Exploring this Job

One of the best ways to learn about screenwriting is to read and study scripts. It is advisable to watch a motion picture while simultaneously following the script. The scripts for such classic films as Casablanca, Network, and Chinatown are often taught in college screenwriting courses. You should read film-industry publications, such as Variety (, The Hollywood Reporter (, and The Hollywood Scriptwriter ( There are a number of books about screenwriting, but they are often written by those outside of the industry. These books are best used primarily for learning about the format required for writing a screenplay. There are also computer software programs that assist with screenplay formatting.

The Sundance Institute, a nonprofit organization founded by the actor Robert Redford, offers a variety of programs and activities for aspiring screenwriters, including a five-day writing workshop, a screenplay reading series, and, most notably, an annual film festival.

Most states offer grants for emerging and established screenwriters and other artists. Contact your state's art council for guidelines and application materials. In addition, several arts groups and associations hold annual contests for screenwriters. To find out more about screenwriting contests, consult a reference work such as The Writer's Market (

Students may try to get their work performed locally. A teacher may be able to help you submit your work to a local radio or television station or to a publisher of plays.

The Job

Screenwriters write dramas, comedies, soap operas, adventures, westerns, documentaries, newscasts, and training films. They may write original stories, or get inspiration from newspapers, magazines, books, or other sources. They may also write scripts for continuing television series. Continuity writers in broadcasting create station announcements, previews of coming shows, and advertising copy for local sponsors. Broadcasting scriptwriters usually work in a team, writing for a certain audience, to fill a certain time slot. Motion picture writers submit an original screenplay or adaptation of a book to a motion picture producer or studio. Playwrights submit their plays to drama companies for performance or try to get their work published in book form.

Screenwriters may work on a staff of writers and producers for a large company. Or they may work independently for smaller companies that hire only freelance production teams. Advertising agencies also hire writers, sometimes as staff, sometimes as freelancers.

Scripts are written in a two-column format, one column for dialogue and sound, the other for video instructions. One page of script equals about one minute of running time, though it varies. Each page has about 150 words and takes about 20 seconds to read. Screenwriters send a query letter outlining their idea before they submit a script to a production company. Then they send a standard release form and wait at least a month for a response. Studios buy many more scripts than are actually produced, and studios often will buy a script only with provisions that the original writer or another writer will rewrite it to their specifications.