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What does a screenwriter do?

Screenwriters write and develop screenplays for film or TV drama. They do this either based on an original idea, by adapting an existing story into a screenplay or by joining an existing project (TV).

Screenwriters prepare their script in a way that enables readers to envisage the setting, emotion and the way it will work on screen. They collaborate with producers, directors and actors to draft and redraft their script, often working to tight deadlines.

Screenwriters are almost always freelancers. In film, initially, screenwriters develop roughly three drafts of a screenplay, with the third being known as ‘the polish’. This is the version that gets pitched to a producer or film studio. Alternatively, a screenwriter may be commissioned by a producer or studio to create a screenplay. Once a screenplay is picked up by a studio, more screenwriters may be brought in to work with a development producer to get it ready for production. In this case, any new screenwriter may share a credit with the original screenwriter, or they may be credited for additional dialogue, or as a story consultant. In some cases, the original screenwriter may be replaced entirely by another screenwriter.

The way a screenwriter is credited in a film can determine their future payments based on exploitation (home releases) of the film.

What’s a screenwriter good at?

  • Knowledge of screenwriting: understand all the features of a great screenplay, know how to improve and amend one
  • Creativity: write well and innovatively, express your ideas effectively in screenplay-form
  • Arts knowledge: have a deep and wide knowledge of all genres of art, so as to be able to source ideas from a range of sources and understand the cultural context
  • Watching film and TV drama: have a passion for the genre and a love of the industry
  • Freelancing: find work opportunities for yourself and manage your finances, be self-motivated

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