Become a Screenplay Writer: Career Requirements and Info

Mar 03, 2020

Find out how you can become a screenplay writer. Learn about the educational programs, professional experiences and other steps that can help you start a career in screenplay writing.

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Screenplay Writers

Screenplay writers create plots, characters and dialogue for motion pictures. While some screenplay writers may focus on creating original stories, others may prefer to use their talents to adapt books or plays into film scripts.

Like authors and playwrights, screenplay writers don't have to meet specific academic requirements to find work, but pursuing a bachelor's degree program in a related major will provide them with opportunities to learn from experienced professors and develop a writing process. Regular paychecks are not guaranteed, so new screenplay writers need to network and make connections if they want to get their work into the hands of producers and directors.

Career Skills & Info

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide pay and employment information specifically for screenplay writers, it did report that writers and authors who worked as independent artists, writers, and performers earned an average annual salary of $104,450 in May 2018. Just over 61% were self-employed, and 11% worked in professional, scientific, and technical services in 2018. From 2018 to 2028, writers and authors overall can look for a 0%, or slower-than-average, growth in jobs.

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field Creative writing, film production
Experience No experience necessary; college programs or contests may provide opportunities to get scripts produced
Key Skills Creativity and the ability to communicate a story to an audience are essential; determination, persistence and self-motivation are also necessary
Salary (2018) $104,450 per year (average salary for all writers and authors as independent artists, writers, and performers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

If you're ready to begin a career as a screenplay writer, let's take a look at some of the educational and writing steps that can help you qualify for assignments:

Step 1: Bachelor's Degree

Few schools offer degrees specifically in screenwriting; however, programs in creative writing and film production are available. While creative writing programs will provide students with an opportunity to create stories in various formats, a film production program may include a course or two in screenwriting. Either way, it's important for students to learn about plotting the arc of a story and creating characters.

Success Tip:

  • Read screenplays as well as writing them. In order to understand the elements of pacing, storytelling and dialogue in scripts, it's important to study how screenplays are written. The best way to do that is to read film scripts, which can give you an idea of the formatting involved in creating a screenplay.

Step 2: Writing

The writing process is different for everyone, and it's important for both aspiring and veteran screenplay writers to practice their craft. While some writers may want to brainstorm and create an outline, others will just start writing and let the story develop in their heads.

Success Tip:

  • Develop a writing schedule. Aspiring screenplay writers should create a writing schedule that allows for a certain number of pages or amount of work to be completed every day. Remember, first drafts don't need to be perfect. Writing time can be used for brainstorming ideas or creating multiple drafts.

Step 3: Networking

While having an agent is the best way to get a script read by studio executives, it's hard for beginning screenplay writers to find representation. Some screenwriters may submit their scripts to contests where their work is read and judged; others may attend networking events in New York or Los Angeles that will allow them to meet industry professionals.

Success Tip:

  • Consider making your own short film. With the advent of digital technology, making a short film is one avenue that prospective screenplay writers may want to consider. Creating a short film offers writers the opportunity to demonstrate their scripting abilities and show how their words translate to the screen. They may even get a chance to direct and produce the film themselves.

Just to recap, a bachelor's degree in creative writing or film production and some industry contacts may help you fulfill your dream of becoming a screenplay writer. As of May 2018, writers employed as independent artists, writers, and performers earned an average salary of $104,450 a year.

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