Career Description

Screenwriters are responsible for writing the scripts that film directors use to make a movie. Sometimes screenwriters director their screenplays. Christopher Nolan and J.J. Abrams are two examples.

Screenwriters use words to describe images that will appear on a screen, the actions that actors will perform on camera, and the dialogue that actors will speak in the film. Screenplays are written in a specialized format that is standard in Hollywood. The format is illustrated in the infographic below.

Required Skills

Screenwriters need to be able to tell a story well, and for this reason, they need to have a solid grasp of story structure. Additionally, they'll need to be skilled in writing in general.

They need to be able to describe visuals in a way that a director can see the movie in his or her mind, long before it's ever been filmed.

Screenwriters need a solid grasp of the screenplay format and know how to write a screenplay either in a word processing program or a program specifically designed for writing screenplays, such as Final Draft, Celtx, or Highland.

Below, screenwriter David S. Goyer, writer for films such as Man of Steel, Batman Begins, and the video games Call of Duty: Black Ops and Black Ops II, discusses some of the skills he developed to become one of the hardest-working screenwriters in Hollywood.

Educational Requirements

While a college degree isn't necessarily required to become a screenwriter, there are many great programs that will help an aspiring screenwriter to develop the skills that will help them to break into the industry and remain successful throughout their career.

The School of Theatre, Film, and Television at UCLA is where many screenwriters go to study and develop the skills and experience for a career in screenwriting. Students can gain their undergraduate degree in film at UCLA through a 4-year program. Because of its commitment to excellence, students in the film program are constantly challenged and need to be committed to the same standard of excellence.

Salary Expectations

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2013 that screenwriters earned a mean wage of $106,160 per year.

Unless a screenwriter lands a position as a staff writer on a hit television show, income is greatly dependent on the screenwriter's ability to write scripts that Hollywood executives are interested in buying.

Future Outlook

The projected growth of careers in writing in general is less than average, but does look to grow in the future.

Screenwriting is a risky career pursuit because getting work is dependent upon writing skill, connections, and ability to market oneself.


Screenwriters generally choose their career path because they love stories and they love film. They get to spend each day creating scripts that will potentially become a movie someday. For many screenwriters, there is no better feeling than to see a script they wrote come to life on the big screen.

Similar Careers

Careers that require some of the same types of skills include writing novels, commercial advertising, and writing for video games or graphic novels.

Why This Career?

I've always loved storytelling and great movies, and I developed a love for screenwriting when I was in junior high. Two people I look up to the most are filmmakers Christopher Nolan, writer and director of Interstellar, and J.J. Abrams, who is currently putting the finishing touches on Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens.


BAFTA Screenwriters Lecture: David S. Goyer

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