opinions on the screenwriting contests and open pitch festivals are mixed; do your research beforehand and understand that while some may have success going that route, it is not a guaranteed “in” to a movie deal. 

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