The sky's the limit for talented scriptwriters

If you love language then scriptwriting could be for you.
Click to follow
The Independent Online

We live in a world that idolises movie stars and movie directors. But without a good script, the stars and directors are lost. In fact, it may be the scriptwriter who is the real star of the film industry.

And it's not only films that need scripts. Everything on TV or the radio has to be written first, whether it's a pop video or party political broadcast, a soap opera or a commercial for soap powder.

But what exactly is a script? Put it this way: if you have a great dream and you think it would make a good film, you might want to write such a detailed description that it could be reconstructed using sets and actors. That's a script. If people appeared in your dream, you'd describe them in the script; if people spoke, you'd write it as dialogue; if extraordinary events took place, you'd describe them. A scriptwriting course will show you how it's done in the industry.

Not all scripts are entirely the creation of their writers. Many are adaptations of books, plays, comics, computer games - even amusement park rides. A scriptwriter might also be employed by a TV production company to write episodes of Eastenders. And writers do not always work alone; on long-running comedy series, such as Friends, writers work in teams to quickly produce scripts with quickfire jokes.

The world consumes stories at such a rate that scriptwriters will always be in demand. It seems storytelling is a fundamental human need - it helps us learn, it helps us understand our fellow human beings, and it entertains us. And we are all storytellers. From stories being told in the playground conversations to the gossip you pass on to a friend, being alive, you are experiencing the story of your own life! To quote Alfred Hitchcock (pictured left), one of the giants of British cinema: "What is drama but life with the boring bits cut out".

So how do you leap from everyday stories to writing scripts for an audience of millions? There's no magic formula, but a scriptwriting course or an English course could start you in the right direction. If you love language, relish new words, are imaginative, observant and keen to communicate your ideas, scriptwriting could be for you.

Good scriptwriting courses combine study of the various media with the basics of storytelling and scriptwriting technique. Crucially though, it will give you the chance to get feedback from fellow students as well as tutors, and practical tips on how to improve.

Few graduates are lucky enough to land writing jobs immediately, but scriptwriting and English graduates are well-placed to find work as researchers, script editors, in advertising, or publishing. For those who really want to write every region has its own organisation dedicated to developing new talent, usually in association with the UK Film Council, offering grants to young filmmakers. The first thing you'll need to get a grant to make a film is a good script.

Scriptwriting has never been a 9 to 5 job: self-discipline is essential. But that's the price a writer pays for a job with huge and unpredictable rewards. Fees for scripts range from the miniscule to the astronomical. These days, between 2 per cent and 5 per cent of a movie's budget will be spent on the script - and budgets can be as high as $200m. At the other end of the scale, the BBC pays £73 per minute of radio drama writing, while TV drama earns about £15,000 per hour. But the real rewards come if a programme is a big success. Repeat fees (or royalties) can dwarf the original fee. And a successful writer can negotiate whatever fee he or she thinks the work deserves.

The life of a scriptwriter may be unpredictable, but for those with the talent and determination to succeed, the sky's the limit.

A world of your own

Lucy Elliot, 22, studied scriptwriting at Staffordshire University and received a First Class honours degree in film, television and radio. She has A-levels in general studies (B), psychology (C), biology (D) and media studies (D) from Sir John Deane's College, Cheshire.

"When I started I didn't intend to take so many scriptwriting modules, but the course I chose allows you to specialise in specific areas. I found that I enjoyed writing as part of a team but also on my own. Creating a world of your own gives you a great sense of satisfaction and power. You control everything you put into the script. In expressing yourself, you learn what it is that makes you you.

I learnt how complex scriptwriting is and discovered how styles, rhythms and conventions all change between the various mediums. For instance, with a radio script, a lot of the focus has to be on sound effects, as sound is all you have to create three dimensions.

I left Staffordshire with a good sense of how to write. It is now up to me! The key to success in any career is the will to push yourself to achieve your goals and dreams."

Which Course magazine is now available online at Contact Joshua Gilbert - tel: 020 7005 2283; fax: 020 7005 2292.