Getting Inspired into a Career in Screenwriting

One of the initial people that lay the bricks for stories in films and TV, and other entertainment mediums that have become an important part of our daily lives, are the relatively low-profile screenwriters. They receive less recognition than actors, less creative control over what eventually goes on-screen than directors and editors, yet are still demanded the extremely challenging task of writing the foundations of visual drama on paper. In the face of such a daunting, seemingly thankless vocation, should writers pursue a career in this medium?  

Alison Bicknell, Deakin University’s ALW227 Scriptwriting tutor, proves it can be done, with even the right amount of fun. 

Alison suggests that screenwriters have more opportunities now for several reasons. The rise in Netflix and other streaming services, for one, demands more quality TV shows be made. Therefore, showrunners, producer-meets-writer people, are now being appointed to be in charge of larger creative input and control. A showrunner from America may get sent to Denmark or Sweden to work on a regional crime show, while Australia, she said, is heading in the same direction. 

Technologically, we are also benefiting from the widespread use of smartphones. Previously, if a writer with only a prose-writing background struggled to imagine their work being practised on-set, then the ownership of cameras nowadays allows them to visualise the scenes more practically. Five minutes’ worth of dialogue, a common mistake we used to make, can finally be cut down to just half a page. 

Although the process of writing and film production is not easy, it's nevertheless achievable. A three to four minute short, for example, can take six weeks to exclusively write, and another six spent at film sets and post-production cutting rooms. A feature film may take a year to finish before another two are spent editing until they’re ready to reach a funding body. You are expected to constantly receive feedback from readers and make changes accordingly. Problems then continually arise at film sets—from time being a limited resource, to waves of creative pressure, down to the high-cost of production. 

But key players help make things happen more seamlessly. Teachers like Alison guide students constructively on their craft. Script editors advise you however complex and lengthy your script. And directors/producers will step in to give spontaneous solutions to issues on set. Editors also optimise your footage to a beautiful final product. Alison calls it a ‘stressful but fun’ workplace, manageable and resilient when done collaboratively well. 

Experience in this field is also very versatile. Alison’s career may have begun with short stories, music videos, and creative writing degrees, but it qualifies her just as well to write scripts for a production company she founded with a director friend. They are working, in fact, on a Little Mermaid adaptation, being set in a 1950s noir, meant to suit three different segments. One, an adult version of the story, is a part live, part cinematic experience aimed at rural areas lacking in theatres. The second is a kids show, to be created with an animator. The last one is a graphic novel, a rather new medium where Alison expects to use her visual knowledge in the storyboard process, similar to scripts—all the while being both serious and humorous in approach. 

Alison endured a season of reality shows like My Kitchen Rules and Property Ladder to deconstruct conventions for her students. She understands why shows like Game of Thrones appeal to her: the political aspects and mesmerising spectacle over less-favoured violence. She's conscious of the Marvel franchise attracting young people, reminding her of dreams to write for the James Bond series. Being keen on musicals, like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Sunset Boulevard’s Billy Wilder, and Alfred Hitchcock in works like Vertigo gives her the creative voice. 

Most importantly, however, advises Alison, screenwriting can truly be made easier if you develop a critical eye. Spotting a TV show’s appeal or identifying a common theme to your liking, and then developing methods to accommodate your ideas can be a place to start. You are the teller of stories with the power to wield the content of a story. So, responding to what grabs you, first and foremost, must be taken note of in order to strike out that unique writer's voice you possess! 

All that's left really is coloured paper, a pencil, and an ability to ask and answer questions about what's happening in the world before you have a story to tell. That's what Alison does anyway. And in a situation like now, what more can you write? Plenty is probably the answer! 


Special thanks to Alison Bicknell, ALW227 Scriptwriting: Character, Event, Consequence tutor of Deakin University, for contributing majestically to the content of this article. 

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