Screenwriters are writers who create screenplays. As a screenwriter you’ll bring stories to life in scripts for feature films, TV comedy and drama, animation, children's programmes and computer games.
You’ll need to be able to use your imagination to create and write stories. You’ll need determination, motivation and the ability to meet strict deadlines. If you’re a confident writer and you have a passion for film, TV and digital media, then you could do well in this role.
To get started you’ll need writing ability rather than any formal qualifications. You’ll also need to be tough and prepared to deal with criticism. . There is a lot of competition to get screenplays commissioned. It will help if you have good presentation skills so that you can sell your ideas to producers.
As a screenwriter, you might develop your own original ideas to sell to producers. Some producers may commission you to create a screenplay based on an idea or true story. You may be asked to adapt an existing piece such as a novel, play or comic book.
In this role you might:
- come up with themes and ideas
- research background material
- develop believable plots and characters
- lay out the screenplay to an agreed format
- prepare short summaries of your ideas and sell them (known as 'pitching') to producers
- get feedback about the first draft of your work from producers or script editors
- rewrite the script if necessary - you may need to do this several times before arriving at the final agreed version.
You might also spend time networking with agents and producers, and handling your own tax and accounts. You’ll often combine writing with other work such as teaching, lecturing or editing.
Working hours and conditions
Most screenwriters are freelance and self-employed. You’ll usually work from home and arrange your own working hours.
You may be part of a studio-based writing team. You’ll be more likely to work standard office hours in this role.
As well as working from your home or office base, you’ll also need to attend meetings with agents, script editors and producers.
As a freelance writer, you or your agent would negotiate a fee for each piece of work. You might be partly paid in advance. Depending on your contract, you might also receive a percentage of the profits from a feature film.
See the for recommended minimum pay rates for writers in film, TV and theatre.
- writing talent.
When you’re starting out you may find it useful to take a course. A course could help you to develop your skills and understand dramatic structure. Courses are available in:
- creative writing
These are widely available at colleges, adult education centres and universities.
Some screenwriters have degrees or postgraduate qualifications 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.
You’ll normally start by coming up with your own screenplays and ideas, and trying to sell them to agents and producers. Once you have had some work accepted and started to build a professional reputation, producers might then commission you to produce scripts for them.
As a new writer, you could get yourself noticed by entering screenwriting competitions. These competitions are run by broadcasters and regional screen agencies to discover new talent. Contact Creative Skillset Careers for more information.
You can also find advice about submitting your work to the BBC at the BBC Writers Room website.
- BBC (Writers Room)
Training and development
There is no formal training path for screenwriters, your skills will grow with experience.
Joining a writers' organisation could help you develop your skills, as they can offer services such as script feedback, competitions and training, as well as networking opportunities.
As an experienced screenwriter, you could choose to take an MA in screenwriting or a course in film production. Courses are available full-time, part-time and by distance learning from several universities.
You can find more information about screenwriting, and search for industry approved screenwriting and script development training, on the Creative Skillset website.
Skills, interests and qualities
As a screenwriter, you'll need:
- excellent writing ability
- creativity and imagination
- storytelling skills and an understanding of dramatic structure
- self-discipline and motivation
- a willingness to accept criticism and rejection of your work
- an organised approach to meet deadlines
- good presentation and networking skills, for marketing and promoting your work
Creative Skillset (Young creative talent)
Writers' Guild of Great Britain
Tel: 020 7833 0777
BBC Writers Room
You’ll usually work freelance and be paid a fee for each piece accepted for production. You may also need to do other types of work to support yourself. It can be difficult to earn a full-time living from writing.
Some opportunities may be advertised in the trade press and websites. It’s more common to find work by approaching producers yourself, by signing up with a writers’ agent, and through word of mouth.
You can find details of agents from The Writer’s Handbook and The Writers' and Artists' Year Book, which are available in bookshops, libraries and electronic format.
You may also find the following useful for further reading and finding out about opportunities:
Job market information
This section gives you an overview of the job area that this profile belongs to. You can use it to work out your next career move. It can help if you’re looking for a job now or want to do some further training.
The 'Market statistics' charts are based on figures from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The list of job vacancies under 'Apply for jobs' is from the Universal Jobmatch database. The vacancies are not from the National Careers Service.