What does a screenwriter do? A screenwriter writes screenplays, but maybe you’ve found yourself wondering what exactly that entails. How do screenwriting professionals describe their job? Keep reading as I demystify a screenwriter’s job description!
A Screenwriter’s Job Basics
What is a screenplay used for? Well, scripts can be used for all sorts of mediums, including film, television, plays, commercials, online platforms, or even video games. The screenplay is essentially the blueprint for everything that’s going to happen, including setting, action, and dialogue. It’s both a practical document that tells you where, when or, how something is going to happen while also being an expression of artistic creativity. It needs to tell a compelling story that will draw viewers in. Screenwriters must blend the practicality of telling someone how something will happen while also presenting it as an enticing story with plenty of subtext, which makes it a uniquely challenging form of writing.
Not only do screenwriters write screenplays, but they’ll also write treatments or pitch documents to propose their script idea to managers, agents, studios, or producers.
Screenwriting is More Than Just the Screenplay
While it’s possible some writers can sit down at a computer and simply write out a script (Sylvester Stallone famously locked himself in a room and wrote “Rocky” in just three days), most writers need to plan and plot out the story before they’re able to write the screenplay. This prewriting stage may involve collecting ideas for days (or even years!), research, and a more thorough break down of what’s going to occur scene by scene. Prewriting can be a lengthy process for some, and short for others, and the level of prewriting detail is dependent on the writer’s needs. Some writers complete outlines, or storyboard with notecards.
When a writer is ready to write their script, they’ll often use formatting software since a traditional screenplay requires a very strict and specific format. The downside to this strict format is that it gets in the way and can intimidate some writers. That problem will be fixed soon when SoCreate launches its screenwriting software. They’re completely flipping the script, so anyone with a great idea will be able to write a screenplay!
The scriptwriting process, like prewriting, varies in length from writer to writer, but it doesn’t stop when the first draft is finished. A writer may receive feedback from their manager or agent, from a script doctoring service, or maybe even from a producer. They’ll utilize these notes in their next draft of the script. How many drafts does a writer write? It’ll vary for every script, from three to 100 or more!
How Does a Screenplay Get Out Into the World?
Screenwriters often start off writing scripts on spec. Writing “on spec” or speculation just means that no one’s assigned this piece to you or promised you money for your work. You’re writing this with the hope that you’ll be able to sell the script or perhaps use it as a sample to demonstrate your ability as a writer.
Today, many new writers enter their screenplays into screenwriting contests, film festivals, or as part of a fellowship application. These can be good ways for a beginner to gain exposure and interest in their script and earn credibility to use for future queries.
If a writer has representation such as a manager or agent, they’ll help the writer get meetings, and make connections that will hopefully lead to a script sale or staffing on a TV show or other project. Projects can also include rewriting someone else’s screenplay, or polishing a finished script before it goes into production.
Once a script is purchased, the writer’s job isn’t done (the writer’s job is never done!). There will be a post-acquisition meeting that will cover the plan to move forward, and the original writer will be allowed to do the first rewrite of the script. Yes, the first rewrite. There can be many! Often, the original screenwriter isn’t kept on the project for drafts past the first one. The rewriting process can be lengthy, and projects can stay in this development phase for years.
What Does a Day in the Life of Screenwriter Look Like?
It looks like sitting with your laptop on your lap, drinking coffee, and clicking back and forth between your screenwriting software of choice and Facebook. Oh, that’s just me?
It can look different for every writer! Many writers have day jobs and write when they can, like early in the morning or late at night. Some people write every day, and others block out periods of weeks or months to focus on writing. Some people go to retreats or participate in fellowship programs. Television writers go to a writer’s room every day for a specified amount of time and together craft episodes of a TV show, like a typical day job. Screenwriters who have sold scripts may continue working on rewrites for those projects, but they’re often freelance, meaning they’ll always be working on future scripts with hopes to sell those, too.
Screenwriting is a one-of-a-kind, rewarding job. No two screenwriters have the same experience breaking in. There’s a lot of variety in what a screenwriting career can look like, and I think that just makes it more fun and exciting!