If you are wondering how to become a screenwriter in film or television, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in this area of the media industry, as well as job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Screenwriters create scripts for TV or film productions, such as feature films, TV comedy and drama, animation, children’s programmes and computer games. They may develop their own original ideas and try to sell (‘pitch’) them to producers, or they may be commissioned by producers to create a screenplay from an idea or true story, or to adapt an existing work such as a novel, play or comic book.

    Typical responsibilities:

    coming up with themes and ideas
    researching background material
    developing believable plots and characters
    laying out the screenplay to an agreed format
    submitting the ‘first draft’ of your work to producers or development executives
    getting feedback about your work from producers or script editors
    rewriting the script if necessary – this can happen several times before arriving at the final version.
    You would usually be self-employed, so you would also spend time networking with agents and producers, and dealing with your own tax and National Insurance. You might combine writing with other work such as teaching, lecturing or editing.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good screenwriters include:

    excellent writing ability
    creativity and imagination, to produce fresh ideas and bring ideas to life
    storytelling skills and an understanding of dramatic structure
    self-discipline and motivation
    willingness to accept criticism of your work and make any necessary changes
    good organisational skills and the ability to meet deadlines
    good presentation and networking skills, for marketing and promoting your work.

    How to become a screen writer
    You do not need qualifications to become a screenwriter, as your talent and ability are more important.

    You may find it useful to take a course in creative writing or script writing, to help you develop your technique and understand dramatic structure and script layout. Courses for all levels from beginners to advanced are widely available at colleges, adult education centres and universities. You do usually need any qualifications to start, and even some advanced courses may accept you if you can prove your talent by showing examples of your work.

    Some screenwriters are graduates in creative writing, English or journalism, but this is not essential. You may have an advantage if you have writing and storytelling experience from another field, such as journalism, advertising copywriting or acting.

    As a new writer, you could enter screenwriting competitions, which are run by broadcasters and regional screen agencies to discover new talent. Contact Skillset Careers for more information, and see the BBC Writers’ Room website for advice about submitting your work to the BBC.

    Training and Development
    There is no standard training path for screenwriters, as your skills will develop as your experience grows.

    As a new or experienced screenwriter, you could help your professional development by joining organisations like the Screenwriters Workshop, the Script Factory and TAPS, which offer script feedback, training and networking opportunities.

    You could also choose to take an MA in Screenwriting. These are available full-time, part-time and by distance learning from several universities around the country.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    Freelance writers usually negotiate and agree a set fee for each piece of work. You may be partly paid in advance for your work. You may also receive a percentage of the profits from a film.
    The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain has negotiated recommended pay rates for writers in film, TV and theatre.

    Job Prospects
    Most of your work will be freelance. You could work independently and market your scripts to production companies, or you may be commissioned by production companies. Only a small percentage of screenwriters earn a full-time living from writing, so you may need to do other types of work to supplement your income.

    Some scriptwriting opportunities may be advertised in the trade press and websites such as Broadcast. You could also sign up with a writers’ agent (who will find you work or market your scripts for a commission), or you could join the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain and list yourself on their database of writers. It is also extremely common to find opportunities through networking and word of mouth.

    You may be able to find funding to develop feature films and short films (known as ‘shorts’). Contact the UK Film Council for details about grants and funding schemes that may be available.

    Useful media industry resources:
    Writers Guild of Great Britain
    15 Britannia Street
    WC1X 9JN
    Tel: 020 7833 0777

    Recent Articles


    Related Stories

    Stay on op - Ge the daily news in your inbox