Become a Screenplay Writer: Career Requirements and Info

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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Should I Become a Screenplay Writer?

Screenplay writers create the plot, characters and dialogue in a motion picture. While some screenplay writers may focus their work on creating original stories, others may prefer to use their talents to adapt books or plays into film scripts. Writing is essential to becoming a screenplay writer, but a regular paycheck is not a guarantee, so it is also important for individuals to network and make connections in order to get their work read by producers and directors.

Like authors and playwrights, screenplay writers don't have to meet specific academic requirements to work, but earning at least a bachelor's degree will provide aspiring screenplay writers with an opportunity to learn from experienced professors and develop a writing process.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field Creative writing, film production
Experience No experience necessary, but 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 (2014) $58,850 per year (Median salary for all writers and authors)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Prospective screenplay writers can choose among several programs that will prepare them for a career in the field. Few programs offer degrees specifically in screenwriting; however, individuals can choose between creative writing and film production programs. 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 storytelling 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, and the best way to do that is to read film scripts. Because many of the assignments in creative writing classes may be short stories, poetry or book analyses, it's important to get an idea of the necessary formatting involved in creating a screenplay.

Step 2: Start Writing

The writing process is different for everyone, and it's important that individuals who want to become screenplay writers practice their craft in order to develop their abilities. While some writers may want to brainstorm and create an outline, others will just start writing and let the story develop in their head. Whether it's a writer's first screenplay or the writer is a veteran in the industry, it's essential that writers sit down in front of the computer screen and write.

Success Tip:

  • Develop a writing schedule. Even if the only time available is early in the morning, during lunch or late into the night, 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. Everything does not need to be perfect in the first draft; writing time can be used for writing multiple drafts, rewriting or brainstorming ideas.

Step 3: Network with Industry Professionals

Once a screenplay is completed, it needs to get in the hands of producers and directors. 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. While beginning screenplay writers may have to direct and produce the films as well, creating a short film does offer writers the opportunity to demonstrate their writing abilities and show how their words translate to the screen.
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