How To Become A Screenwriter (A Complete Guide With FAQs)
Updated 21 July 2022
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Screenwriting is a creative profession that requires storytelling skills, along with tenacity and dedication. Screenwriters can work alone, operate within a team, write speculative scripts for their portfolio or even sell their scripts. If you are interested in becoming a screenwriter, knowing how to become one can help you prepare better for this profession. In this article, we discuss what a screenwriter is, explore how to become a screenwriter and address some frequently asked questions about this profession.
What is a screenwriter?
A screenwriter is a professional who writes screenplays, which are scripts for films and TV shows. This usually involves crafting unique storylines and intriguing characters to appeal to diverse audiences. Screenplays are visually descriptive as they express characters' movements, actions and dialogues.
Screenwriters who write for films are usually responsible for the story, screenplay and dialogues. Although, depending on the industry and production house, responsibilities can also be divided among separate writers. In that case, the screenwriter may be solely responsible for the screenplay. When writing for TV, screenwriters are usually part of a larger group of writers who constitute 'writing rooms'.
Related: What Do Content Writers Do? (With Job Roles And Career Path)
How to become a screenwriter
If you want to discover how to become a screenwriter, here are the steps you may follow:
1. Get relevant training
Although there are no specific educational requirements for becoming a screenwriter, some degree of formal training can surely help. You can get a bachelor's degree in screenwriting or pursue a diploma course after your graduation. Online courses on screenwriting can also be a viable alternative. Going through a formal course can train you in the technicalities and conventions of screenwriting. You can learn useful tips and tricks to ease your screenwriting process.
2. Read film scripts
Just like reading novels is necessary to become a good novelist, so is reading film scripts essential for aspiring screenwriters. Scripts of released movies can give you an idea of what kind of format to follow and the language to use. For example, in screenwriting, if you want to convey that a character is happy, you can write a scene where they are smiling or laughing frequently. If you read film scripts, you can get a practical insight into developing scenes. Film scripts are accessible online for free.
3. Familiarise yourself with the film-making process
A screenplay is like a blueprint or instruction manual for making a film. Knowing the basics of filmmaking, such as transitions, camera angles, voice-overs and scene-setting, are necessary to write a filmable screenplay. If you are familiar with the film-making process, you know exactly when and how your work is going to be used. This can help you write in a manner suitable for screenplays.
4. Get a mentor and join a screenwriters' group
As a new screenwriter, having a mentor to guide you and a writers' group to support you can be invaluable. A mentor can be a teacher at your film school or screenwriting course or a seasoned screenwriter with whom you have connected professionally. Similarly, a writer's group can be your peers or colleagues. You can find a mentor and screenwriters' group online as well.
Staying connected with people in your profession can be beneficial in many ways. Mentors can give you valuable insight that may only come with experience. They can also introduce you to the film industry and present new opportunities for you. Similarly, a writer's group can provide critical feedback by looking at your work from a fresh perspective. They can also share helpful tips and answer your questions.
5. Start working on a script
One of the most important steps towards becoming a screenwriter is to actually write screenplays. After learning a fair bit about screenwriting, get started with the writing process and write frequently. This can serve as practice and help hone your skills.
Here are some simple steps to start and finish a script:
Logline: Write an informative logline in 50 words or less that explains what the story is about.
Outline: List the main events of your script in order of their occurrence.
Treatment: Work on a rough story based on the outline.
Writing: Create the screenplay with proper story structure and dialogues.
Formatting: Make technical changes so that screenplay adheres to a template.
Editing: Make final changes to the story to achieve clarity.
6. Create a portfolio
A great thing about screenwriting is that you can write speculative scripts. These are scripts no one has paid for or hired you to write. They are your original stories that you can add to your portfolio without having to turn them into films.
It can take a significant amount of time and patience to complete a script and add it to your portfolio. Although, it is worth the effort since your portfolio can testify to your screenwriting capability and help you get a job. If you have synopses and query letters prepared for your existing speculative scripts, you can sell those scripts later on.
Read More: How To Make A Portfolio: A Step-By-Step Guide
7. Consider moving to a film city
Although moving is optional, it is recommended if you want to work in the mainstream film industry. Since screenwriters work closely with directors, producers and other associate writers, it may be better if they all live in the same area. A film city is also where you are more likely to find work.
There are many language-based film industries in India. The most popular ones are the Hindi film industry (Bollywood) in Mumbai, the Bengali film industry (Tollywood) in Kolkata and the South Indian films industries spread across Hyderabad (Telegu), Bengaluru (Kannada), Chennai (Tamil) and Kerela (Malayalam).
8. Learn the film business
Knowing how your specific industry works can be crucial to advancing your career as a screenwriter. This includes knowledge about industry trends, major ongoing projects, how to get an agent, whether to hire a manager and how to pitch a script. The deeper your understanding of the industry, the better you know where to look for opportunities. You can subscribe to trade magazines, ask your film industry contacts or rely on the Internet to find out this information.
9. Get a film industry job
Traditional screenwriting positions are scarce on job boards. This is because the director or a dedicated team of experienced writers usually handle the writing internally. The easiest way to get familiar with the people who can turn your script into a movie or hire you for projects is to work alongside them. Any film industry role, especially that of an assistant, can be sufficient for this purpose. If you work with a positive attitude and build a good rapport with directors, producers and executives, they might consider hearing your script ideas and offer you an opportunity.
Related: Types Of Jobs In Film Industry (Duties And Salary)
Networking means knowing people who can help you professionally and doing the same for others. This can mean asking an experienced screenwriter for tips or feedback, sharing your story with a director or giving a junior screenwriter some work opportunities. It is important that you know the people a little before you pitch a script to them. Attending standard networking events like movie premieres, conferences and events is a good starting point. You can also become part of industry associations to remain informed about the latest networking events and connect with like-minded people.
Related: What Is Business Networking? (With Benefits And Types)
Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about screenwriting:
What is the average salary for a screenwriter?
The national average salary for screenwriters is ₹51,369 per month. Since screenwriting is a predominantly freelance position, the salary may vary a lot. Also, screenwriters receive payments based on projects instead of monthly salaries. The most important factors that decide payment are whether your script is sold, which production house has bought it and how big is the movie budget. A steady flow of income may depend on connections or relationships with industry people.
Which skills are necessary for screenwriting?
Apart from fundamental skills like creative writing, story development and research, screenwriters require some other professional skills. This includes punctuality with deadlines, persuasion skills, ability to accept feedback and improve, networking skills and editing skills. Screenwriters also require persistence and determination to stay in the profession, despite all the setbacks they might face.
Related: Writer Job Description (With Skills And Job Examples)
How many scripts to include in a screenwriting portfolio?
A screenwriting portfolio can have a minimum of two and a maximum of five scripts. It is vital that the scripts display the best of your work. If you are open to working in various genres, include at least one script from each genre. If you want to focus on only one genre, choose scripts that showcase the genre from different angles. Adding a little variety to your portfolio can be beneficial.
Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.
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