In the media, when films and TV shows are produced, a script is created. Scripts are written as instructions for speech and action that takes place in the TV show/film. The actors will learn the script and carry out what the script entails. These scripts are often complex and involve a lot of creativity, so a specific role is given in which a person writes and comes up with these scripts. They are known as screenwriters. In this essay I will be explaining how the process of screen writing works and what a screen writer must consider when writing a script. For my project I will be screenwriting for a TV show.
One thing a screenwriter has to consider is plagiarism. Plagiarism is when a person, group or company takes the work or ideas of somebody else knowingly, produces it and then makes the content out to be their own. One example of this is when a Russian screenwriter claimed that the award winning film The Martian was plagiarised from his original idea. He claimed 50 million in damages over the issue. This was bad because if the screenwriter didn’t call the company out, he would have lost his idea to them and no credibility would have gone to him, even though it was his idea. So if you’re a film/TV company coming up with a story – make sure its all yours!
In addition to this, another thing a screenwriter must consider is censorship. Censorship is when offensive content is cut out or suppressed from a form of media, e.g. TV. Before a script is written they must consider the target audience and demographic that they are aiming their TV show at, specifically the age. It is a legal requirement that a TV show is scheduled appropriately. If the show contains any indecency, it must be shown after the 9PM watershed. The 9PM watershed is an established time where shows that include one of or a selection of swearing, violence, nudity and other inappropriate images such as drug use are shown only after this time. Because of this, screenwriters must be aware of the target audience when writing a script – it wouldn’t be appropriate for swearing to be included in a show aimed at children.
It is important because if screenwriters get this wrong and include offensive content that isn’t appropriate for its target audience, the idea could be scrapped which would be a waste of time and money. In addition to this it is important to make sure younger target audience don’t have access to this offensive content as it could upset/distress them. For example there was a scene from the Human Centipede that had to be cut as it was too graphic even for a 18 film.
Once the screenwriters have finished writing the script, they have to make sure it is copyrighted. Copyright is when an owner of work puts a stamp on it to say that it is theirs, that they have made it, and that it is illegal to for others to copy the idea without permission/license first. It is very important to copyright your work, because otherwise there is a high chance that your work will be stolen and copied, meaning you would lose out on all potential profit. In addition to this you would receive no credit and nobody would be aware that it was originally yours. So therefore it is key to ensure that your work is legally safe from being copied.
The method used to copyright your work has changed over time. The old method of ensuring copyright was to put your script in an envelope, mail it back to yourself sealed and unopened and store it. This way the script is dated by the envelope which proves as evidence of creating it first. However this is an old unreliable method as it can be easily faked. To copyright your work now in the digital era, it’s advised that you register with the Writers Guild of America who will store it and keep it safe from copyright. An example of when copyright was infringed was when screenwriter Jordan-Benel claimed that The Purge was an almost identical screenplay as to what he submitted to the United Talent Agency – the case claimed 5 million dollars.
When a screenwriter finishes a script, they will then want to find a writers agent. The role of a writers agent is to take care of the business side of things. They will read through script after script, and when they find one they deem to have potential they will then represent that script and writer, and go seeking business deals with a film or TV company to produce the script.
There are several ways a screenwriter can find an agent. The main way screenwriters get agents is through referral – with good connections it’s a lot easier to find someone willing to produce your script. But if you don’t already have good connections, there are a few other options. One is that you can submit your material voluntarily to companies and hope that they take it on, but this isn’t very likely as most companies won’t accept this. However, Circle of Confusion is a company that will accept voluntary scripts and a good amount of films have come from this. You can also showcase your script at film festivals in which businesses may take on your script.
When an agent and writer find a company that are interested in their script, they must sell it to the company in full to complete the deal. To do this is a pitch, where the writer and agent will present their idea often in a presentation to a room of company representatives that will assess the idea, and either take it on or discard it. For example, the Duffer Brothers had to pitch their TV idea Stranger Things to Netflix before they could produce it. In their pitch, they would have to include a set of things – the plot, the characters, the setting/location, the music, the props and costume.
If the company decide to take on the project, the script has then become commissioned. A commission is where a company, for example ITV, will pay a person to fulfil a task for their company after evaluating their work and deciding that they would like to feature it. There are six main roles within the commissioning process for TV/film – commissioning editors, producers, directors, script editors, agents, and writers. For a screenwriter, their job once commissioned is to then develop their script further into a screenplay. Their concept will then go from concept and outlined story to full length writing, editing and production. Their job is to provide the creative narrative for the TV/film and company.
Organisations will commission other screenwriters alongside or instead of their internal production board to search for new ideas and inspiration from an outside, ‘real perspective’ source that can present new and exciting ideas. What kind of organisation that will commission your script will depend on the content you’ve written. Different companies will have different guidelines on what they wish to focus on within a production – for example, public service broadcaster the BBC will focus on scripts that simultaneously inform as well as entertain, such as their documentaries. If your script is based on fact and is informative, a company such as the BBC are likely to take you on. Other companies such as ITV will search for screenwriters with story based creativity and are more likely to be searching for new drama ideas such as comedy or mystery.
For each company the process is slightly different. For the BBC, the process is that they will ask for a particular area of writing such as a short film. They will then put out a form for the writer to fill in, who will then pitch it if they are interested and produce the idea. For ITV, they will only take ideas from established production companies, and asks for submission via email.
Each company will have a specific board of different people that will decide together which scripts will be chosen to produce. One role within these people is the script editor. The script editor manages the script writer and helps with the editing of the script. The script writer will be continuously checking with the writer and what they are producing, making sure that fits within the programme time frame and also is including the factors they require such as representation. The editor will read through every draft, give feedback and suggest improvements until it is satisfactory. They work with the writer and keep a record of every decision/change. They are also responsible for searching for new script writers.
Another role within the people who will evaluate the script is the development executive. The development executive will oversee large portions of the production such as finance, business deals and finding new screen writers and the content they have produced. They represent the company with the knowledge of what the company values are, what they wish to include in further production and will keep a strong look out for project opportunities. The development executive will look over scripts and cherry pick what projects they see potential in. They will deal with business and securing sales also.
When a company accepts a script as commission, there are several different ways that the screen writer can get paid. One of these ways is a term known as royalties. This is where the writer will be paid a bare amount or none at all up front. They may receive payment later on, which could be years, after the film has been produced, gone to DVD and made profit. What they receive is dependent on the success of the film.
An alternate way in which a writer may be paid is through an option purchase deal. This is where the company will essentially borrow the rights to the script for a period of 3 years and pay the writer a sum of agreed money. They will have the rights to produce it, but if they are unsuccessful at doing so the rights of the script are given back to the writer who can then continue to sell it to other companies. This is quite a profitable way of making money from your script.
Another way payment goes to a writer is through a one off payment, alternatively known as an upfront payment. It is similar to the previous exampled form of payment, but differs because once this script is handed over by the owner, it is copyrighted by the company and cannot be resold again, even if it doesn’t end up getting produced. However, the sum for this method of transfer and payment is often large.
Why are screenwriters important?
Screenwriters are incredibly important to the process of film or TV show making. The advantage of having a dedicated screenwriter is that they offer a unique creativity and ideas that the producer (who sometimes fills the role of the writer) may not have. The purpose of a screenwriter is to provide companies with something of good quality and creativity to make, rather than producing repetitive narratives that become boring to the consumer. Without screenwriters the narrative of creative media can become duller and less imaginative. Screenwriters also have a good inside view of what audiences want to see and offer different perspectives and sides to a story.