What Does a Screenwriter Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

A Day in the Life of a Screenwriter

Theresa Chiechi/The Balance

Screenwriters are an essential part of any film because they're responsible for creating the dialogue, characters, and storyline that make up a movie script, or screenplay. Like television writers, screenwriters often specialize in a particular genre, such as comedy or science fiction.

Screenwriter Duties & Responsibilities

The job generally requires the ability to perform the following duties:

  • Develop and research ideas for original movie screenplays.
  • Create an initial framework, or treatment, for screenplays.
  • Write or adapt a story into a script.
  • Meet with film executives to pitch screenplays and ideas.
  • Weave together visual elements in scenes with plot and dialogue.
  • Work with producers and directors to edit and adjust the script as needed.

Screenwriters may come up with original material, write a script based on actual events, or adapt an existing work (such as a book, play, or film). For an adaptation, screenwriters rewrite and rework existing material with legal permission. For scripts based on actual events, screenwriters must do research before writing.

Screenwriter Salary

A screenwriter's salary can vary depending on location, experience, and employer.

  • Median Annual Salary: $78,000 
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $201,000
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $30,000

Source: PayScale, 2019

Education, Training, & Certification

Screenwriters aren't required to have specific education, training, or certification, but aspiring screenwriters could benefit from taking classes in creative writing and film. Some colleges and universities offer specialized screenwriting programs and degrees.

Screenwriter Skills & Competencies

To be successful in this role, you’ll generally need the following skills and qualities: 

  • Writing skills: A strong command of the English language and the ability to write a compelling story is a must for this job.
  • Observational skills: Many screenwriters base characters, plot lines, and much of the dialogue of a script on real events, places, and people they've observed in real life.
  • Creativity: Screenwriters must be able to come up with new ideas and also envision what a film might be like before it's made.
  • Interpersonal skills: When working on a film, screenwriters must work with the producer, director, and other team members to adjust the screenplay as needed. They also must be able to effectively pitch their screenplays.

    Job Outlook

    The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for writers, in general, will grow 8% through 2026, which is slightly faster than the overall employment growth of 7% for all occupations in the country.

    Work Environment

    Screenwriters are often independent contractors who work for themselves in a home office. They must be willing to consistently pitch their screenplays in order to get paid work. They must be able to handle the rejection and criticism that comes with the process.

    Work Schedule

    Often, screenwriters can make their own hours and write as much or as little as they want. When their screenplays are used for movies they may need to be available at all hours to make adjustments to the script as needed.

    How to Get the Job

    Read "How to Become a Screenwriter" for tips and resources to get you started.

    Comparing Similar Jobs

    People who are interested in becoming screenwriters may also consider other careers with these median salaries: