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Screenwriter

  • Hours

    Variable

  • Starting salary

    Variable



 

The work

Screenwriters create ideas and bring stories to life in scripts for feature films, TV comedy and drama, animation, children's programmes and computer games.

As a screenwriter, you might develop your own original ideas and sell them to producers. Alternatively, producers may commission you to create a screenplay from an idea or true story, or to adapt an existing piece such as a novel, play or comic book.

Your work would typically involve:

  • coming up with themes and ideas
  • researching background material
  • developing believable plots and characters
  • laying out the screenplay to an agreed format
  • preparing short summaries of your ideas and selling (known as 'pitching') them to producers or development executives
  • getting feedback about the first draft of your work from producers or script editors
  • rewriting 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 would often combine writing with other work such as teaching, lecturing or editing.


Hours

As a home-based freelance writer you would arrange your own working hours. If you were part of a studio-based writing team, you would be more likely to work standard office hours. In either case you would often have strict deadlines to meet.

As well as working from your home or office base, you would also need to attend occasional meetings with agents, script editors and producers.


Income

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 Writers' Guild of Great Britain website for recommended minimum pay rates for writers in film, TV and theatre.


Entry requirements

You will need imagination, writing talent and creativity rather than formal qualifications. However, when starting out you may find it useful to take a course that helps you develop your skills and understand dramatic structure.

Courses in creative writing and scriptwriting for all levels from beginner to advanced 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 would 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, which broadcasters and regional screen agencies sometimes hold 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 (Opens new window) – Writers' Room

Training and development

Although there is no formal training path for screenwriters, your skills will grow with experience.

Joining a writers' organisation could help you develop, as they can offer services such as script feedback, competitions, training and networking opportunities. Organisations include Euroscript and The Script Factory. Follow the links below to find out more about these organisations:

As an experienced screenwriter, you could choose to take an MA in Screenwriting. MAs are available full-time, part-time and by distance learning from several universities around the country.

You can search Creative Skillset’s website for industry approved screenwriting and script development training at all levels. Skillset can also advise you about funding your training as a freelance writer and any creative talent development training schemes which might be of interest.


Skills, interests and qualities

  • excellent writing ability
  • creativity and imagination
  • storytelling skills and an understanding of dramatic structure
  • self-discipline and motivation
  • willingness to accept criticism and rejection of your work
  • an organised approach to work, for meeting deadlines
  • good presentation and networking skills, for marketing and promoting your work.

More information

Creative Skillset (Opens new window)
Focus Point
21 Caledonian Road
London
N1 9GB
www.creativeskillset.org

Creative Skillset Careers (Opens new window)
Tel: 08080 300 900 (England and Northern Ireland)
Tel: 0845 850 2502(Scotland)
Tel: 08000 121 815 (Wales)
www.creativeskillset.org/careers

The Script Factory (Opens new window)
Welbeck House
66/67 Wells Street
London
W1T 3PY
Tel: 020 7323 1414
www.scriptfactory.co.uk

Writers Guild of Great Britain (Opens new window)
49 Roseberry Avenue
London
EC1R 4RX
Tel: 020 7833 0777
www.writersguild.org.uk

BBC Writers Room (Opens new window)
www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom


 

Opportunities

You would normally 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, as relatively few screenwriters earn a full-time living from writing.

Some opportunities may be advertised in the trade press and websites, but it is most 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 and libraries.

You may also find the following useful for further reading and finding out about opportunities (links open in new window):

Job profiles are based on the latest information supplied to us by industry bodies, such as Sector Skills Councils. Please be aware that with the introduction of the Qualifications and Credit Framework (Opens in a new window) there has been, and will continue to be, changes to vocational qualifications. For more information, please check with industry bodies directly.

We do not accept responsibility for the content of external sites.


 

Related industry information

Industry summary

The film industry is part of the creative industries, which is represented by Creative Skillset. This includes: advertising; animation; computer games; corporate and commercial production; fashion and textiles; film; interactive media; photo imaging; publishing; radio; and television.

The UK industry is an independent creator of feature films, a co‐production partner and a provider of services to the international film industry. It is an industry made up of a small number of large companies and a very large number of smaller companies, which have an occupationally diverse and highly skilled workforce characterised.

Key facts:

  • Around 27,800 people are estimated to work in the film industry, which is 5%of the creative industries workforce.
  • 62% of the workforce is in cinema exhibition, 34% in film production and 4% work in film distribution.
  • There are around 400 permanent companies in the film industry, but this can fluctuate depending on the number of productions that are being worked on. (production companies form for a particular production then close when completed)
  • 43% of companies are production, 13% are distributors and 44% are cinema exhibition companies.
  • In 2006, the UK film industry contributed £4.3 billion to the UK economy.

Jobs in the industry include: Production Accountant, Art Director, Production Designer, Director of Photography, Camera Operator, Grip, Casting Assistant, Catering Crew, Plasterer, Carpenter, Stagehand, Costume Assistant, Director, Publicist, Editor, Make‐up Artist, Unit Nurse, Best Boy, Location Manager, Composer, Actor, Re‐recording Mixer, Foley Editor, Boom Operator, Production Manager, Runner, Screen writer.


National and regional data

The largest number of employees in film is located in:

  • London
  • South East
  • Scotland

With access to resources and support from EM Media, the East Midlands have produced some successful writers, directors and companies. Threshold Studios, based in Northampton, have produced films for the First Light young filmmakers scheme and with Warp Films on the Creative Skillset‐funded Darklight women directors project. Nottingham's Spool Films/Confetti Institute also supports emerging film and digital content talent. The Media Archive for Central England (MACE) and the Bang Short Film Festival are also hosted in the region. Around 100 people in the film industry live in the region.

Warner Bros, Parallax East and the Content Providers are located in the East of England. The region also has a range of multiplex and commercial independent cinemas. Screen East invests in projects that aim to increase audiences in rural and urban areas of the region that are underserved by cinemas. The region is particularly strong on organisations focusing on archive work. Around 100 people in the film industry live in the region.

London's film industry alone has a turnover of around £13 billion a year, it is the largest post‐production centre outside of Hollywood and of the top 15 grossing films of the last decade, five were made in and around London. Around 5,700 people who work in production live in London.

The North East is home to several established independent film and TV production companies, such as Costal Productions and Ipso Facto Films, as well as new companies, such as Standing Stone. There are three international film festivals in North East England: AV, Northern Lights and Animex.

In the North West, Merseyside markets itself as having the most significant film industry outside London and North West Vision and Media reported that 2006 was the busiest year to date for filming in the region. Around 300 people in the film industry live in the region.

Over 1,700 people working in film production crews live in the South East, with 2,000 performers. Others working in Facilities provide services for film, with 5,700 employed in the sub‐sectors of post‐production, studio and equipment hire, special effects, outside broadcast, processing laboratories, transmission, manufacture of AV equipment and other services for film and TV. A number of high‐end film and documentary companies exist in the region, including Spice Factory and Seventh Arts. Pinewood Studios is Europe's largest film and television studio facility, providing a work base at full capacity for some 3,000 people working in production and facilities.

Much location filming is undertaken in the South West and a number of film festivals take place in the region each year, including Wildscreen, Encounters, the Cornwall Film Festival and the Cheltenham Screenwriters Festival. Around 600 people in the film industry live in the region.

Film production in the West Midlands is limited to a small number of independent organisations, but there are no distribution companies. Screen West Midlands offer a range of support for emerging film talent and also invest in productions through the Film and Media Production Fund. There are 46 cinemas in the region, including multiplexs, an IMAX and a number of smaller independent and art cinemas. In Birmingham, Star City, the UK's largest multiplex with 30 screens, specialises in Asian cinema. Around 100 people in the film industry live in the region.

Yorkshire and the Humber have a strong independent film sector around Leeds and Sheffield and is home to the nationally recognised Warp Films and Warp X. The UK's premiere documentary festival, Doc/Fest, is based in Sheffield. Bradford is home to major film and animation festivals and Leeds offers international children's film festivals. The Yorkshire Film Archive is one of the UK's most successful and progressive, having recently won major funding to start digitising its archive content. Over 100 people in the film industry live in the region.

Around 300 people in the film industry live in Northern Ireland and 600 in Scotland.

During 2007‐08, over 90 productions were shot in Wales, bringing in an expenditure of approximately £31.9 million. The £7million Wales Creative IP Fund has been a major boost to film production in Wales, financing feature film productions like the Edge of Love.


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