Screenwriting involves writing and developing scripts for entertainment media – such as films, TV drama, or video games. So if you have a passion for film and a flair for writing, then a role as a screenwriter could be for you.
As a highly competitive industry, many people feel hesitant about giving it go, but the good news is that anyone can get involved with screenwriting – either as a career or a hobby. It’s a great way to get creative, share your work with others, and enjoy the process of developing a project from scratch.
So, whether you have experience in scriptwriting and are considering a career change, or you’re a complete novice wanting to try something new, here are nine key steps needed to become a screenwriter.
What does being a screenwriter involve?
When we watch films, it’s often the producers, directors, actors, and actresses who get all of the recognition.
But none of their work would be possible without screenwriters, whose fundamental role is to write and develop scripts for entertainment media such as feature films, short films, TV drama, and video games.
Screenwriters create everything from the dialogue and characters, to the plot of a script. They either do this by adapting an existing story into a screenplay or joining an existing project, or by coming up with an original idea.
Many screenwriters start by working on a freelance basis – writing ‘spec’ (speculative) screenplays. Spec screenplays are those that a screenwriter hasn’t been paid to do, but that they write for free with the intention of selling it later, or using it as a sample to secure other screenwriting jobs.
What skills do you need to become a screenwriter?
Alongside writing, language skills, and an ability to engage your audience, screenwriting requires plenty of creativity, imagination, motivation, and resilience.
Before taking it on as a career or hobby, it’s also worth considering how passionate you are about the role and whether or not you’re prepared to dedicate sufficient time to it. This is because screenwriters can spend anywhere from a few hours, to weeks, months and even years perfecting their craft.
9 steps to becoming a screenwriter
1. Decide on a story idea
In order to get started with screenwriting, you’ll need to have a compelling story to tell.
It can be hard to know where to start, but often, the most helpful thing to do is to try and keep things simple. When you think about it, ideas for stories are everywhere. For example, you could use your own experiences, stories you’ve heard from others, or even things you’ve read in the news for inspiration.
Taking enough time to reflect on what you might like to write about can help to ensure that your story is exciting – so try not to rush. After all, screenwriting is a competitive market, so it’s important to do what you can to make your story stand out.
If you’re stuck for ideas, these three powerful ways to brainstorm new story ideas from Well Storied might inspire you.
2. Piece your story together
Once you’ve decided on an idea for your screenplay, the next step is to think about the storyline. This includes the title, plot, characters, dialogue, and perhaps even a plot twist…
If you’re lacking inspiration or are unsure where to start, try not to be put off – the internet has a whole host of useful knowledge to help you out. Carrying out thorough research can play an important role in writing your screenplay, so it’s worth dedicating sufficient time to learning more about how to piece a story together
It’s important to get the title of your screenplay right, as this can intrigue readers and help your story stand out. You could always start by writing a ‘working title’ and deciding on the final title once you’ve given it enough thought – even if that’s after you’ve actually finished the screenplay.
Industrial Scripts has lots of useful pointers on how to start brainstorming ideas for a title, as well as tips on how to develop characters and move your story forward. And for advice on how to develop your story outline, check out these 10 useful techniques to write a screenplay from Freelance Writing.
There are also a range of useful video interviews available to watch on YouTube where experts like Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg offer their advice about the screenwriting process.
Or, if you’re keen to expand your knowledge further or would like extra guidance, you might want to consider taking a screenwriting course, in person or online. BBC Maestro, for example, is worth looking into, as is the BFI Screenwriting section, and Screenwriters University. These courses can help to teach you how to write a screenplay, even if you’re a complete beginner.
Another option is to try putting some time aside to read screenplays – especially those in the same genre as yours – for more inspiration. This can also help you become more familiar with the standard format you’ll be expected to write your screenplay in. Why not check out this list of 50 best screenplays to read in every genre to help you get started?
3. Start writing your story
Once you’re ready to start writing, it’s worth familiarising yourself with the standard industry format, which involves certain guidelines. For example, in the correct industry format, all screenplays are expected to be single spaced and written in a set font and size.
There are numerous recognised screenwriting softwares available that can make this easier – one of the most popular being Final Draft. Final Draft is simple to use, offers free trials, and has a wealth of useful features and tips to help you set up your screenplay correctly.
When it comes to the length of your screenplay, most writers find that somewhere between 90-105 pages is a good aim. Following standard industry format rules, this usually works out as a page-per-minute of screen time. However, it’s a good idea to be prepared for the possibility that some scenes may be cut by producers and/or directors during production.
To help you stay on track with writing, it can be useful to set yourself a realistic deadline for when you hope to finish your screenplay, depending on how many hours a week you intend to write.
If screenwriting will be your full-time job, then you might like to dedicate a fixed number of hours a dayto writing. You could even consider sticking to the timings of a regular 9-to-5 job to make sure you maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Alternatively, if you’re screenwriting part-time, you could dedicate time during the evening and/or weekends. Creating a schedule, time-blocking, and setting deadlines to work towards can provide structure and help you to reach your goals.
In either case, since most screenwriters will need to write a few drafts before finalising their script, it’s worth factoring in some extra time too.
When you’ve finished writing your screenplay, it can help to get a second or third opinion on it – for example, from trusted friends, family, or any people you know in the screenwriting industry.
Or, if you’re after more detailed feedback, consider sending your work to screenplay reviewers. For a fee, they’ll evaluate your work and provide a detailed script report suggesting points for improvement. Screencraft has a list of top five screenplay coverage services where you could send your work.
4. Copyrighting your screenplay
While The Writers Guild of Great Britain states that writers automatically have the copyright to their screenplays, many people like to take steps to protect their work before sending it out to any industry professionals.
For example, officially registering your screenplay with internationally recognised organisations like The Writers Guild of America allows you to include a registration number on the cover of your screenplay. This essentially works as an official rubber stamp whilst protecting you from copyright issues.
5. Sending your screenplay to competitions and open submissions
A good way to gain screenwriting experience and get your work out there is to submit it to open competitions.
BBC Writers Room’s Open Call, for example, accepts original scripts at certain times during the year. While competitive, it’s worth a try as once scripts are assessed, a shortlist of writers is drawn up who may be offered exciting skill development opportunities.
BBC Writers Room also has various other initiatives and external opportunities advertised, so it’s worth checking their website regularly.
In addition, since film is an international industry, there are also competitions and opportunities outside of the UK that you could consider.
For example, The Black List is an online community for screenwriters and producers where, for a fee, you can access useful services. These include being able to register your screenplay to make it available for producers all over the world to read, and a script reading service where you can have your screenplay evaluated by in-house experts.
Other opportunities can be found on websites like Coverfly and Screencraft, which list various international competitions to get involved with. You can also find screenwriting jobs and calls for specific scripts by production companies on Screenwriting Staffing. However, it’s important to note that most of these websites require a subscription fee for full access to information and opportunities.
6. Finding a screenwriting agent
A screenwriting agent is someone who exclusively represents you as a writer. Screenwriting agents have established links with producers and production companies and, for usually between 10-15% commission, can help you secure deals and opportunities that may otherwise not be available.
They’ll also be able to help you through all the screenplay legalities of option agreements and contracts with producers and production companies. You can find out more about screenwriting agents on the Writers and Artists website.
Whether or not you decide to have an agent is completely up to you, but they can save you a lot of time and help get your screenplay noticed. For example, most production companies don’t accept unsolicited scripts, but because agents are trusted by producers, screenplays sent by them are seriously considered.
Due to high competition, finding an agent can sometimes be tricky and a little time-consuming. A good place to start is to spend time identifying agents that represent your genre, such as drama or sci-fi. Writers Services has a directory of literary agents that represent screenwriters that you might find useful.
Some agents won’t accept unsolicited screenplays, while others will. However, almost all reputable agents will have their submission guidelines on their websites so, if in any doubt, it’s worth sending an enquiry email or call first. Alternatively, Writing Tips Oasis has a list of literary agents accepting submissions via email.
7. Sending your work directly to producers and production companies
Although producers and production companies have their strong ties with agents and managers, a few are open to screenplays being sent to them directly.
While this is rare, it’s not unheard of. However, to avoid disappointment, it’s worth spending some time researching producers and production companies that produce your genre and who allow email submissions.
You can find a list of production companies open to receiving screenplays directly from writers on The Screenwriters Market website.
Alternatively, if you’ve identified a producer that you’d like to reach out to but don’t have their contact details, you may find subscribing to IMDbPro useful. There’s a subscription fee, but you can usually get a one month free trial. Here you can usually find the contact details of producers – including company address, telephone numbers, and email addresses.
8. Taking steps to expand your network in the screenwriting industry
As with any career, in order to increase your opportunities, it’s useful to network and build contacts across the film industry.
There may also be a film club near you – for example at a local university or community centre – where film enthusiasts and industry professionals get together. Film clubs can offer everything from monthly film screenings to hands-on filmmaking experience opportunities.
In addition, there are plenty of online resources that can provide a wealth of industry tips and information to help you on your screenwriting journey, such as Raindance and Bafta. Bafta Guru and Bafta Support also provide more information, including how people have made it in the industry, and any local support available to you.
Or, if you’re unable to attend events in person or would prefer to start a bit smaller, you could consider networking online. With a little research, you may find genre-specific film events on social media platforms like Facebook. This article, 5 keys of networking online for screenwriters, from Coverfly has some useful tips to get you started.
9. You may want to try making your own film
Nowadays, with high-quality smartphones and easy editing software, it’s very possible to go at making your own film. Not only can dramatically help to cut costs, but it’ll allow you to unleash your creative side too.
YouTube is full of useful tips on how to film using your smartphone and there are numerous free editing softwares available, such as Lightworks and Adobe Premiere Rush. Shopify also has a list of free video editing software available on their website.
Then, when it comes to actors and actresses for your films, you could always ask your family and friends to help out.
For more guidance on how to make a short film yourself, have a watch of the YouTube video below.
Alternatively, organisations like iFeatures, which is the UK’s leading development lab for debut feature filmmakers, can help you make a start on creating your first feature film by providing funding and industry support. iFeatures is open to anyone who is interested in making a film, regardless of experience.
Film London also has schemes designed to help first-time filmmakers launch their career. For example, their Microwave initiative supports innovative filmmakers and helps them to find ways of making films using a very small budget. In addition, the BFI Lottery Fund offers a range of film courses and events for adults, which you can browse here.
Otherwise, there are many regional film offices and initiatives all over the UK, so you could try finding your local one to see how they could help you. This list of regional film offices and initiatives from the British Film Commission includes information about funding opportunities for your low budget film production.
As with any skill, your writing style and understanding of the screenwriting industry will improve over time – so it’s important to keep at it.
Whether you decide to take it up as a profession or a hobby, screenwriting is a great opportunity to get creative and try something new. And the exciting thing is, you never know where it could take you.
For more career ideas and inspiration, why not visit the job ideas section of our website?
What are your experiences of screenwriting? Is screenwriting something you’d like to try? We’d love to hear from you. Join the conversation on the Rest Less community forum or leave a comment below.