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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

How to make money writing a TV script




Annie



24th Jun 2024

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Updated 24th June 2024

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.

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?

Script editors want to know you can produce engaging story ideas.

Pretty obviously you need to

  • have an interest in TV drama and soaps
  • be able to write creatively
  • have a willingness 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 previously published creative writing so that you can prove that you are not an amateur. This could include

  • stories published in magazines
  • a published novel (even if you’ve published 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 helpful to get some training in creative writing, particularly in screenwriting.

There are adult evening classes for various types of creative writing throughout the country, including film and TV screenwriting. It’s definitely worth doing some of those if you’re serious about it.

Classes will not only provide tools and ideas for writing dramas, but also 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:

 

How Do I Begin Writing for TV?

Script-writing - the clue is in the name.

Start writing!

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. 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

This is the fun bit: sitting on the sofa! Watch programmes in similar genres to what you are writing about and ask yourself:

  • What works?
  • What doesn’t?
  • How far can you push the boundaries?

You also need to research 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. A good place to start is to look at the end credits of a show you like and see who made it.

Books

Books are a great research tool for script-writing.

Look in the “Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook” for agents who deal with film scripts.

The BBC’s Writers Room offers advice and guidelines to new writers while ScreenSkills provide details of training in the film and television industry.

Also take a look at our ‘Useful links’ section below.

Something many new screenwriters forget to do, but is essential, is to read scripts. You can find loads of scripts online for free (starting with the Writers Room Library). Read as many as you can get your hands on, because it’ll teach you a lot about how to format a screenplay as well as the type of language you use.

For example, many writers who have written novels and turn to screenplays tend to start out using ”flowery” language in their action lines. But, when you read screenplays, you’ll see that’s not how they are written. A good place to start is to ask yourself: could I see this on screen? Can the actor show me this on screen? This can help you eliminate ‘inner thoughts of characters – a common first-time writer error – or from including backstory that isn’t seen on screen.

An example

For example, a new writer might approach an action paragraph like this:

Marnie sat on the couch, bored and thinking about the time she and Barry stole his mother’s car to joyride to McDonald’s. 

That includes lots of ‘unfilmables’: we don’t SEE that Marnie is thinking of Barry, or their car ride, and how do we know she is bored? Instead, a screenplay might say:

Marnie sits with her feet over the back of the sofa, clicking the end of a pen on and off. She reaches for the phone and dials BARRY.

All of this is action you can physically see on screen, rather than things going on inside a character’s head.

Step 3: Feedback

This is the stage when you need to show 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 screenwriting classes can be particularly helpful. The class and the teacher can provide informed feedback if you read your script to them during a class.

Don’t be put off by people thinking your script needs work. Even the professionals will go through quite a few drafts until it’s finished. 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.

Scribe Lounge is a free online network. It was set up in the middle of the pandemic to create a community for UK screenwriters, but has now expanded internationally. They hold regular online writing classes, a free two-week online screenwriting festival (with past videos available to watch online), and some paid-for – and affordable – writing courses. There is also an active forum where you can meet other writers and share your work.

Step 4: Formatting

Many software programmes provide templates to help with script layout.

 

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 that provide templates to help with script layout and presentation. StudioBinder is a handy resource and has lots of formatting help, including free templates like this Word one.

Make sure to check your script for spelling and grammar mistakes, and include your contact details on the title page.

Timing

Time is an important consideration in script writing.

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.

A good rule of thumb is that a comedy script is usually half an hour on screen, so should be between 29 – 34 pages. A drama is usually an hour, and that can be between 48 – 60 pages (remember there needs to be time for advert breaks and end credits).

Step 5: Copyright

Once you've written your script, make sure to protect it.

In the UK, once you’ve written your script, it’s already copyrighted. You don’t need to pay for copyright and, in fact, there’s no way to do so on a UK service. You might come across advice to pay for the US Copyright Office, but this isn’t necessary. Your copyright is owned under an international agreement, so it applies wherever someone reads your script.

Stolen ideas don’t happen often. Stolen scripts happen even less. The important thing is you cannot copyright an idea, only the expression of an idea. So, you could tell your friend about your script that includes aliens participating on Masterchef, and they are perfectly entitled to go away and write their own version of it. But if they used your script to make a film without your permission, that’s a stolen script.

You can always send yourself a copy of your script via registered post and leave it unopened. You will also have electronic trails of when you’ve sent your script to people on email, (such as for feedback). If you really want to register with a service, ScriptVault is the only UK service supported by the Writers Guild of Great Britain.

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.

Finding Opportunities

TV commissioners are targeting script-writers from minority groups.

TV commissioners are seeking writers from ethnic minorities, LGBTQIA+ writers and disabled writers to improve the diversity on their shows behind the camera.

If you fall into any of the above categories, keep looking out for openings. There are lots of fellowships, internships, and contests which are great for gaining experience and adding to your CV.

For example, see what the BBC is looking for at the moment in their ‘Opportunities’ section. They regularly have special courses and commissions for specific groups such as black writers, writers from Ireland, writers with a disability and more.

However, if you’re not in an underrepresented group, don’t fret. There are many more opportunities for all writers. Sign up to Script Angel’s newsletter for the latest news and to hear about the best contests (UK and international) to get started in your career.

 

Do I Need an Agent?

The short answer is: yes. Some writers are lucky to have personal connections to production companies, or have an undeniable script that makes producers pay attention.

However, most TV writers get their work through an agent. Agents ‘sell’ you to opportunities that you wouldn’t hear of otherwise. This might be something called an open writing assignment – where a production company says ‘we need a writer of xyz for a project’ and you get selected to pitch your version of the idea. Or, they will use your script to try and sell it to a production company to make.

Agents are picky and busy. So, don’t query them when you’ve written your first script. Get lots of practice in, take classes, and find ways to boost your CV such as with contest placements. Ideally, you need two really polished (perfect!) scripts ready to show when you start looking for an agent. This shows to them that you’re serious and not a one-trick pony.

You don’t pay agents until you get work. If you have ANY agent saying that they’ll guarantee you work or will produce your script if you pay them a fee, WALK AWAY. Your agent doesn’t get paid until you do. Your fee for your script is paid to the agency, who deduct their commission (usually 10-15%) and then pay you.

 

How Much Can You Make Writing TV Scripts?

The aim for your script is to turn it into a TV show hit.

You can gain a few ₤100 for an ‘option’ on a TV script or thousands for a script that is syndicated around the world (think Downton Abbey). Meanwhile, a Hollywood film that does very well can earn you millions.

Your aim 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 is the writer’s dream. This is because, once the initial series is underway, the international rights and remakes mean a steady income for you without you writing any of it! One of the best examples in recent history is Death in Paradise. Writer Robert Thorogood entered his original script into the Red Planet Prize, and not only won but got the series made. It just celebrated it’s 100th episode AND has a spin-off in Beyond Paradise, too.

If you have the talent and the skill, the most important quality you need next is persistence. Just do it.

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