Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Tyler M. Reid

Where Are Writers on the Chain of Command?

The chain of command of a film is quite similar to a large business or organization. At the top you have the CEO or in this case Executive Producer, usually someone with the money or controlling the money. From there, you have Producers who sort of function as COO, chief operating officers. Down the line, you have a Director and under that, nearly all departments answer to the Director (maybe producer depending on if it's a show or other setups). This chain of command is very well-defined, organized, and easy to understand. However, there is one unique position that doesn’t fit quite right in the chain of command and also loses its strength or positioning as the film progresses from development all the way to distribution. That is the screenwriter.

With one click

Export a perfectly formatted traditional script.

Try SoCreate for free!

Write Like This...
...Export To This!

During the development stage, the screenwriter is at the top of the chain, right under the producer. The screenwriter and their work are the most important elements in getting a film made. Without a screenplay there is no film and without a writer there is no screenplay. The first deals are made with the screenwriter, from the option agreement, shopping agreement, or rights agreement.

Where Are Writers on the Chain of Command?

Once you move into the later stage of development right before pre-production, the director is brought on, and depending on the director, the screenwriter's position in the chain can change dramatically. At this stage the screenwriter may have a lot of influence over what the director can do with the script or perhaps depending on the agreement, the screenwriter is only involved in script changes but has little influence in what those changes can be. This can continue throughout production. Again, depending on the contracts or agreements the screenwriter may be at the same level as the director in the chain of command and only has to answer to the producer. However, it could be that the screenwriter is under the director in the chain.

Download a Free Chain of Command Template

Usually, almost always, the screenwriter is not involved during post-production, so they are no longer in the chain at all. Their jobs have finished, even though crafting the edit plays a very large role in the final outcome of the story.

By the time the film leaves post-production, the screenwriter is no longer involved in the project. There are outlier cases of well-established screenwriters that may be a part of the marketing of the film (Aaron Sorkin is a great example of this), otherwise, the screenwriter has moved on from the project.

For the average film, the screenwriter starts as the most important position in the chain of command to no longer be a part of the chain as the film is distributed. This makes it one of the most unique positions in the film business.

Tyler is seasoned film and media professional with over 20 years of diverse experience, specializing in production management and creative direction, with a rich portfolio spanning music videos, films, and documentaries, and a global network from the US to Sweden. Reach him on his website, LinkedIn, and X, and gain access to his free filmmaking templates when you sign up for his newsletter here.

You may also be interested in...

What is a TV Writer’s Role on Set?

Up and coming television writers may never find themselves on set. Yep, you read that right. In the current era of the entertainment industry, the writer’s role and responsibilities have changed as budgets – and the length of a writers’ room – continue to shrink. And this isn’t just a bummer for your resume. Your wallet could suffer, too. These are lessons that TV writer, novelist, and producer Stephanie K. Smith is learning first-hand. As someone who scored her first staff writer position back in 2016, Stephanie is watching her role as a television writer change before her eyes. And it has big implications ...

How Does Hollywood Work?

How Does Hollywood Work?

Have you found yourself watching a movie or a TV show and wondered how it got made? I don't mean that in the negative, "how did this even get made?!" type of question, but a question that's more about the production of it all. How does a movie or a TV show go from concept to completion? Please keep reading to find out as I get into the mechanics of how Hollywood works! First off, producing a film or TV show is a very long, drawn-out process with various steps that can take years to complete. While film and television are different mediums, you'll see similarities because, at heart, their creation comes down ...

How to Move Up in the Writers' Room

When writers decide they want to be a professional writer for television, they usually have a few different endgames in mind. Some writers want to work in a writers' room, where they collaborate with other writers to break stories and write storylines based on the show's creator's original premise and characters. And for some writers, they ultimately want to be that showrunner, also called the executive producer in the credits. No matter your goal, if you want to become any person on the writing staff, you'll need to have a basic understanding of how a TV writers' room is structured. To help us out with the topic ...