What Does a Pro Screenwriting Assignment REALLY Look Like?

Whether you’re an emerging screenwriter just starting on a new path or a well-developed professional you may be wondering what a pro typical screenwriting assignment looks like.

All levels of writers will be searching for assignments. Whether they are working television writers, writers who have sold specs and pitches to major studios, contest winners, or emerging writers.

While there are undoubtedly different kinds of assignments, there are also many similarities within them. In this article, we will look at what some of those commonalities look like.

Screenwriting assignments present the opportunity to build and reinforce meaningful relationships with executives and market yourself and your writing. They are the goal most writers will be working toward in their careers. And the successful execution of these assignments will likely lead to more opportunities.

So what does it mean to have a screenwriting assignment? Let’s take a look…

The Process of a Screenwriting Assignment

There are several steps to a screenwriting assignment. The first step is, of course, getting the assignment. While everyone’s path will look different, these are some of the most common steps…

1. Pitch Yourself

Movie Pitch

In order to get a screenwriting assignment the first step is to pitch yourself and your ideas. There may be many people going after the same assignment. The question is, what makes you the best person for the job?

This is why, in many cases, pitching yourself is the first step. Every writer’s style is different. This will lead them to have different thoughts on the direction in which to take the piece. And this is why people will want to hear your ideas.

In terms of pitching ideas, the process, and your pitch, should include the things that make your style and your thoughts individual. Consider why your skills and suggestions are the perfect match for this particular assignment. If it’s a rewrite that you’re pitching, for instance, it’s all about demonstrating your unique solutions and ideas.

2. Craft a Logline

A logline is one of the first steps in a screenwriting assignment (where it’s your story). It is a brief summary of your story and is usually no longer than a single sentence. This summary should attempt to describe the protagonist and their goal, as well as the antagonist and the conflict they may create.

The goal of the logline is to convey the story in as broad and concise terms as possible. It allows producers and whoever else may be reading it to quickly decide whether or not they want to invest time into the piece. The logline should grab attention and assert your story in no uncertain terms. It may be brief, but its conciseness should nonetheless grab.

Check out our in-depth loglines guide for more detail on how to craft the perfect logline.

3. Outline Your Story

To help with the plot and character development, you will likely create a story outline as well. Outlines can look very different, ranging from showing in-depth subplots, for example, to only illustrating much broader strokes. What’s important is that you do what works best for your creative process and convey the essential story clearly.

During the creation of this outline, you can create storyboards, make a bullet list of plot points, create a checklist for story beats or include notes about your characters. However, this should ultimately be filtered through the story outline. You don’t want to overload the reader with information in different places. Ideally, you want everything to be visible from just reading the plot.

The goal of the outline is to lay out your story. This can be as detailed as you want it to be, but this process typically helps writers visualize the arc of the story in broad beats. Moreover, if well done it will make the nature and direction of your story palpably clear to the reader without them having to break a sweat.

4. Support the Concept

In addition to an outline, you may well want to include a short summary of your vision for this assignment. This will help clarify your intent and the unique elements that you bring to the telling of this story. For a re-write, for example, you could outline why it’s you that is right for this project.

  • What are the themes you want to address?
  • How does the script’s style match these themes?
  • What connection do you have to the material?

This is your opportunity to demonstrate what, on top of the story, you have to offer this assignment. Whilst the story should ideally convey all that those reading need to know and understand, you shouldn’t rest on your laurels. You should use every opportunity you can to illustrate the exciting vision you have for this project.

So support the logline and synopsis with a page to a few paragraphs of concise and effective writing outlining just how well-suited you are to this assignment in terms of your intention for it.

Screenwriting Assignment - Writing

5. Writing and Re-Writing; The First Draft and Beyond

When you have crafted all of these things, it’s time to get to writing. You have a developed plot, interesting characters, and an inspiring treatment, now you can write your first draft. The first draft may be rough, but that’s why it’s only the first of many to come.

Before writing your next draft, you may consider seeking feedback from a variety of people. You might consider feedback and script coverage not just from professionals, but from the people who consume this type of media for fun during their daily lives. Friends and colleagues who are movie fans, for instance, might offer great advice. However, it’s ultimately professional feedback that is going to likely be the most instructive for moving forward.

Overall, surround yourself with ideas, take a break, and come back to the screenwriting assignment. Open yourself up to as much feedback as possible in order to improve, grow and ultimately, make the best work you can. Completing your first draft is definitely something to celebrate, but your work won’t stop there.

Depending on the specific assignment and agreement, you will be expected to do multiple drafts. Make sure the fee structure protects this process. This development process can go on for a long period of time, with multiple drafts and many notes. So ensure you’re well-prepared for whatever the eventualities may be.

Types of Screenwriting Assignments

There are various types of writing assignments. We’ve highlighted two of the most likely to come up for a screenwriter:

Open Writing Assignment

An open writing assignment is where writers are invited to pitch for a specific project.

The person commissioning this work might be hiring on behalf of a studio, or they might be an independent producer, director, or someone who has the rights to a particular piece of intellectual property.

Here, the content does not originate from you as the screenwriter. This might include:

  • Book adaptations
  • Someone’s personal life story
  • A piece of intellectual property
  • Rewriting an already existing script

In this case, “open” essentially means that the project is yet to find a writer and therefore “open” to pitches.

And for an open writing assignment, multiple writers may be invited to make a pitch for their take on the material. Whoever is hiring is essentially looking for the right person to adapt the material they have their hands on.

So when pitching for these kinds of assignments, make sure to stress your suitability for the material. This may be a personal connection to the story or a particular style you’re adept at, for example. Go out of your way to pitch yourself as the right person for this job, with the proof (such as copious notes on your pitch) to back it up.

If you win the assignment, your first task will likely be to go through the material (such as reading the book) and determine which elements are the most significant. This can be a whole skill in and of itself, something that you’ll want to clearly demonstrate you can do.

Similarly, with a personal story, you won’t be able to write about someone’s entire life. With writing assignments such as these, you will be figuring out how to best rework and shape the material.

Assignments from a Pitch

This is a relatively standard commission. You will either have one or all of a logline, outline, and treatment (with or without a supporting statement and visual aids). And you’ll present this to a producer, studio executive or commissioner. If they like what they see, they’ll commission the next stage of development.

So you might have a logline and they commission an outline and/or treatment. Or you might have a fully-fledged treatment and they commission you to write the script. Either way, this type of assignment rests on you having a killer pitch. The logline will be the absolute bare minimum, typically accompanied by a larger outline too. From there, the commissioner in question will want to see more.

Understanding Payment Structure

Fees for screenwriting assignments vary massively depending on the company/commissioner/producer you’re working for, the stage of your career you’re at, and what the specific assignment requires.

However, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the typical payment structure of a screenwriting assignment. This way, you’ll be less likely to overwork, work for free or have ambiguity as to the professional nature of the contract/agreement.

A typical structure for a screenwriting assignment may look like the following:

  • Treatment/Outline
  • First Draft
  • Second Draft/Rewrites
  • Production-Ready Draft

Now, at which stage you get paid will depend on the nature of how the assignment has come to be. You may get paid upfront for just writing the treatment, for example, based on a logline or an open commission. Or you may have to provide a treatment before you get the commission for the first draft.

In terms of how your fees will break down; typically you will be given an overall commission and then receive instalments at the different stages of the process. So if the overall fee is $20, 000, for instance, you may get $10,000 upfront, another $5,000 on delivery of the first draft, and then the final $5,000 on final delivery after re-writes.

Each development process has its specificities. However, a broad understanding of the process will allow you to have an idea of how it should develop. Most of all, make sure that there is full transparency when going into the assignment. Don’t let the opportunity blindside you; establish clear rules and structures for professional conduct.

How Do You Get a Screenwriting Assignment?

Screenwriter Working - Screenwriting Assignment

The opportunity to get a screenwriting assignment may present itself in a variety of ways. If you have an agent or manager, they can get your writing samples into the marketplace and help introduce you to the industry. Meetings can then be set up with people who respond well to your work.

Writers that are new to the field may find themselves considering assignments that do not pay up-front. The ultimate hope is to get your name out to the general market. This will make you more likely to be considered for any upcoming assignments. So if you’re considering working for free, do the maths of whether it might be worth it in the long run.

Assignments may come from executives who are looking to adapt a short story or book. Representatives might reach out to a variety of people with different writing styles and ask them to pitch their take, for instance. Then, the best candidate will be chosen from there.

Screenwriting assignments may also include doctoring, rewriting, or polishing a script. Opportunities such as these are still a great chance to market yourself as a writer and to prove yourself a good fit for any future assignment.

Demonstrating you have adaptability is a great way to advertise yourself as a writer. Be wary of turning opportunities down, as even though they may not be the dream assignment at first, there’s no telling what they might lead to.

What to Expect From a Screenwriting Assignment

Screenwriting Assignment

When completing a screenwriting assignment, there will most likely be a deadline. The deadline, of course, varies depending on the case, but most often you will have a strict timeline. Even if you don’t, you want to enforce a deadline. An ever-expanding deadline can be a hindrance to the creative process.

Collaboration is another vital part of preparing yourself for an assignment. Many assignments, especially adaptation ones, have already been through previous drafts. So there may be some sort of collaboration with another screenwriter, or with the original author. Making sure collaboration is part of your skillset is, therefore, crucial.

Most importantly, when looking for screenwriting assignments, expect to market yourself. Networking is a huge part of getting and maintaining consistent assignments. The more you put yourself out there, the more opportunities you will find.

To get a writing assignment, you have to keep at your craft and be confident about the work you produce. And when you do get an assignment, you’ll need to back up what you have pitched with your work. This, in turn, will lead to more screenwriting assignments.

The work doesn’t stop once your assignment is done. You should always be improving your skills and preparing for the next assignment or opportunity to arise. A screenwriting assignment is a chance to prove your worth. But as the famous maxim goes; you’re only as good as your last.

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This article was written by Corey Campbell and edited by IS staff.

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