Screenwriter vs. scriptwriter – these two titles are often used interchangeably in the film industry but are there meaningful differences between the two or is it all just a matter of semantics? If you’re starting out in the film industry, you’ll likely hear ‘screenplay’ used when referring to a script. But it’s important to note that not all people who write scripts are necessarily writing them for the big screen!
At the risk of being pedantic, let’s explore some of the nuances between the interchangeable use of screenwriter vs. scriptwriter.
Is a Screenwriter the Same as a Scriptwriter?
When we use the term ‘screenwriter,’ it may imply the intended usage for the writer’s creative output. It follows that screenplays are scripts that are written specifically for film and TV, or for theater. You know, for the big screen. So, a screenwriter is still a scriptwriter, it’s just that their title is indicative of the intended use of their script.
On the other hand, when we use ‘scriptwriter,’ we’re not being explicit about the chosen medium of the scriptwriter. The scriptwriter could certainly be writing for film and TV, but they might equally be writing other types of scripts outside of video production. For example, they might be writing branching dialogue, or non-playable character bios for narrative video game development, which has a different format and use case than a screenplay.
The Role of a Screenwriter vs. Scriptwriter
Whether you prefer to use the term screenwriter or scriptwriter the role is to write a blueprint of a story. Screenwriters will pitch an original idea or adapt other literary works, such as a novel, a comic book, or a short story into a script. In the case of cinema, the script, or more specifically the screenplay, is used to bring a story to life.
The screenplay offers instruction and cues to other roles in pre-production. For this reason, a screenplay adheres to certain conventions agreed upon by the industry. Things like scene headings, actions, characters, dialogue, parentheticals, transitions, etc. all help empower the director, the producer, and the cast and crew to make meaningful creative decisions throughout production. If a writer’s job title includes screenwriting, then they’ll have experience with a screenplay format and these elements.
So, What Does This All Mean?
In the end, the terms screenwriter and scriptwriter are often used interchangeably but the job title may hint at the intended use for the writer’s script. Screenwriters are scriptwriters who write scripts formatted for use in film and TV, and theater and their scripts are generally referred to as ‘screenplays.’ Whereas scriptwriters write ‘scripts,’ where the intended use of said script is not specified, but could include film and TV, theatre, corporate video, video games, and more.
Call it what you want, screenwriters or scriptwriters are instrumental in architecting and inspiring creative forces in the industry to bring stories worth telling to life. If you’d like to know more about how a screenwriter formats a script then read Celtx’s article on Screenplay Formatting: Breaking Down the Elements.
Looking for tools to help you write your next script? Celtx inspires scriptwriters and screenwriters with narrative ideation tools like script editors, storyboards, index cards, and more.