Film Screenwriter


In 1900, a journalist was hired to write ten scenarios and was paid $15 for each one he wrote. That man was Roy McCardell, and he was the first ever paid screenwriter in entertainment history. In our time today, those rates translate to $332 each--not bad, considering each scenario is only ninety seconds long.

Writing for films is very much like acting it's a high-paying job and very rewarding, but to be able to get in the heart of the industry takes a lot of talent and a lot of luck. In Hollywood, tens of thousands of scripts are submitted to producers by hopeful young writers, and it's inevitable that most of them don't make it after all; we don't see tens of thousands of movies shown in our theaters every week. Despite these odds, why are there so many writers who dream of getting their work on the screen?

For one thing, the rewards reaped by a successful screenwriter are great, one gets to see his work on paper realized on screen, to reach not only thousands of people as when writing novels, but millions of people around the world. More people, for example, have watched Die Hard than read Les Miserables. The fame rubbing elbows with celebrities, being on first-name basis with famous directors and the paycheck aren't so bad either.

For another, a screenwriter does earn money even though he hasn't won a heap of Oscars or had his screenplay produced. For example, the most basic stage in any screenwriter's career is writing spec scripts. These are the works in which the writer freely creates everything on his own, without contract with a producer or production company. In other words, these are the raw scripts that land on the desks of Hollywood everyday, to be approved or otherwise. But without approval, the screenwriter cannot earn anything with spec scripts, so this is where rewriting jobs come in.

It is virtually impossible for a movie script to be preserved in its original form throughout the film-making process. Producers hire rewriter – very rarely the actual writer of the original script – to polish the screenplay. They tweak some jokes, for example, or redo awkward lines. Rewriters are paid, of course, though the disadvantage is that they are usually not credited in the film itself.

Alternatively, production companies can also commission screenwriters to write about existing ideas. In this kind of job, the advantage is being sure that one's work will get produced. On the other hand, it is not the writer's own idea being used, and so his creative freedom is limited.

As hard as it is to earn a living with screenwriting and what career is not it is never impossible. Tens of thousands of films may not be produced, but thousands certainly are. Outside of mainstream films is independent cinema, the likes of which are starting to come into the limelight. Writer Diablo Cody, for example, got her a headstart in her career in writing Juno. Writing feature films is not easy, but the rewards are endless just look at Roy McCardell.