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A page of a screenplay
A page of a screenplay

A screenplay writer (also called screenwriter for short), scriptwriter or scenarist, is a writer who practices the craft of screenwriting, writing screenplays on which mass media, such as films, television programs and video games, are based.

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  • Gone Girl — Don't Underestimate the Screenwriter
  • 12 Tips To Help A Screenwriter Write A Better Screenplay
  • 7 Tips From Screenwriters
  • What A New Screenwriter Should Know About Screenwriting by Jeffrey Reddick
  • Advice To A Screenwriter Working On Their First Script by Peter Russell


Hi, I'm Michael. This is Lessons from the Screenplay. Many audiences never consider how important a great screenwriter is to a movie. They may not realize how much the director and actors take their cues from the script, or think about why some scenes are exciting and others are boring. Because the hardest part about screenwriting isn't having an idea for a story, it's figuring out how to tell that story in a compelling way. Today we're looking at Gone girl, for which Gillian Flynn had the difficult task of adapting her novel into a modern film noir thriller. "I did not kill my wife." The screenplay is very well crafted, and mixes traditional storytelling methods with her own personal style to create a unique story world. Let's take a look at a few techniques Gillian Flynn used in her fantastic screenplay for Gone Girl. Number one. Efficient action lines. In a script, action lines describe what is happening. They're important because they help the director translate scenes from script to screen. And Gillian Flynn writes great action lines. In this scene, she efficiently sets the tone in just two sentences. And a few lines later... While it's up to the director and actor, in this case Neil Patrick Harris, to decide how to portray this on screen, this action line serves as a guide. And if you watch the scene with this action line in mind, you see that NPH truly gives him nothing. You may notice that the dialogue in the final film is different from the script. This happens frequently. The director or writer or actor changes something on set. This is why it's so important for the writer to set the tone of the scenes in the script — so anyone making changes understands the context and intention of the original line. For example, at the end of the scene, Flynn writes: The phrase "ugly pause" is such a great way to describe a moment. It implies tone and pacing in just two words. Gillian Flynn's action lines are descriptive, concise, and full of personality. The second technique I want to talk about is: The Last Line is the Point of the Scene. In Anatomy of Story by John Truby - a screenwriting book I highly recommend - he writes: He uses an upside-down triangle to represent the idea. Let's apply the triangle to one of the best scenes in Gone Girl. "Hello?" The first line of the scene is: Which immediately frames what the whole scene is about. What does Nick actually know? What is he lying about? This scene is about Nick realizing how much trouble he's in. Let's watch as Flynn makes the scene funnel toward a single point. Nick begins to understand that all of the evidence points to him. The noose tightens... And tightens... And tightens. Until finally: Boom. The scene culminates in a single point as Nick finally realizes the trouble that he's in. He makes a new decision and the story moves right along. That's good screenwriting. If you look for it, you'll notice most good scenes follow this simple rule. The last topic I want to cover is one of the most misunderstood story techniques: The subplot character. Most people think of a subplot character as a kind of other-protagonist in a separate storyline, but this is incorrect. Again, quoting John Truby: Basically, it's a character that is dealing with the same problem as the protagonist, but in a different way. Of the two subplot characters in Gone Girl, one is in the movie for a single scene. By comparing the protagonist, Nick, with this subplot character the writer can reveal information and demonstrate how certain choices may play out. The first comparison: Amy is framing Nick for murder, and she previously framed Tommy for rape. This is new information for both Nick and the audience. Amy has a history of this behavior. The second comparison: Amy lashed out at Tommy after he stopped trying to be the man she wanted him to be. This is an important lesson for Nick, because eventually he realizes this is how he can get Amy to come back - by going on TV and pretending to be the man she wants him to be again. Nick is learning from Tommy's experience. And the final comparison: Tommy underestimated the extreme lengths that Amy could go to. This is essentially a warning for Nick - Amy is crazy enough to get away with this if she wants to. In just one scene, Gillian Flynn is able to use the Tommy character to give Nick and the audience new information, and show a glimpse of what could happen to Nick if he's not careful. And, because she's a good screenwriter, the scene ends at the point. I really appreciate films that respect the audience, where you can tell the people that made it really care about creating an entertaining experience. The screenplay for Gone Girl is a great example of how to use simple, classic storytelling techniques to do exactly that. Thanks for watching Lessons from the Screenplay. If you have a suggestion for a script I should analyze in the future, leave a comment below. And if you want more insights into great screenplays, be sure to like this video and subscribe.



Screenwriting is a freelance profession. No education is required to become a professional screenwriter, just good storytelling abilities and imagination. Screenwriters are not hired employees but contracted freelancers. Most, if not all, screenwriters start their careers writing on speculation (spec) and so write without being hired or paid for it. If such a script is sold, it is called a spec script. What separates a professional screenwriter from an amateur screenwriter is that professional screenwriters are usually represented by a talent agency. Also, professional screenwriters do not often work for free, but amateur screenwriters will often work for free and are considered "writers in training." Spec scripts are usually penned by unknown professional screenwriters and amateur screenwriters.

There are a legion of would-be screenwriters who attempt to enter the film industry, but it often takes years of trial-and-error, failure, and gritty persistence to achieve success. In Writing Screenplays that Sell, Michael Hague writes, "Screenplays have become, for the last half of [the twentieth] century, what the Great American Novel was for the first half. Closet writers who used to dream of the glory of getting into print now dream of seeing their story on the big or small screen."[1]

Film industry

Every screenplay and teleplay begins with a thought or idea, and screenwriters use their ideas to write scripts, with the intention of selling them and having them produced.[2] In some cases, the script is based on an existing property, such as a book or person's life story, which is adapted by the screenwriter.[3] The majority of the time, a film project gets initiated by a screenwriter. The initiator of the project gets the exclusive writing assignment.[2] They are referred to as "exclusive" assignments or "pitched" assignments. Screenwriters who often pitch new projects, whether original or an adaptation, often do not have to worry about competing for assignments and are often more successful. When word is put out about a project a film studio, production company, or producer wants done, they are referred to as "open" assignments. Open assignments are more competitive. If screenwriters are competing for an open assignment, more-established writers usually win the assignments. A screenwriter can also be approached and personally offered a writing assignment.

Script doctoring

Many screenwriters also work as full or part-time script doctors, attempting to better a script to suit the desires of a director or studio. For instance, studio management may have a complaint that the motivations of the characters are unclear or that the dialogue is weak.

Script-doctoring can be quite lucrative, especially for the better-known writers. David Mamet and John Sayles, for instance, fund the movies that they direct themselves, usually from their own screenplays, by writing and doctoring scripts for others. In fact, some writers make very profitable careers out of being the ninth or tenth writer to work on a piece, and they often work on projects that never see exposure to an audience of any size. Many up-and-coming screenwriters also ghostwrite projects and allow more-established screenwriters to take public credit for the project to increase the chances of it getting picked up.

Development process

After a screenwriter finishes a project, he or she pairs with an industry-based representative, such as a producer, director, literary agent, entertainment lawyer, or entertainment executive. The partnerships often pitch their project to investors or others in a position to further a project. Once the script is sold, the writer has only the rights that were agreed with the purchaser.[2]

A screenwriter becomes credible by having work that is recognized, which gives the writer the opportunity to earn a higher income.[2] As more films are produced independently (outside the studio system), many up-and-coming screenwriters are turning to pitch fests, screenplay contests, and independent development services to gain access to established and credible independent producers. Many development executives are now working independently to incubate their own pet projects.

Production involvement

Screenwriters are rarely involved in the development of a film. Sometimes they come on as advisors, or if they are established, as a producer. Some screenwriters also direct. Although many scripts are sold each year, many do not make it into production because the number of scripts that are purchased every year exceeds the number of professional directors that are working in the film and TV industry. When a screenwriter finishes a project and sells it to a film studio, production company, TV network, or producer, he or she often has to continue networking, mainly with directors or executives, and push to have their projects "chosen" and turned into films or TV shows. If interest in a script begins to fade, a project can go dead.


Most professional screenwriters in the U.S. are unionized and are represented by the Writers Guild of America. Although membership in the WGA is recommended, it is not required of a screenwriter to join. The WGA is the final arbiter on awarding writing credit for projects under its jurisdiction. The WGA also looks upon and verifies film copyright materials.

See also


  1. ^ Hauge, Michael. Writing Screenplays That Sell.
  2. ^ a b c d Ferguson, Brooks (17 April 2009). "Creativity and integrity: Marketing the "in development" screenplay". Psychology and Marketing. 26 (5): 421–444. doi:10.1002/mar.20281.
  3. ^ Biopic & Book Adaptation -
This page was last edited on 2 December 2018, at 18:02
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