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A screenplay writer (also called screenwriter for short), scriptwriter or scenarist, is a
writer A writer is a person who uses writing, written words in different styles and techniques to communicate ideas. Writers produce different forms of literary art and creative writing such as novels, short stories, books, poetry, travelogues, plays ...

writer
who practices the craft of
screenwriting Screenwriting or scriptwriting is the art and craft of writing scripts Script may refer to: Writing systems * Script, a distinctive writing system A writing system is a method of visually representing verbal communication Communicatio ...
, writing
screenplay A screenplay, or script, is a written work by screenwriter A screenplay writer (also called screenwriter for short), scriptwriter or scenarist, is a writer A writer is a person who uses written words in different styles and technique ...
s on which mass media, such as films, television programs and video games, are based.


Terminology

In the
silent era A silent film is a film A film, also called a movie, motion picture or moving picture, is a work of visual art The visual arts are art forms such as painting Painting is the practice of applying paint Paint is any pig ...
, writers now considered screenwriters were denoted by terms such as photoplaywright, photoplay writer, photoplay dramatist and screen-playwright.Steven Maras. ''Screenwriting: History, Theory and Practice.'' Wallflower Press, 2009. pp. 82-85. Screenwriting historian Steven Maras notes that these early writers were often understood as being the authors of the films as shown, and argues that they cannot be precisely equated with present-day screenwriters because they were responsible for a technical product, a brief "
scenario In the performing arts The performing arts are arts such as music, dance, and drama which are performed for an audience. It is different from visual arts The visual arts are art forms such as painting Painting is the practice of ap ...
", "treatment" or "synopsis" that is a written synopsis of what is to be filmed.


Profession

Screenwriting is a freelance profession. No education is required to be a professional screenwriter, just good
storytelling Storytelling describes the social and cultural activity of sharing stories, sometimes with improvisation Improvisation is the activity of making or doing something not planned beforehand, using whatever can be found. Improvisation in the ...

storytelling
abilities and
imagination Imagination is the ability to produce and simulate novel objects, sensations, and ideas in the mind The mind is the set of faculties responsible for mental Phenomenon, phenomena. Often the term is also identified with the phenomena themselves. ...

imagination
. Screenwriters are not hired employees but contracted freelancers. Most, if not all, screenwriters start their careers writing on speculation (spec) and so write without being hired or paid for it. If such a script is sold, it is called a
spec script A spec script, also known as a speculative screenplay, is a non-commissioned and unsolicited screenplay A screenplay, or script, is a written work by screenwriter A screenplay writer (also called screenwriter for short), scriptwriter or sc ...
. What separates a professional screenwriter from an amateur screenwriter is that professional screenwriters are usually represented by a
talent agency Talent has two principal meanings: * Talent (measurement), an ancient unit of mass and value * Talent (skill), a group of aptitudes useful for some activities; talents may refer to aptitudes themselves or to possessors of those talents Talent may a ...
. Also, professional screenwriters do not often work for free, but amateur screenwriters will often work for free and are considered "writers in training." Spec scripts are usually penned by unknown professional screenwriters and amateur screenwriters. There are a legion of would-be screenwriters who attempt to enter the
film industry The film industry or motion picture industry comprises the technological and commercial institutions of filmmaking Filmmaking (film production) is the process by which a is . Filmmaking involves a number of complex and discrete stages, sta ...
, but it often takes years of trial-and-error, failure, and gritty persistence to achieve success. In ''Writing Screenplays that Sell'', Michael Hague writes, "Screenplays have become, for the last half of he twentiethcentury, what the
Great American Novel The Great American Novel (GAN) is a Western Canon, canonical novel that is thought to embody the essence of The United States, America, generally written by an American literature, American and dealing in some way with the question of America's ...
was for the first half. Closet writers who used to dream of the glory of getting into print now dream of seeing their story on the big or small screen."


Film industry

Every screenplay and teleplay begins with a thought or idea, and screenwriters use their ideas to write scripts, with the intention of selling them and having them produced. In some cases, the script is based on an existing property, such as a book or person's life story, which is adapted by the screenwriter. The majority of the time, a film project gets initiated by a screenwriter. The initiator of the project gets the exclusive writing assignment. They are referred to as "exclusive" assignments or "pitched" assignments. Screenwriters who often pitch new projects, whether original or an adaptation, often do not have to worry about competing for assignments and are often more successful. When word is put out about a project a
film studio A film studio (also known as movie studio or simply studio) is a major entertainment company or motion picture company that has its own privately owned studio A studio is an artist An artist is a person engaged in an activity related to cr ...
,
production company A production company, production house, production studio, or a production team is a business that provides the physical basis for works in the fields of performing arts, new media art, film, television show, television, radio, comics, interactive ...
, or producer wants done, they are referred to as "open" assignments. Open assignments are more competitive. If screenwriters are competing for an open assignment, more-established writers usually win the assignments. A screenwriter can also be approached and personally offered a writing assignment.


Script doctoring

Many screenwriters also work as full or part-time
script doctor A script doctor is a writer or playwright hired by a film A film, also called a movie, motion picture or moving picture, is a work of used to simulate experiences that communicate ideas, stories, perceptions, feelings, beauty, or atmos ...
s, attempting to better a script to suit the desires of a director or
studio A studio is an artist An artist is a person engaged in an activity related to creating art Art is a diverse range of (products of) human activities involving creative imagination to express technical proficiency, beauty, emotional pow ...
. For instance, studio management may have a complaint that the motivations of the characters are unclear or that the dialogue is weak. Script-doctoring can be quite lucrative, especially for the better-known writers.
David Mamet David Alan Mamet (; born November 30, 1947) is an American playwright, film maker, and author. He won a Pulitzer Prize#REDIRECT Pulitzer Prize The Pulitzer Prize () is an award for achievements in newspaper, magazine and online journalism, li ...
and
John Sayles John Thomas Sayles (born September 28, 1950) is an American independent film An independent film, independent movie, indie film, or indie movie is a feature film A feature film, or feature-length film, is a narrative film (motion picture or ...

John Sayles
, for instance, fund the movies that they direct themselves, usually from their own screenplays, by writing and doctoring scripts for others. In fact, some writers make very profitable careers out of being the ninth or tenth writer to work on a piece, and they often work on projects that never see exposure to an audience of any size. Many up-and-coming screenwriters also
ghostwrite A ghostwriter is hired to write literary Literature broadly is any collection of written work, but it is also used more narrowly for writings specifically considered to be an art form, especially prose fiction, drama Drama is the s ...
projects and allow more-established screenwriters to take public credit for the project to increase the chances of it getting picked up. Hollywood has shifted writers onto and off projects since its earliest days, and the assignment of credits is not always straightforward or complete, which poses a problem for film study. In his book ''Talking Pictures'',
Richard Corliss Richard Nelson Corliss (March 6, 1944 – April 23, 2015) was an American film critic and magazine editor for ''Time (magazine), Time''. He focused on movies, with occasional articles on other subjects. He was the former editor-in-chief of ...

Richard Corliss
discussed the historian's dilemma: "A writer may be given screen credit for work he didn't do (as with
Sidney Buchman Sidney Robert Buchman (March 27, 1902 – August 23, 1975) was an American screenwriter and producer who worked on about 40 film A film, also called a movie, motion picture or moving picture, is a work of visual art used to simulate ex ...
on ''
Holiday A holiday is a day set aside by Norm (social), custom or by law on which normal activities, especially business or work including school, are suspended or reduced. Generally, holidays are intended to allow individuals to celebrate or commemorate ...
''), or be denied credit for work he did do (as with Sidney Buchman on ''
The Awful Truth ''The Awful Truth'' is a 1937 American screwball comedy film directed by Leo McCarey and starring Irene Dunne and Cary Grant. Based on the 1923 play ''The Awful Truth'' by Arthur Richman, the film recounts how a distrustful rich couple begins di ...
'')."Corliss, Richard, Talking Pictures: Screenwriters in the American Cinema, 1927–1973, Overlook Books, 1974, pg. 78


Development process

After a screenwriter finishes a project, they pair with an industry-based representative, such as a producer, director,
literary agent A literary agent is an law of agency, agent who represents writers and their written works to publishers, theatrical producers, film producers, and film studios, and assists in sale and deal negotiation. Literary agents most often represent noveli ...

literary agent
, entertainment lawyer, or entertainment executive. The partnerships often pitch their project to investors or others in a position to further a project. Once the script is sold, the writer has only the rights that were agreed with the purchaser. A screenwriter becomes credible by having work that is recognized, which gives the writer the opportunity to earn a higher income. As more films are produced independently (outside the studio system), many up-and-coming screenwriters are turning to pitch fests, screenplay contests, and independent development services to gain access to established and credible independent producers. Many development executives are now working independently to incubate their own pet projects.


Production involvement

Screenwriters are rarely involved in the production of a film. Sometimes they come on as advisors, or if they are established, as a producer. Some screenwriters also direct. Although many scripts are sold each year, many do not make it into production because the number of scripts that are purchased every year exceeds the number of professional directors that are working in the film and
TV industry Television (TV), sometimes shortened to tele or telly, is a telecommunication medium used for transmitting moving images in monochrome (black and white), or in color, and in two or 3D television, three dimensions and sound. The term can refe ...
. When a screenwriter finishes a project and sells it to a
film studio A film studio (also known as movie studio or simply studio) is a major entertainment company or motion picture company that has its own privately owned studio A studio is an artist An artist is a person engaged in an activity related to cr ...
,
production company A production company, production house, production studio, or a production team is a business that provides the physical basis for works in the fields of performing arts, new media art, film, television show, television, radio, comics, interactive ...
, TV network, or producer, they often have to continue networking, mainly with directors or executives, and push to have their projects "chosen" and turned into films or TV shows. If interest in a script begins to fade, a project can go dead.


Union

Most professional screenwriters in the U.S. are
unionized A trade union (or a labor union in American English), often simply called a union, is an organization of workers who have come together to achieve many common goals, such as protecting the integrity of their trade, improving safety standards, a ...
and are represented by the
Writers Guild of America The Writers Guild of America is the joint efforts of two different US labor unions representing TV and film writers: * The Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), headquartered in New York City New York City (NYC), often simply called New ...
. Although membership in the WGA is recommended, it is not required of a screenwriter to join. The WGA is the final arbiter on awarding
writing credit The Writers Guild of America (WGA) credit system for motion pictures and television programs covers all works under the jurisdiction of the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) and the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW). The WGA, originally t ...
for projects under its jurisdiction. The WGA also looks upon and verifies film copyright materials.


See also

*
Film crew A film crew is a group of people, hired by a production company, for the purpose of Filmmaking, producing a film or motion picture. The crew is distinguished from the Ensemble cast, cast, as the cast are understood to be the actors who appea ...
*
First-look deal A first-look deal is any contract containing a clause granting, usually for a fee or other consideration that covers a specified period of time, a pre-emption rightA pre-emption right, right of pre-emption, or first option to buy is a contractual ri ...
*
Lists of screenwritersThe following are lists of screenwriters: * List of Albanian screenwriters * List of Nigerian screenwriters {{Short pages monitor