Screenwriters

Looking at the IMDB listings for some screenwriters, I noticed that some of them had very few entries over quite a long period of time. I’m not just talking hack screenwriters either. Some screenwriters of very popular shows and/or movies have resumes that may only include four or five credits over several decades.

Is screenwriting by its nature something people do on the side of whatever pays their daily bills, or do screenwriters make enough off of successful shows to not need to work a lot. It seems like the high volume demands of writing for a television show in production would necessitate a very prolific writer to keep up, but then that doesn’t seem to fit with the long gaps between projects.

What does a decade in the life of a screenwriter look like?

-rainy

What you see on iMDB is only the films that got made. My understanding is that Screenwriters spend a LOT of time writing scripts and outlines that never see the light of day, ranging from wildly speculative items to films that were about to be made, but got their funding cut at the last minute. There are a LOT of unproduced screenplays out there, even ignoring the ones by unproduced screenwriters hoping for their big break. I saw a picture once of a screenwriter next to a man-sized stack of his unproduced scripts.

In addition, there’s all the rewriting and polishing.

Even with few movie credits, scripters can be kept busy full time.

It can take a very long time for a screenplay to end up as a final film, especially if you’re not writing for a franchise.

But Hollywood pays screenwriters very well. Not as much as others, but a single screenplay sale can support you for several years. Same for a TV show, and you’ll be getting residuals when the show is syndicated.

So money isn’t an issue. As for becoming a staff writer for a TV show, you can easily just take time off.

I also think that the IMDB entries are misleading in this respect. The writer might work on one show then switch immediately to another. But if you look at the starting dates only, it gives the impression that he only worked the first year. So the entry will show him on a show starting in 1997 and another starting in 2005, with the time between when he was on the first show.

I guess screenwriters get paid for all of their work (well commissioned work at any rate) regardless of whether the project gets developed into something that would show up on IMDB. They would just not be getting money from writing new episodes or the syndication piece of it.

The TV screenwriters I knew worked independently, submitting scripts for particular shows like Matlock. They would get paid if the scripts were picked up, there was a standard rate for scripts based on the genre and length of the show, so the one hour dramas paid much better than half hour shows. A lot of half hour shows produce all of their scripts in-house so there were less opportunities there. The people I knew were all part-timers who didn’t need regular work to rely on, and also used their writing skills in other areas such as technical writing.

These people weren’t writing movies. There are a lot of movie screenwriters. You can’t swing a cat in Hollywood without hitting one. Very few of them ever sell a script though.

There are really good writers like Chuck Lorre who write for many shows and still they have other editors and pitch artists. Sometimes a writer will collaborate and alternate with other writers so to keep a show going. They are constantly writing. They’re made for it. They’re awesome at it. Even if a show is not FABULOUS and ABSOLUTELY CAPTIVATING the truth is that a writer that can keep moving with an idea and build off it is sheer talent (i.e. - Friends ran for 10 seasons). Surely some even take inspiration from personal life experience (hence why so many people relate to various television series and characters and favor them). Also, most directors are also the screenwriter (technically). They just hire others to write a full dialogue or script. A lot of the time this is the case actually, from what Ive read and understand.
To answer your question… find biographies, read about the author on the back of a book, or search for people who live this life and ask them. I would think there would be many similarities, but no two will be identical.

Although they don’t discuss Hollywood in the 21st century, the books by Oscar winning screenwriter and novelist, William Goldman on the subject are outstanding.
Adventures In The Screen Trade, and Which Lie Did I Tell? Just brilliant and funny as hell.

MiM

I would recommend that the OP visit and read a daily blog written by Ken Levine. Levine has been a TV writer for decades, creating and writing for shows such as MASH, Cheers, Frasier, The Simpsons and others. He often discusses the working world of TV writers. He recently had a blog about how many writers are kept busy re-writing and “punching up” scripts for shows. The original script writers are indicated in the credits, but the re-writers are not.

Good info, thanks for the specific recommendations.

I found out from watching the director’s track for News Radio that a staff of writers will be credited one episode at a time. Rather than list the entire staff in the credits, they’ll choose writer #1, then writer #2 in the next episode, and so on. This is so each writer’s name can appear without devoting too much time to displaying all their names. Collectively, they’ve all actually contributed to every episode.