People who write plays are playwrights. It has a romantic, artistic, craftsmanlike quality to it because it’s not quite literal… not a play “writer” but a play “wright”.
Wright, of course, meaning “a worker, esp. a constructive worker (used chiefly in combination): a wheelwright; a playwright.” So it’s not simply writing… any literate person can do that. But it’s one who constructs, who builds, who creates, which is so much more interesting than merely writing.
There is, however, no entry at dictionary.com for “scriptwright” (or for “screenwright“). We who write scripts (for film, television and video as opposed to the stage) are merely “screen writers”. We are literate, but somehow less creative. That’s the subtext, anyway. I’m sure it has a lot to do with the long and respected history of play writing… there is as yet no William Shakespeare of screen writing. Screen writing is a comparatively new art form, and has yet to gain the cultural status of the playwright. And plays, too, maintain a cultured status compared to movies or television. Cultured, educated, sophisticated people go to the “Theatah”. The masses, the blue collar worker class, go to the “movies”.*
Were we to choose, would it be “scriptwright” or “screenwright”? Or perhaps it should be “filmwright”? I like the sound of “scriptwright”. I think I’d like to be referred to as a “scriptwright”. It has an old world artisan quality that appeals to me. Not that there’s anything at all wrong with saying “I’m a script writer” or “I’m a screen writer” (it’s oh so much better than “I’m an office supply salesman” — which I did for 17 years so I can say that with some authority. You’ve seen The Office? That was my life.).
I’m certainly not neologizing here… others have used the term, and there are websites (thescriptwright.com) so I claim no first-mover status on this. But I would like to see the term gain a broader acceptance, to see it one day included at dictionary.com, to see it used more in the trades.
And I will, I think, begin referring to myself thusly. And perhaps in the third person as well.
*I am, of course, generalizing, with one half of my forked tongue planted firmly in my left cheek, and have no interest in debating the relative histories and cultural impacts of film vs theatah. So don’t even start.