Screenwriter: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for screenwriters. Get the facts about education and skill requirements, job duties, and salary information to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Script and Screenwriting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Screenwriter?

Screenwriters help create written scripts for television shows and movies. Depending on their area of interest in the field, they may write TV episodes, documentaries, full-length movies or advertisements. They typically work closely with directors, editors and production professionals in order to bring their ideas to life on-screen. While some screenwriters have ongoing jobs, such as writing for a weekly television show, others work on a freelance basis.

The following chart gives you an overview about entering this field.

Degree Required None required, but bachelor's and master's degrees are helpful
Skills Required Writing skills, imagination, knowledge of language, knowledge of the filming process
Job Duties Collaborate with directors and producers, transform ideas into written scripts, work with a team of writers, adapt scripts to fit colleagues' visions
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 2% (for all writers and authors)*
Median Salary (2015) $60,250 (for all writers and authors)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Screenwriter Do?

Screenwriters work with directors and producers to transform a story idea into a screenplay for a movie or a script for television. You must be able to work as a team and adapt scripts to fit the director's and producer's vision. Before filming, you would write a 'shooting script' that includes directions for the camera and lighting. Whereas a screenwriter for a film is finished working when filming begins, a screenwriter for television must continue developing episodes throughout the season.

What Should I Study?

You might attend a Bachelor of Fine Arts program in screenwriting to learn how to tell a story with convincing characters. You would draft scripts for film, television and new media. Possible coursework includes sequential art writing, film production, scene writing, new media, comedy writing and the business of screenwriting.

You might follow your undergraduate schooling with a 2-year master's degree program in screenwriting, during which you might use writing workshops to exercise your ability to write characters, dialogue, scenes and settings. Such a program would encourage you to explore your individual style through writing stories and characters. You would practice writing short and feature-length films, television shows and mini-series. You would also have opportunities to work with other students to produce your screenplays and scripts.

How Do I Begin Working as a Screenwriter?

During your degree program, you could gain experience through industry internships at studios, production companies and agencies. You might start out working as a freelance writer or editor. Many feature film writers have years of experience in freelancing. You could also begin your career as a copywriter for an advertising agency or write for an educational film agency, corporate film divisions or for government audiovisual departments. These jobs would provide you with basic training and some job security.

Talent and imagination are necessary to develop your screenwriting career. You need skills in writing, film language and knowledge of the filming process. You must be able to work independently and accept criticism.

What Might I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, writers and authors earned a median annual wage of $60,250 as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov). Those working in radio and television broadcasting earned an average of $59,920 that year. In this field, your income typically increases as your experience and reputation as a screenwriter grows.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are a variety of other options for individuals who want to work as writers. For instance, individuals may write content for newspapers, magazines, radio broadcasts, advertising agencies or internet blogs, on either an ongoing or freelance basis. As with screenwriting, it can help to have a bachelor's degree when looking for one of these jobs. Alternatively, individuals who are looking to stay in the film industry may find jobs as directors or producers. These professionals have usually studied film at the bachelor's or master's degree levels, and they often have previous work experience in the field.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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