Studies & Degrees in Screenwriting for Television and Film

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"Carpe diem. Seize the day!" You're sure to have heard that line before, spoken by someone else or come out of your own mouth, and you just don't know where it came from or who said it first. It's not from a greeting card or a cheesy inspirational book--it's from a movie in 1989 called 'Dead Poets' Society.' This should be familiar as well--"I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore"; or this--"ET, phone home"; or even--"May the Force be with you." The one thing they have in common is that they were spoken in movies, survived through decades and have become iconoclassic and that somewhere sometime ago, someone held a pen and wrote these lines on paper.

When movies started showing in cinemas as blurry, black and white moving pictures in 1886, there was no dialogue, no sound effects, just the characters gesturing wildly to get the plot across to the audience. When sound technology was finally developed in France in the early 1900's, there was a need to create organized plots and narratives, as well as actual dialogue among characters to develop a story--and screenwriting was born.

Screenwriting, from the word itself, is writing scripts for on-screen media. This can range from television shows, movies and, most recently, even the evolving world of computer or video role-playing games. It is inarguably the most important stage, as without a script there is no production. Screenwriting lays the foundation for the story and establishes the world and its characters used; without a good screenplay, there can never be a good movie.

In 1977, for example, George Lucas broke through the science fiction genre and established 'Star Wars' as one of the most influential movies ever created. Writing the script did not only entail writing dialogue Lucas had to build an entirely different world with a separate history and a different culture, as well as various races of humans and creatures alike, not to mention breathe life into believable characters like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, and also create an engaging plot for movie-goers to enjoy.

He not only succeeded; his story spawned a big following that is still growing long before his movie franchise has ended, and 'Star Wars' has found its permanent place in pop culture and to think that it all started with a graduate student with an idea and probably a typewriter in reach.

Good scripts go beyond entertainment and, of course, isn't limited to film. The value of television is increasing as more and more shows challenge their viewers and seek to bring something new to the table. With screenwriting in television, writers find a way to tell a story spanning years, with consistent characterization and new stories for each episode. With the demand for quality video games, screenwriters are needed to construct exciting worlds and quests to attract more players.

There is no doubt that screenwriting will always be a staple to the entertainment industry. As long as there are movies to be made and television shows to be produced, screenwriting is here to stay and make even more classic lines to be remembered and quoted for the next seventy years.

Job positions for Screenwriting for Television and Film:

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.

TV Screenwriter

Nothing in the world can be as influential or as far-reaching as television. Nearly every household in the world has access to at least one. It's a medium for news, advertising and, of course, entertainment. There are close to millions of television shows airing today, in all genres and languages, both local and international. And, of course, someone's got to be writing them.

Screenwriting for television is one of the most lucrative careers in show business. It is not so different from writing for feature films, but with a few differences. Unlike film, for example, television shows run for years instead of two hours. As such, there are more rungs on the ladder for a television screenwriter.

To start at the first step, most TV screenwriters usually take jobs as writing assistants. Writing assistants get to shoulder minor responsibilities in the overall screenplay, but what's important is learning how the business works and what goes on in a set. The salary would be minimal, but at this stage it's not the money that counts as much as the experience.

Freelance screenwriters usually submit spec scripts to network executives or producers just like in writing for films, except that TV writers usually write their spec scripts based on an existing television show. Why is this, exactly? As said before, television shows run for years. A writer would have to come up with new, interesting episodes week after week, and remain consistent in writing the characters. It is almost impossible to have just one writer in one show and, as such, most TV series have a staff of numerous contributing screenwriters. When a freelance screenwriter submits a spec script for an existing television show that captures the series well and has the potential to be realized on screen, the network hires him to be a staff writer.

The highest position for a television screenwriter is to be a television series showrunner. This means that the writer is the one who creates the actual premise and idea for the show. The showrunner heads his writing staff and runs through and approves all creative decisions not at all a bad place to be in one's career. Of course, a showrunner would have to pitch his ideas to particular network executives first. Even after the show has been approved and is being aired on TV, unlike the film industry a writer can never be sure how long a series will last. Ratings are vital to the first few seasons of a show, and writers should be able to come up with a series that would hold people's attention enough to generate fans.

Nearly all popular television shows today follow this format. House, for example, is owned by the Fox Broadcasting network. Its series creator and showrunner is David Shore, but not every episode is written by him. On a medical serial like House, the writing staff is full of initial writers, rewriters and researchers.

It is true that television writing is fickle though once a writer breaks into the industry, it does get easier as he goes along. It's a job that is hard to maintain as they come, but fulfilling in its long-term benefits if one's stories can reach millions of viewers a day, what else can be expected?