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Script Writing System: How To Write a Screenplay That Sells

I’m Phil Gladwin. I’ve worked writing scripts and script editing in the TV industry since 1995, and this site is dedicated to bringing you authoritative information on how to write a screenplay.

The first thing to say is I’m a real person. You can look up my track record on IMDB, and on Wikipedia.

I’m a writer, just like you – I’ve been one for as long as I can remember.

I started off writing song lyrics as a teenager. In my twenties and early thirties I wrote science fiction novels and short stories.

I didn’t do very well at that. In fact I did terribly, so when the chance came to work at the BBC Drama Department in 1995 I jumped at the chance at finally finding out how story telling really worked.

That was the best move I ever made. Something about me and script writing just clicked, in the way me and prose never had.

For the next five years I worked as a script editor for several different TV companies on various high profile dramas like The Bill, Casualty, Berkeley Square, and Bugs, and I also did stints in-house developing new shows.

Script Editing is The Best Training For a Script Writer

Working on script writing for those high volume, mass market shows is like Commando Boot Camp – when a script isn’t working, the production team is waiting for you, and the director is banging on your door demanding the latest draft, you learn how to make a story work to reach an audience pretty quickly!

Screenwriting trial by ordeal? Maybe?

After five years of those kind of highs I thought I knew enough to get back to what I really wanted to do: write my own screenplays.

I took a chance and resigned. The time was right: I picked up a commission within two weeks, and I’ve never stopped writing since.

Many Types Of Drama

Ever since then I’ve written for, and helped storyline, most genres of TV. I’ve worked on treatments, pitches, story documents, and screenplays for many episodes of some very different shows.

I’ve written dark, twisted crime for Lynda La Plante, I’ve written much more jolly episodes of children’s TV Shows (Grange Hill and the Sarah Jane Adventures). Recently I’ve script doctored a five part drama series for Irish TV, been Series Script Editor for both the BAFTA winning CBBC childrens’ drama The Dumping Ground, and New Tricks – and currently I’m Acting Head of Development for a busy London indie.

I’ve written stage plays that have toured nationally, I’ve written radio plays, I’ve been nominated for the Dennis Potter Award twice by a major production company – and I’m delighted to say that my last BBC Radio 4 play Mad Girl was nominated for a British Journalists award for the best handling of a medical issue on any broadcast media.

Which all goes to show that, unlike many of the people who are out there giving out script advice, I actually do have a LOT of direct experience of starting at the blank page, and finishing up with a production script. I’ve done this entire process over and over, many, many times.

Before you get into the main site I thought it might be worth going over the basics:

What is a Screenplay?

A “screenplay”, or “script”, is a document produced by a screenwriter (scriptwriter) which acts as a blueprint for an episode of TV, or a movie.

It is very distinctive, and takes a very special kind of writing. Script writing is all about telling a story through what characters do, and what they say, rather than elaborate descriptions of locations and characters’ states of mind.

If you see the relationship of a script to a film as being the same as a musical score to an orchestral concert, or an architectural plan to the finished building, you’ll be on the right track.

What is Script Writing? What is Screenwriting?

Script writing, or ‘screenwriting’ is the process of writing a script. It’s a very specific skill, concentrating on a very tight, very worked out telling of a story. Though it’s similar to writing a stage play there are very significant differences.

Firstly it is normally a very collaborative process. During the life of the project it is entirely normal for a screenwriter to get detailed notes from the director and the producer (and sometimes others on the production team) asking for fairly radical changes.

What Does a Screenplay Look Like?

Scripts have a very distinctive layout on the screen. You can see a good example of a typical screenplay format here.

You can find many, many examples of screenplays from existing TV shows and movies here, and here. But bear in mind that over the years things have changed massively. The trend in screenwriting has always been towards slimming down, and making what’s on the page look slimmer, more lean, more sparse.

How Do You Make a Career as a ScreenWriter?

First and foremost you need to have written one or more great scripts. Beyond that screenwriting requires discipline, self sacrifice, social ability, and luck – sometimes for years on end.

Though it is a challenge, it can be done. I, and the working screenwriters, I know are proof that you can break into this apparently closed script writing shop with no experience or family connections

For those who manage to get hired on a regular basis the financial rewards can substantial – the going rate for a hour length show on a British TV show can be anything from £10K to £30K (c. $16K USD to $48K USD) or higher, and if you write a movie you’d expect to be paid something like 2% of the gross production budget. (Yes, so if your movie has a budget of £10 million you could well be paid somewhere in the region of £200,000/$320,000.) Check with the UK Writers Guild, or the US Writers Guild, for more information.

What’s more, around the world rates can vary massively. Personally I’ve never worked in the USA, but I hear that you getting hired on a script writing gig in the USA can add a zero to the UK figures.

Are There Currently Increased Tax Incentives in Place For UK Film Making?

Yes there are. In many ways there has never been a better time to get into the industry. More information on the government’s moves here.


Of course the script writing industry is incredibly competitive. There are many people who dream of getting work, and who will labour for years for no money just for their big chancee. The studios tend to have all the power, and many low to mid ranking writers struggle to last more than a few years.

On the plus side, I still think it’s quite possibly the best job in the world. I’d like to help you with what I know about it all, and then maybe you can write back and tell me how it feels to be a working writer yourself.

I’m afraid I still can’t believe people pay me to write for a living. It’s just so enjoyable.

And, Finally, a Quick Taster

Just to illustrate what I mean, here is the trailer for two episodes of a Dr Who spinoff called The Sarah Jane Adventures I wrote a few years back. As I mentioned, I’ve written all sorts of drama, but this was a particularly fun job. It’s quite a short extract, but it’ll give you the flavour of the story:

Imagine a life where your job is to day dream for a living..!

My hope is that this site will help you take a few steps closer to that yourself.

So start by checking out these terrific resources:

Or, if you don’t see the advice you need, then why don’t you drop me an email and let me know what’s missing.

Welcome to the Screenwriting Goldmine!

Phil Gladwin