What is Screenwriting and What Does a Screenwriter Do? – American Film Institute
Three female filmmakers huddled together on an outdoor film set and discussing the script. Over the image, there is the following text: AFI Conservatory Screenwriting


What is Screenwriting and What Does a Screenwriter Do?

What is Screenwriting?

Screenwriting is the specialized craft of writing a story in script form, which is also known as a screenplay, a uniquely formatted document developed specifically for the screen. The screenplay is then used as the blueprint to create a film, television show or short film. Screenplays can be original or an adaptation based on a pre-existing story or character. One page of a screenplay typically equals one minute on the screen.

What does a Screenwriter do?

A screenwriter has specials skills in creating dramatic structure and telling a story cinematically in terms of action and the reality of characters portrayed. With those skills, a screenwriter develops characters and ideas into fully realized stories for film and television. While developing a project, screenwriters often work with producers or directors, or executives from production companies, studios or networks. Depending on the project and when the writer is brought on board, a screenwriter may also be tasked with pitching story ideas, executing small revisions or starting from scratch with a page one rewrite as they work with the filmmakers to create the best version of the story.

Who becomes a Screenwriter?

Screenwriters come from a wide range of backgrounds and are often people who have a passion for storytelling in a visual medium.

What are the career paths for Screenwriters?

Graduates of the AFI Conservatory Screenwriting master’s degree program pursue many different paths including writing films for independent and studio projects and writing on network, cable and streaming television shows.

What is the Screenwriting program at the AFI Conservatory film school?

In the AFI Conservatory master’s degree program in Screenwriting, AFI film students, known as “Fellows” at the Conservatory, create six full-length works: three features, an original TV pilot and two TV specs for current series. Screenwriting Fellows also forge close working relationships with accomplished Faculty who guide writers’ development and allow them to hone their unique voice in personalized courses and workshops.

Learn more about the Screenwriting master’s degree program at the AFI Conservatory film school, ranked the #1 film school.

10 Screenwriting Terms to Know

  1. Backstory – a set of events that have taken place before the main action of the script
  2. Beat sheet – an outline created by writers to identify the major story beats in a script
  3. Bible – a reference document for a television show which includes information about story, characters, settings, etc.
  4. Characterization – character development
  5. Dialogue – conversation between at least two characters in a script
  6. FADE IN – a screenwriting term used at the beginning of a screenplay to indicate the beginning of action
  7. FADE OUT – a screenwriting term used indicates the end of a screenplay
  8. Showrunner – a role on a television show that combines the duties of a head writer and executive producer
  9. Slug line – scene heading written in all caps
  10. Writers room – the office where television writers gather to work on the story for the series

Recent Projects by AFI Conservatory Screenwriting Alumni

AMERICAN HORROR STORY – Brad Falchuk (AFI Class of 1994)
ELVIS – Jeremy Doner (AFI Class of 1994)
FIREFLY LANE – Maggie Friedman (AFI Class of 1998)
FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE – Susannah Grant (AFI Class of 1991)
PACHINKO – Franklin Rho (AFI Class of 2004)
THE POWER – Brennan Elizabeth Peters (AFI Class of 2015)
THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT – Scott Frank (AFI Class of 1984)
THE RESORT – Andy Siara (AFI Class of 2015)
SHRILL – Alexandra Rushfield (AFI Class of 1998)
THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD – Jacqueline Hoyt (AFI Class of 2002)

View more projects by AFI Alumni.

Applications to attend the AFI Conservatory film school open in the Fall. Sign up here to receive all the latest news about AFI’s MFA program and other opportunities.

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