Scriptwriters are in demand in a wide variety of industries. Every show
you see on TV -- from kids' cartoons to nature documentaries -- has used scriptwriters.
Even commercials need scriptwriters. Companies that produce interactive
CD-ROMs have scriptwriters, and naturally there are scriptwriters who do the
work for short film and feature-length movie productions. Finally, there are
scriptwriters whose job it is to rework other writers' scripts.
Scriptwriting has changed from the days when the writer acted like a stage
director, inserting camera angles and acting direction into the script.
"People think that writing a movie is easy, but a well-written script is
very hard," says Bill Johnson, a scriptwriter based in Oregon who has written
plays picked up for full theater production on stage and radio. He's currently
rewriting a feature-length movie script.
"You simply don't tell the director what to do. That's not the writer's
job. Spielberg doesn't want my advice on how to stage a scene and neither
do the actors."
Rewriting scripts is the bread and butter of most scriptwriters. A winning
script like Courage Under Fire sold for $3 million. But the rewrite was nothing
to sneeze at -- a cool $1 million. Johnson would love to get that kind of
A director, producer or other writers may hone a scriptwriter's work, so
scriptwriters can't be too attached to their words. Someone else is bound
to change them.
"Everybody that gets involved in a movie wants to do something with the
script," says Johnson. The trick is to give the studio what they're looking
for. "Right now people want them to be more edgy -- that's the buzzword that
came out after The Usual Suspects. It's a plot line that's not really explained
with lots of action. Some people never get it."
The aim of a good screenplay is to keep the viewer glued to the screen,
so each scene has some kind of dramatic element, whether that means developing
the emotion of a character or inserting action and plot twists.
In this industry, who you know can mean the difference between success
and failure. A self-described outsider of the frantic scriptwriting scene,
Johnson says he could have broken in much faster if he'd attended one of the
prestigious film schools.
"Success as a scriptwriter depends on three things -- contacts, your writing
and the experience with your mentor or agent. You can't make it by just sitting
at home and writing a query letter. You have to talk to people and make contacts
-- you have to do that to continue to work and network."
Linda Theodosakis, whose short films have been nominated for national awards,
says persistence is right up there too. "Tenacity is almost more important
than talent," she says. "The tenacious writer may not be that great, but if
they just keep slogging, they'll get there."
Theodosakis recommends students take advantage of the available technology
and film their own work on video. A group of amateur actors might be willing
to act out your script. That'll give you valuable insights into your own work.
You could also draw on the local cable company for volunteers to film it.
Once it's done, spend time with your hand on the VCR remote reviewing the
scenes. The ones that don't work usually jump out in a flash.
Scriptwriter Leila Basen also recommends that students take a video camera
out and bring their stories to life. That will provide the portfolio needed
to attend a good film school.
Once out, don't expect to get a job right away. You'll need to write a
few spec scripts -- detailed outlines of your stories -- first. "Nobody would
give you a job on a show if you've never written before. It's too much work
for the story department," Basen says.
Johnson offers this list of pitfalls new scriptwriters should avoid:
And you might as well resign yourself to living in Los Angeles. With very
few exceptions, almost all of the work for movies, television and the new
electronic media is done in California, primarily in the Los Angeles area.
The many challenges in this career can appear daunting. Basen advises aspiring
scriptwriters to stay positive and not be discouraged.
"The truth of the industry is, if you have talent and you're really good,
people will want you," she says. "There's always a market for good material.
But you have to be a good writer with great faith in yourself and the time
to get out there and shop it."
Write, rewrite or adapt scripts for a variety of venues
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