Do you watch a lot of TV dramas and soaps and fancy your chances of making money writing a TV script?
Well, it’s not an easy task….but it’s not impossible either.
In fact, as you can see from script-writer Jack Rosenthal’s experience, being interested in certain soaps or dramas and having a go at writing one of them yourself can pay off….if you have the talent.
I must repeat, though, that IT IS VERY HARD to make money writing a TV script.
Thousands of people are trying and not getting anywhere. So don’t give up your day job until you are sure you have a commission. To start with, this has to be something you do in your spare time because you love it. If you get there, though, the personal and financial rewards can be huge.
- What’s involved in writing a TV script?
- How do I start in TV script-writing?
- More than thinking outside the box.
- How much can you make writing a TV script?
- Useful links for making money as a TV script-writer
Pretty obviously you need to
- be interested in TV drama and soaps
- be able to write creatively
- be willing to learn and adapt to write in a way that script editors would be interested in
Ideally, script editors and producers want to know that you can come up with your own clever story ideas.
It helps to have published some sort of creative writing in some way so that you can show them that you are not just an amateur. This could include
- having stories published in magazines
- having a novel published (even if you publish it yourself, at least it’s something to show them)
- having a radio drama broadcast
- having some radio or TV sketches broadcast
Some people go straight into TV script-writing but most start small and work their way up.
It’s also really helpful to get some training in creative writing, particularly in script-writing.
There are adult evening classes all round the country in many types of creative writing, including film and TV script-writing, and it’s definitely worth doing some of those if you’re serious about it.
Script-writing classes will not only give you tools and ideas for writing dramas, they also give you deadlines for writing the next section of your script and useful feedback as you develop it.
You should also read up on the subject. Again, there are several books on both creative writing generally and on TV script-writing. Good books on script writing include:
- Robert McKee’s “Story: Substance, Structure, Style and Principles of Screenwriting” (a popular writer with the BBC)
- Syd Field’s “Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting”.
Seriously. The only way to get into any writing work is to write…write…write…and keep writing.
Step 1: Story ideas
Before you get caught up in how to write a script, jot down the ideas you have in any order, in any format. Just get the thoughts down before the spark dies and you forget what you wanted to say.
In fact, keep a notebook – or electronic device – to write down any ideas, snatches of dialogue, character descriptions and more as you have them.
Come up with skeleton stories – maybe even based on real-life situations you have experienced or heard about – and then work on fleshing them out, thinking up the back-stories for the characters and so on.
Step 2: Research
Watch programmes in similar genres to what you are writing about.
How far can you push the boundaries?
You also need to do research on the production companies that specialise in your genre of script. Finding out who exactly you should send your script to can be difficult but well worth the effort.
Look in the “Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook” for agents who deal with film scripts.
Also take a look at our ‘Useful links’ section below.
Step 3: Feedback
This is the stage when you need to be showing your work to other people and getting feedback, preferably within the TV industry. However your family and friends will work just as well to start off with, particularly if they are keen drama-watchers.
This is also where script-writing classes can be particularly helpful. If you go to a script-writing class you can read your script to the class and the teacher and get informed feedback.
It is very likely you will go through quite a few re-drafts until you are happy with the end result. It’s a good idea to link into some online discussions on writer’s networks to gather and share tips and suggestions that can help your script on.
study existing scripts
It’s a good idea to pick out a few of your favourite films and read through their scripts to see how the different elements are displayed in a script, such as the action scenes in Star Wars or the delivery of lines in Hogan’s Heroes.
Check out the Internet Movie Script Database from IMDB here.
Step 4: Formatting
The industry does have standards with scripts, but it is by no means an exact science and there are many websites that offer help and even templates for script writing.
Professional writers’ software like Final Draft or free templates can be useful.
There are many free software programs out there that provide templates to help with script layout and presentation, but the basics for any script is: typed, pages numbered, double-spaced, clearly laid out and printed on one side of A4 only.
Make sure it has been checked for spelling and grammar mistakes, and remember to include your contact details.
You must also have a rough timing of your script.
One page usually equals a minute, and you should always have a minimum of ten pages. It’s good to do a group reading to properly judge the length of your script.
Step 5: Copyright
Take some simple steps to protect your work, but don’t be too worried.
Protecting an idea is difficult and producers are more interested in your skill of creating strong characters and storylines.
Just because your script was set in a kebab shop and the production company you sought out is now making a series set in a kebab shop doesn’t mean they stole your idea They could have been thinking about it for a while.
You can always send yourself a copy of your script via registered post and leave it unopened.
Solicitors can date-stamp and store your work for a fee, and there are legal websites that provide similar services if you feel you need them.
TV commissioners are looking for more programmes for minority groups and are actively looking for black writers, LGBT writers and disabled writers to create more dramas from their perspective.
If you fall into any of the above categories, keep looking out for openings.
For example, see what the BBC is looking for at the moment in their ‘Opportunities’ section here. They regularly have special courses and commissions for specific groups such as black writers, writers from Ireland, writers with a disability and more.
There are also specialist writing competitions for different groups both in the UK and internationally. Do an online search to see what’s on offer at the moment. You will also hear of some of them on writers’ forums and at good script-writing courses.
Anything from a few ₤100 for an ‘option’ on a TV script, to tens or hundreds of thousands for a script that is syndicated around the world (think Downton Abbey) to millions for a Hollywood film that does very well.
What you want is for the show to be a hit and get repeated, ideally in other countries as well as Britain. That way you will get royalties for years afterwards.
Coming up with a format, like Jack Rosenthal did with London’s Burning, is a great way to make money writing TV scripts. Rosenthal (husband of Maureen Lipman) wrote the original TV film and it was so successful that it was turned into a series. This is the ideal for a scriptwriter because once the series is underway you don’t even have to do any writing for it, you get the credit for coming up with the original idea and royalties for each episode.
In fact Rosenthal is a good example of someone who got into TV writing by watching programmes. After seeing some episodes of Coronation Street, in 1960 he asked the series’ creator Tony Warren if he could have a go at writing an episode. His episode was accepted and he went on to write 128 more for them in the 60s.
Now Rosenthal clearly had talent. He was a good comedy writer and had a great sense of drama and what makes strong characters. But maybe you do too. Maybe you watch dramas and soaps and critique them as you’re watching. Maybe you have ideas for storylines for different characters. If that’s you, get writing and take some classes in scriptwriting to hone your skill. Then contact script editors and commissioning editors for TV dramas and persist until they agree to look at your work.
If you have the talent and the skill, the most important quality you need next is persistence. Just do it.
paul abbott – self-taught script-writer
If you’ve watched Coronation Street or Cracker and certainly if you’ve watched Shameless, you will have seen some of Paul Abbott’s drama.
Abbott had one of the worst upbringing’s you can have, as you can see here, but he managed to turn his misery into top drama.
It’s worth taking a look at his background and how he started to see how someone with very little support, and a truly terrible start in life, can make it in the industry.
- BBC Writers Room
- The Writer’s Guild of Great Britain
- “Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook”
- Script Factory