Becoming a Screenwriter: Job Description & Salary Information

About this article
What are the pros and cons of a screenwriting career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a screenwriter is right for you.
View available schools

Pros and Cons of Becoming a Screenwriter

A professional screenwriter is responsible for creating the scripts used for television shows, feature films, and documentaries, or otherwise contributing to the filmmaking process through editing and polishing scripts or pitching new story ideas. Check out the pros and cons to see if you might be interested in becoming a screenwriter.

Pros of a Screenwriting Career
One of the highest paying writing specialties (average salary of about $68,000 in 2014 for all writers and authors)*
Can work anywhere with access to a computer*
Variety of genres to choose from (horror, drama, comedy)**
May have the opportunity to do freelance work*

Cons of a Screenwriting Career
Slower-than-average growth (projected 3% growth for writers and authors from 2012-2022)*
Pay may be inconsistent***
College degree usually required for salaried positions*
Travel may be required for interviews and on-location meetings*
May be required to produce content based on a client's requirements, limiting creative freedom*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. **O*NET Online, ***Writers Guild of America.

Essential Career Info

Job Description and Duties

Screenwriters are creative writing professionals who create scripts for television and motion pictures. In most cases, screenwriters either adapt content for the screen from popular books or generate original content of their own. This is a demanding job, and you can expect to experience long and stressful days attempting to meet deadlines set by studios or production companies. In addition, if you work in television, you may be required to work on a team of staff writers for a particular show.

The screenwriting process typically begins by brainstorming ideas and following up with in-depth research, which usually includes Internet research, library research and interviews. Screenwriters often work alongside directors and producers. A screenwriter needs to create a shooting script that contains instructions regarding the shots, lighting and camera angles. In addition, the screenwriter could end up rewriting the script numerous times during the course of production. If you're writing for a TV show, you may need to come up with a new script every week.

Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), writers and authors in the motion picture and video industries earned an average annual income of about $100,000 in 2011 (www.bls.gov), an updated wage was not provided in 2014. The BLS found that the average salary for all writers and authors was approximately $67,870 in 2014, so successful writers have higher earning potential in the film industry than in most other writing industries. However, even though you may have high earning potential, it is difficult to determine how much money you'll actually make. Many writers are given a lump sum for a script, so you may need to supplement your income from other jobs while you write a script.

The amount you get for a script depends on a variety of factors. According to the Writers Guild of America (WGA) 2014 Schedule of Minimums, original screenplays for theatrical films could fetch a low price of about $67,804 or a high price of around $127,295 (these payments were effective from May 2014 to May 2015). Non-original screenplays written in that same time frame could earn between $59,331 and $110,337. The WGA noted that you could expect around $24,788 for both story and teleplay, or $8,264 per story for a television program with a running time of roughly 30 minutes. As you can see, your income may vary significantly, so you should be prepared with alternative income opportunities until you're able to land a steady stream of screenwriting work.

Career Outlook

Screenwriters can anticipate stiff competition, since high-paying, glamorous jobs attract more applicants. Freelance positions are probably your best bet for breaking into the industry. You'll have to promote your work; otherwise, your screenwriting talent will likely go unnoticed. Jobs are always available in the film and television industry, but be prepared for some hard work and dedication if you want to land a job as a screenwriter.

What Are the Requirements?

There are no particular educational requirements for this field; however, you will need experience, self-motivation, the ability to take criticism, a strong portfolio of work and creative talent. Screenwriters generally have experience as freelance editors or writers. You'll need to acquire an understanding of how a movie is made and be knowledgeable about film language. Earning at least an associate's degree or a bachelor's in English, theatre or creative writing could be beneficial, but does not guarantee you a job.

Top Skills for Screenwriting Careers

In order to be a successful screenwriter, one must possess strong writing and research skills, along with creativity and talent. In addition, you will need the ability to market and promote yourself to win jobs. Actual job postings for screenwriters advertised for applicants who have experience writing screenplays and are able to collaborate with a team. Here are examples of real job posts in April 2012:

  • A broadcasting company sought a writer/producer for their office in Atlanta. Candidates were required to have at least three years of experience, knowledge of television production and the ability to write original work in a tone and style matching the network's brand.
  • An entertainment group in New York City advertised for apprentice screenwriters to work in film development. Applicants were required to have experience with story outlines and writing screenplays, either through formal training or by building a portfolio of work independently.
  • A job listing posted through the Writers Guild of America (WGA) advertised for a development assistant with a writing background who could manage and organize both film and television development slates (no location was mentioned). The company preferred experience in television.

How to Maximize Your Skills

Working as a screenwriter is a challenge, but you can maximize your skills and employment potential by becoming a member of the Writers Guild of America (WGA). In order to apply for membership, you are required to collect a minimum of 24 units of work as a writer over the course of three years with an employer registered with WGA. Units are earned through a variety of projects. For instance, two units are earned by completing a full week of work with a WGA employer, while 24 units can be earned through the successful completion and production of a feature-length theatrical motion picture screenplay of 90 minutes or longer. Upon joining the WGA labor union, screenwriters receive artistic assistance and may find jobs through networking.

Screenwriting takes determination and persistence. You'll probably have scripts and ideas turned down fairly often, which means you'll need to become comfortable with marketing your work. Knowing where to market your screenplay can save you time and give you a higher chance of finding a studio that is interested in your work. Most agencies do not accept an unsolicited script, so learning who and where you should send your work can give you a better chance of being noticed.

Alternative Career Paths

Editor

If you prefer to work in a more stable environment with fewer creative pressures, then working as an editor may be right for you. Editors typically work full-time at an office, but many freelance editors work from wherever they have computer access. These professionals spend their time revising and reviewing content for publication.

While little to no employment change was expected from 2010-2020, you could have decent earning potential as an editor; the BLS estimated that the average annual wage for editors was around $60,000 in 2011. A bachelor's degree is required for most entry-level positions. You'll usually need some experience as a writer before you can become an editor.

Public Relations Manager

Professionals in this field are responsible for making a positive public image for the company they work for. Typical job duties include drafting press releases, raising funds and managing public relations programs for organizations. This career path can be extremely stressful, and you may face strong competition for jobs.

The BLS predicted that employment for public relations managers was expected to grow by 16% from 2010-2010. However, you could have fairly high earning potential in this line of work; the BLS reported that public relations managers earned an average annual income of approximately $106,000 in 2011.

Technical Writer

If you enjoy writing but you're skeptical about pursuing a career that doesn't offer a consistent salary, then you might be interested in becoming a technical writer. These writers make manuals, instructions and assembly instructions for a variety of products. You'd need to have a solid understanding of how the product works, so you should be prepared to learn technical terms and be able to express these terms in a way that is easy for an average person to understand.

You'll need a bachelor's degree to become a technical writer, but you should have solid earning potential in this line of work; the BLS found that technical writers earned an average salary of about $67,000 in 2011. The BLS predicted that technical writers would see a 17% growth of job opportunities during the decade of 2010-2020. You should have good job prospects if you have technical skills to go along with your degree.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA
      • MBA Dual Concentration: HR & Project Mgmt.
      • MBA Dual Concentration: BS Mgmt. & HR
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Business Mgmt & Project Mgmt.
      • MBA: Technology Management
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Accounting and Project Management
    Bachelor's
      • B.S. - Business Management: Business Admin Concentration
      • B.S. - Business Management With No Concentration
      • B.S. - Business Management: Entrepreneurial Studies Concentration
      • B.S. - Information Technology: Security Technology Concentration
      • B.S. - Business Management: International Business Concentration
      • Bachelor: Health Care Management
    Associate's
      • Associate of Science - Business Management
      • Associate of Science - Business Studies
      • Associate: Health Information Management
      • Associate: Healthcare Management
      • Associate of Science - Information Technology Admin and Management
      • Associate of Science - Accounting
    Certificate
      • Diploma: Medical Office Admin
      • Diploma: Medical Assisting
      • Diploma: Bookkeeping and Payroll Accounting
      • Networking Systems Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Ashford University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.A. - Education
      • MA-Psychology
      • MS-Criminal Justice
      • MBA - Media Management
      • MBA
      • MA/Education - School Leadership in the 21st Century
    Bachelor's
      • B.A. - Journalism and Mass Communication
      • B.A. - Psychology
      • BA/Education Studies
      • B.A. - Business Admin
      • B.A. - Communication Studies
      • B.A. - Liberal Arts
    Associate's
      • Associate of Arts - Early Childhood Education
  • Online Programs Available
    3. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Admin: Management
      • Master of Business Admin: Operations Management
      • Master: Education - Curriculum and Instruction
      • Master of Business Administration - Accounting
      • Master of Information Technology - Information Assurance and Security
      • Master of Business Admin: Project Management
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Business Administration - Generalist
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
      • Bachelor of Business Admin: Marketing
      • Bachelor of Business Admin - Accounting
      • Bachelor of Business Administration - Finance
      • Bachelor of Technology: Information Assurance and Security
    Associate's
      • Associate of Arts in Business Administration
      • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Communication
      • Master of Liberal Arts
      • Master of Arts in Science Writing
      • Master of Science in Applied Economics
      • Master of Science in Geographic Information Systems
    Certificate
      • Certificate in Government Analytics
      • Post-Bachelor's Certificate in Applied Research for Communication
      • Post-Master's Certificate in Sequence Analysis and Genomics
      • Certificate in Geographic Information Systems
      • Certificate in Biotechnology Education
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • DBA - Management
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Special Education
      • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Cognition and Instruction
      • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Industrial and Organizational Psychology
    Master's
      • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
      • M.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Human Factors
      • MA in Curriculum and Instruction
      • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies
      • MS in Psychology: General Psychology
      • M.B.A. with an Emphasis in Project Management
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Business for Secondary Education
      • BS in Applied Management
      • BS in Psychology
      • B.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Performance and Sports Psychology
      • Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education
      • BS in Accounting
    Certificate
      • Graduate Certificate of Completion in GeroPsychology
      • Graduate Certificate of Completion in Industrial and Organizational Psychology
      • Graduate Certificate of Completion in Forensic Psychology
      • Graduate Certificate of Completion in Health Psychology
      • Graduate Certificate of Completion in Human Factors Psychology
      • Graduate Certificate of Completion in Life Coaching
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Teaching and Learning
      • Master of Project Management
      • Master of Finance
      • Master of Professional Accounting
      • Master - Information Technology Management
      • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Communication
      • BS - Human Services
      • BS - Accounting
      • BS - Project Management
      • BS - Marketing
      • Undergraduate Specialization - Criminal Forensics
    Certificate
      • Graduate Certificate - Human Resource Management
      • Undergraduate Certificate - Project Management
      • Graduate Specialization - Accounting
      • Graduate Certificate - Cyber Security
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Applied Computer Science
      • PhD in Business Admin - Applied Computer Science
      • Doctor of Business Admin - General Business
      • PhD-TIM - Computer Science
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Management
      • Ed.D. - Sports Management
    Master's
      • M.A. in Psychology - General Psychology
      • MBA - Applied Computer Science
      • Master of Business Admin - General Business
      • MEd - General Education
      • Master of Business Admin - Accelerated General MBA
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Criminal Justice
    Certificate
      • Education Specialist - Organizational Leadership
      • Education Specialist - Special Education
      • Education Specialist - International Education
      • Education Specialist - Early Childhood Education
      • Education Specialist - Curriculum and Teaching
      • Education Specialist - Instructional Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
      • Master of Science - DNP Path (Doctor of Nursing Practice)
    Master's
      • MSCJ: Law
      • Master: Legal Studies
      • MS in Psychology
      • Master : Business Admin
      • Master: Psychology/General Psychology
      • MSPY - Industrial/Organizational Psychology Specialization
    Bachelor's
      • Undergraduate in Legal Studies
      • Bachelor: Liberal Studies
      • Bachelor of Business Admin
      • BSBA - Investment
      • BS in Liberal Studies Leadership
      • Bachelor: Nutrition Science
    Associate's
      • AASBA in Business
      • AAS in Legal Support and Services
      • Associate: Business Admin.
      • Associate: Business Admin. - Office Mgmt
      • Associate: Criminal Justice
      • Associate: Accounting
    Certificate
      • Psychology
      • Medical Assisting
      • Certificate in Human Services
      • Medical Office Administration
      • Human Services Certificates in Child and Family Services
      • Postbaccalaureate Certificate - Pathway to Paralegal
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Health and Human Services Administration
      • Master of Arts in Human Resource Management
      • Master of Arts in International Development
      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership
      • Master of Arts in Special Education
      • Master of Science in Accountancy
    Bachelor's
      • RN to Bachelors of Science in Nursing
  • Campus Locations:
    10. Steiner Education Group

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Massage Therapy
      • Esthetics (Skin Care)

Featured Schools

Herzing University

  • MBA
  • B.S. - Business Management: Business Admin Concentration
  • Associate of Science - Business Management
  • Diploma: Medical Office Admin

What is your highest level of education?

Ashford University

  • M.A. - Education
  • B.A. - Journalism and Mass Communication
  • Associate of Arts - Early Childhood Education

What is your highest level of education?

American InterContinental University

  • Master of Business Admin: Management
  • Bachelor of Business Administration - Generalist
  • Associate of Arts in Business Administration

Are you a US citizen?

Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Arts in Communication
  • Master of Liberal Arts
  • Certificate in Government Analytics
  • Post-Bachelor's Certificate in Applied Research for Communication

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • DBA - Management
  • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
  • Bachelor of Science in Business for Secondary Education
  • Graduate Certificate of Completion in GeroPsychology

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Teaching and Learning
  • BS - Communication
  • Graduate Certificate - Human Resource Management

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Business Admin - Applied Computer Science
  • M.A. in Psychology - General Psychology
  • Education Specialist - Organizational Leadership

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

  • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
  • MSCJ: Law
  • Undergraduate in Legal Studies
  • AASBA in Business
  • Psychology

Which subject are you interested in?