Before launching into a 100-page script, let’s start with a single sentence—the logline. A logline is a one-sentence synopsis of an entire script.
Why should a logline come before a screenplay? In short, because it can help a Writer truly hone in on what their story is about. Of course, tweaks to a logline can come and are often expected, but having a solid logline that clearly and compellingly conveys the narrative is a key first step in script writing1.
What is a Screenwriter responsible for?
The Screenwriter is responsible for the story. That means the structure, how the whole thing hangs together, the development of characters, the event choices. The Screenwriter is responsible for thematic material, which is what are we actually trying to say.
That can be something simple like there’s no place like home in The Wizard of Oz or it can be something complicated and dark like the rich get away with murder, which is the theme of Chinatown. It can also be something unbelievably nuanced like Annie Hall where Woody Allen is writing about a woman who’s a mess and then she meets a man who turns her into someone strong enough to leave him. That’s pretty incredible. That’s all writing.
Most people think Screenwriters are responsible for only dialogue. I would say that’s about five percent of it.
A Screenwriter is responsible for the creation of worlds. From the characters you dream up, the locations you explore, the journeys you pen, and emotions you elicit. All of that translates into how you hope to make an audience member feel when your screenplay is hopefully transformed one day.
It could become a film, a television show, a short, a documentary, or another form of media in our ever-changing world. You might like writing across different mediums, or you may have a particular genre that feels like home.
That is just a bit of the creative side, for there is a definitive business side to writing as well. A Screenwriter is responsible for pitching ideas (which is sometimes nerve-racking, but part of the job, and trust me–it gets easier over time), liaising with Producers, Directors, Actors, and other creatives–upholding your unique vision while also being open to suggestions.
For a film is more than a screenplay, it is a powerful collaboration of sometimes hundreds of people over the course of many years to realize a collective vision.
Whether it’s your own idea, or you are adapting someone else’s into a movie or TV show–it’s the Screenwriter’s job to create a compelling story–and then to make sure the story tracks and the characters remain true to themselves while making the changes everybody else wants. The Director, Actors, Producers will all bring ideas to the table and you have to find a way to execute them while staying true to the story.