Writing for film and television is the dream of many who congregate here, but I don't think we all understand the role of a writer in film and TV. You have to be a problem solver, an Imagineer, a peacekeeper, a collaborator, a compromise, and lots of other things.
So today I wanted to spend some time actually dissecting what it means to be a screenwriter in Hollywood. We'll look at the definition of the job, a description of the duties, and genuinely search for the answer to "What does a writer do?"
If that sounds like your cup of tea, sit back, relax, and let's dig into one of the most fun, stressful, and hard-to-get jobs in the world.
What Is a Screenwriter and What Do They Do?
While this sounds like an ethereal task, I figured we were better off sticking to a straight definition right off the bat. In order to define "screenwriter," we have to look at every aspect of the job.
A screenwriter is someone who works within the craft of writing for entertainment media such as films, television series, video games, and web series.
Their job is to create or adapt stories into the various mediums.
Scriptwriter or Screenwriter?
Screenwriters are also called scriptwriters, scenarists, or script writers. In terms of a preferred nomenclature, I think going with "screenwriter" is always best.
When in doubt, just say "writer."
What Does a Screenplay Do?
A screenplay is written by the writer, and provides a blueprint for the movie, TV show, web series, or video game that will be produced.
Screenwriter Job Description
But there's so much more.
A script writer will create their own stories to sell, and that's called speccing. They're also brought on to work on stories studios own that need help, and that's called rewriting or script doctoring.
In television, screenwriters can be a part of a writers' room, which has various levels of people on the staff who fulfill different roles, and a showrunner who leads the room and helps write while also making business decisions.
Above all else, you will also deal with many intangibles from day to day. You also need to collaborate with producers, directors, actors, and the studio to make sure you hit the beats they want. You also need to be a peacekeeper. You hear the notes and make sure no one gets upset as you problem-solve the story you've laid out, or that someone else has and you're working on now.
But What Does a Screenwriter Do?
You mean aside from sitting and writing?
On TV sets, they'll be there during shooting to answer character questions from actors. The same goes for movies. They'll help problem solve by adding story details or adjusting dialogue.
Script writers do so many jobs. They are not confined to just telling stories, but also they could work in a big room just helping directors break worlds or writing backstories for TV documents.
There are lots of things your day will consist of—writing, breaking story, going to set, talking to tech advisors, rewriting, and more. The role of a writer in film and TV is always changing, with more and more responsibilities always being added.
But in order to get to the start of your screenwriting career you must do the most important thing... finish a great script.
So stop reading and get writing!
What's next? Get our free screenwriting eBook!
So much of what we're talking about on No Film School when it comes to screenwriting is summarized in our new eBook. It also helps guide you through a 10-week writing plan that will get your script actually finished.