A screenwriter (or a screenplay writer) is the person who writes scripts for movies, TV shows, and web-series. Movie scripts are written mostly in isolation, while writing for TV and the web is usually done in groups called “writing rooms”. In Hollywood, a screenwriter is entirely responsible for story, screenplay, and dialogues, but as with most other things, this is not the case in India. Things are a bit more complicated here.
Here, we have different credits for all three categories (in movies and traditional TV). But the web/streaming space that’s on the boom here is much similar to its Hollywood counterpart, due to the presence of international giants such as Netflix and Amazon Prime – The writing room is responsible for the story, screenplay, and dialogue.
Cool. But what really is a screenplay?
Think of it as a cross between a story and an instruction manual. It’s a method to transform the story into filmable ‘actions’. Here’s an example for you – The statement “Raghu is sad and depressed” might work in a novel or a short story, but it will not work in a script because ‘sadness’ is not filmable. However, “Raghu lies awake all night and starts drinking” is clearly filmable, and thus will work wonderfully in a script.
Job Profile (A day in the life of a screenwriter)
The main work of a screenwriter is to create interesting characters and compelling storylines. All the other stuff depends a lot on the medium you are writing for.
If you are writing for a film, it’s a pretty solitary job. Since there is no such thing as ‘office hours’, your daily schedule depends a lot on yourself. For a commissioned project, there are meetings with the director and producer every other week or so. Nobody really cares about how much you write in a day; all they really care about is that you submit your script well within time (usually 6-12 months).
If you are writing for traditional TV or for streaming services, there is a little more structure to your day. Usually, the writers come to an office and write together in the ‘writers room’. The first few months are spent in plotting up a storyline and the individual journeys (both mental and physical) of the characters. Then the work of writing individual episodes is divided among the various members of the writers’ room. There are also regular meetings with other stakeholders like directors, content heads, producers, etc.
It is a really fun job if you like creating and telling stories, as you get to work with people working passionately to get a story to the masses. Technical skills are not really required, but vast amounts of creativity and imagination are a must. Huge amount of patience is also needed in this profession. Remember, what you are writing now would come on the screens after a year or so (if you’re lucky).
Growth opportunities are there for those who want them (you can become a content head, script supervisor, or executive producer), but most screenwriters are happy being screenwriters.
Salary of a Screenwriter in India
The salaries are not really uniform in this profession. It all really depends on how good you are at your job. But to give you a ballpark figure, movie scripts are generally sold for tens of lakhs. Starting salaries for TV and streaming are in the range of 50,000 to a lakh or so per month, and can go up to multiple lakhs once you have a few hit shows behind your name.
No, a degree is not really required per se, but it might be beneficial in other ways, such as networking. For example, let’s say that you take a screenwriting course in FTII. You would be surrounded by aspiring actors, writers, and directors. If you network in the right manner, they would keep you in mind and may offer a job, if they become successful. But if you don’t want to spend a lot of time getting a degree, don’t fret. You can still make it big in this field without one.
FTII (Film and Television Institute of India), and Satyajit Ray Film Institute are good and renowned colleges where you would get to know the ins and outs of the craft.
Whistling Woods is also decent, but it is quite expensive. All other colleges are, for the lack of a better word, useless.
One thing to love about being a Screenwriter
“You are creating stories from scratch that are going to affect millions of people. There is no better feeling than that.”
One thing to hate about being a Screenwriter
“Sometimes you have to write at odd hours to meet deadlines, and that messes up your sleep cycle.”
Resources and Tips
- SWA India’s website and YouTube channel are great resources for you. They constantly interview industry people, which can give you more insight.
- The YouTube channel of Tyler Mowery is a great place for beginners. He literally teaches you how to write a good screenplay.
- You can read books like Save the Cat; but you don’t have to do everything by the book. Screenwriting is an art form, after all.
- r/screenwriting on Reddit is a great place where you can post your samples to get feedback from other writers.
- You would require IMDB a lot; to get the names and contact information of people involved with a project.
- The Film Companion website has a lot of scripts available to download and read for free.
Step-by-Step guide to become a Screenwriter
- Start working on your craft as soon as possible. Write as many scripts as you can. You will write many bad scripts before you write a good one, so don’t be discouraged if your writing is not good enough yet. Another important thing is to start reading screenplays of your favourite movies, to see what makes them tick.
- If you can, get into FTII. It’s very difficult, there’s a lot of competition and the seats are very less, but the networking opportunities you would get are immense. You can find information regarding their admission process on their website.
- You are going to have to move to Mumbai (or equivalent cities for regional cinema). There are no other options. So, move to Mumbai if you can’t get into FTII. Approach young and unknown directors with your script and see if you can get a short film made, as it will also help a lot.
- Write the best script you can. Get it registered at the SWA website so it can’t be stolen.
- Send your writing samples to production houses. Most production houses have an email where you can send your scripts. You can find this email on their websites. If you have written a film, only send a synopsis first. Nobody is going to read 120 pages or so written by an unknown writer. If you are aspiring to write for TV or streaming, send them a sample script for a short film(5-8 pages).
- Start writing for theatre, if possible. The money wouldn’t be much, but it will give you a lot of connections.
- Keep working at it and start putting yourself out there. This is the golden period for screenwriters in the web-space; so know that people out there are looking for writers like yourself.