The script department plans, develops, writes and edits the screenplay. You don’t have to be a writer to enter this department, but you should have an excellent understanding of genre and the film industry.
Skills needed to work in film and TV scripts
- a keen understanding of film narrative, and knowledge of current audience tastes and future trends
- a passion for cinema and film making
- an understanding of their organisation's specific development needs.
- ability to search out new talent and cultivate creative relationships
- excellent all-round communication skills
- ability to troubleshoot story problems with creativity, discretion and great flexibility
- keen insight into all aspects of screenplay tone, genre, style, structure, character, plot, action and dialogue
- an understanding of the various development stages, including: log lines, premises, synopses, beat outlines, step-outlines, treatments and rough drafts
- a keen understanding of how to use the dramatist's tools, including comic irony, suspense, mystery and dramatic tension, and of the different ways that screen works affect audience
- knowledge of the production company's requirements and the current market/trends for films
- shrewd interpersonal and negotiation skills, liaising effectively
- familiarity with screenplay format and layout, and with the required contents of a reader's report
- an understanding of the art of the synopsis and the screenplay development process
- awareness of developments in the arts and culture, with particular regard to new works in film, fiction and poetry
Jobs in film and TV scripts
Development executives acquire and develop stories and screenplays that will make successful films. This requires an understanding of tone and genre, structure and narrative, and emotional impact. They identify a project with potential, overseeing screenwriters, reading screenplays and preparing development notes (script notes). Development executives may also be responsible for raising finance, or assist with packaging films, and securing pre-sales or distribution agreements. In large companies, responsibilities may be divided amongst development producers (executive producers), heads of development, development executives and script developer.
Drama development producer
It's the drama development producer's role to seek out new TV drama ideas and build relationships with both new and established writing talent. They will manage a varied slate, be aware of current trends and be up to speed with the commissioning landscape. They may communicate with the broadcaster directly or via their head of development.
Drama development editor
A drama development editor assists the development producer in the sourcing of ideas and writing talent. It's useful to build relationships with key agents, be across the theatre scene and be aware of current literary trends and new book releases. It's a competitive market and being ahead of the game is essential.
Becoming assistants to development executive or producer is a good entry level role, which mainly involves reading scripts, novels, blogs, writing script reports and taking notes during storylining sessions.
Screenwriter or scriptwriter
Screenwriters provide a blueprint onto which the producer, director, production designer, composer and editor, cast and crew can graft their creative efforts. Screenwriters must be able to write a screenplay in which the reader can see a film unfold cinematically. The screenplay must not only feature fascinating characters, an exciting plot and a great premise for a marketable film but it must conform to the logical principles of dramatic construction, as well as industry format and style. Screenwriters must produce highly creative writing, to strict deadlines, working with the script development team to create a financially viable product.
The story producer generates and has responsibility for developing and maintaining story across episodes of a TV show, providing a framework. They assist writers in developing a story, creating narrative arcs and then communicate to the script department. On a long-running drama or soap, they may run the editorial team alongside series producers.
Overseen by the story editors, storyliners develop story strands for long-running TV series. They may be responsible for a number of different storylines or for a number of episodes. They take ideas from the story producer, producers and writers to create a document for writers to be commissioned and write from.
Script editors have insight into the effect of different types of narrative. Script editors form objective, reasoned and valid opinions about the premise, synopsis, treatment or screenplay. They mediate between the screenwriter's creative desires and the marketplace. Script editors often have a keener insight into the structure of screenplays than screenwriters. They are heavily involved in development meetings, one-to-one editorial meetings and regular email feedback. Script editors negotiate contracts before starting, setting out fees and deadlines. Script editors either work freelance or in-house.
Assistant script editor
Script assistants support the script department, particularly script editors. Working alongside a script editor or as part of a team, they assist with script delivery and amendments, and on TV shows help to ensure episode continuity. They also perform research into scripts or story.
Script readers assess whether screenplays are professionally crafted, and write a reader's report (or 'coverage' report). Script readers mainly work for public funded bodies, such as the regional screen agencies, but can also be commissioned by screenwriters themselves. The typical reader's report is 4-8 pages long, including a breakdown of the story and an assessment of its suitability. This typically contains a logline, premise, synopsis, tone and genre analysis, at least two pages of comments on strengths and weakness, and the summary and verdict.
Researchers support story and script personnel, ensuring stories and scripts reflect accurate research and reflect real life from the beginning. There is not much difference in role between high-end and lower budget production.
Ways into working in scripts
While no formal training is required to be a screenwriter, producers expect screenplays to be submitted in standard mastershot format, and are unlikely to read submissions unless they are presented in this way. An English degree is ideal but not essential and a general degree can be as good if not better than a media degree. A thirst for story is a must. Offering to read scripts and write script reports for TV drama production companies, and also for new writing theatres and broadcaster drama departments, regional film and TV offices, can help entry into this department.
Becoming a development executive typically involves progression through script reading and script editing, although many also have prior experience of working in other areas of film and TV production. A number of industry organisations offer courses in screenplay development, including Arista, the EU's Media Programme and some film schools. The National Film and Television School (NFTS) also offers a script development diploma.
Script editors are usually highly educated graduates, and experienced script readers, with proven analytical skills, who have taken an industry respected script editing course, such as Arista. They may also have attended a number of screenwriting courses, and should have a comprehensive knowledge of the dramatic and screenwriting theories. Script readers typically have a BA or MA degree. One of the best courses is the graduate script reading training course at Script Factory in London or in partnership with regional screen agencies. Script readers should watch many films (especially with screenwriters' commentaries) and read screenplays, transcripts and theory books. Script readers must submit examples of coverage work to secure employment.
Some other job roles in content creation
The director is the creative vision behind a film or TV show, and has the ultimate responsibility for deciding exactly what appears on camera
Music editors and composers create them original soundtracks while music supervisors and agents cover the legality of using existing songs