Screenwriters write, develop and produce screenplays for feature-length films, television shows, short films, commercials and videos. Working as a screenwriter can be a highly fulfilling career path for creatives interested in narrative storytelling and reaching a large audience with their work. If you're thinking of pursuing a career as a screenwriter, it may be helpful for you to review more information about this profession. In this article, we answer various frequently asked questions about screenwriting, including how much a screenwriter makes, what these professionals do and the skills they need to succeed.
Related: How To Become a Screenwriter
How much does a screenwriter make?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the national average salary for writers and authors, a career path that encompasses screenwriters, is $67,120 per year. With this, a screenwriter's salary figure may fluctuate depending on multiple factors, including their level of experience, what type of screenplays they write and how successful they are in selling their work. For instance, a screenwriter who has a high level of experience, a strong portfolio of past work and is well-known may be able to sell their screenplays more effectively than a writer with less experience or notoriety in the field.
The amount of money a screenwriter makes from selling their work may depend on current market trends and rates. For example, if a screenwriter produces feature-length or television screenplays that are appealing to a large audience, they may be able to sell their work at a higher rate. Comparatively, those screenwriters who write shorter or more abstract screenplays may sell their work at a lower rate and settle for lower budgets when producing their work. With these variations in compensation—and the fact that screenwriters' salaries may vary from year to year—prospective screenwriters may experience pay inconsistencies.
What is the job outlook for screenwriters?
The BLS projects that between 2020 and 2030, the employment of writers and authors may increase by 9%, a growth rate that is as fast as the average for all occupations. This increase in employment may result in the addition of 12,200 jobs in the field.
The BLS attributes the field's growth to the ongoing shift toward online media and communications, which has increased the number of film materials available to consumers through their personal devices. With this, there's been an increasing demand for feature-length films, television shows, short films and videos accessible through streaming platforms, and more screenwriters may be able to sell their screenplays to fulfill this content need.
What does a screenwriter do?
Screenwriters draft, develop and produce screenplays for film media such as movies, television, short films, commercials and videos. These professionals are typically responsible for writing a plotline, creating characters and building dialogue that tells a compelling story. They often write screenplays with particular audiences in mind and tailor their work toward generating an audience's interest.
The day-to-day duties of screenwriters may depend on a variety of factors, including the type of work they create and their writing preferences. For instance, screenwriters may specialize their writing within a specific genre of film depending on their professional interests, including comedy, horror, science fiction, romance or drama. Some screenwriters generate original material or write about real-life events while others create scripts adapted from other media, such as books or plays. With these situational factors in mind, here are a few examples of duties that most screenwriters assume as a part of their role:
- Research and establish ideas for screenplays
- Develop a treatment for screenplays
- Write or adapt a narrative for a film, television or commercial script
- Build various components into the narrative, including dialogue
- Integrate directions for visual elements like lighting and camera angles into screenplays
- Pitch screenplays to film executives and other stakeholders
- Work alongside producers and directors to execute scripts
- Market their work toward an audience
What skills do effective screenwriters have?
There are a variety of skills that can benefit screenwriters in their careers. Here are a few examples of skills you can focus on developing to succeed as a screenwriter:
Communication: As a screenwriter, you're typically responsible for drafting long-form narratives that consist of various elements and communicate complex ideas to a wide audience. Therefore, having strong communication skills as a screenwriter can make a significant difference in your ability to work effectively.
Creativity: Screenwriters draft original content for films, television, commercials and videos, and therefore these professionals are commonly highly creative and capable of producing unique work. Being innovative can allow screenwriters to come up with a distinct angle and generate interest in their work.
Observational: It's common for screenwriters to base their characters, narratives and dialogue on real-life experiences. Therefore, as a screenwriter, it can be beneficial to have keen observational skills that allow you to gain a deep understanding of events, people and places.
Collaboration: Screenwriters typically work alongside a wide variety of other professionals, like directors, producers, actors and filmmakers, to develop their screenplays. Being able to work interpersonally and collaborate as a part of a team while working on large-scale projects can help screenwriters cultivate success.
Business: To sell screenplays, screenwriters often need to pitch their work to film executives and other stakeholders like producers. Having strong business skills can help these professionals generate interest in their work and secure higher-paying contracts.
How can screenwriters successfully sell a screenplay?
Selling a screenplay as an entry-level screenwriter can be a challenging task. Despite this, here are a few tips to consider to increase your chances of successfully selling a screenplay:
Build a network: Network with other professionals in the film industry to make valuable connections and find opportunities to collaborate.
Hone your business skills: Develop business acumen to become more effective in pitching your screenplays to film executives and marketing your work.
Think creatively: Find a unique angle when writing a screenplay that can generate interest in your work and demonstrate your ability to be innovative.
Appeal to your audience: Produce high-quality work that has the potential to captivate audiences and offer perspective on relatable experiences.