A degree in screenwriting can prepare you for the realities of the business and give you valuable contacts– both with your peers and with industry insiders. Many professional screenwriters got a degree in screenwriting. And many did not. If you choose to take formal classes in screenwriting, then you should pick one of these schools. Which school is right for you?
These schools will ultimately lead you down a successful path. Learn how to train yourself to be ready for screenwriting success with this free guide.
USC has one of the best film programs out there, with alumni that include George Lucas, Judd Apatow, and Ron Howard, among many others. It offers both undergraduate and graduate programs for screenwriters, though it is very selective, as only 26 undergraduates and 32 graduates are accepted per year. The undergraduate program covers the writing of dramatic scenes and story structure. Graduate students learn to write short scripts, treatments, and feature-length screenplays. Courses also include video production and technology, acting and the direction of actors, directing, film economics, film theory, and film history.
UCLA, the other major film school, offers a highly prestigious MFA screenwriting program in their School of Film Television and Theater. It accepts so few applicants that UCLA also offers a screenwriting Professional Studies Program. This program eliminates critical studies seminars and electives, allowing students to focus exclusively on two feature screenplays while still giving them the flexibility to have a day job. The program also attracts prestigious guest speakers, such as Nancy Oliver (Lars and the Real Girl), Paul Haggis (Crash), Dan Futterman (Capote), and many more.
Loyola Marymount offers a screenwriting program in its School of Film & Television. Students complete a portfolio of two feature screenplays and a teleplay. Thesis projects take a minimum of one year to complete, usually spanning the final year of graduate work. Applicants are required to provide a writing sample.
The New York Film Academy aims to immerse students in acting, pitching, and film studies as they relate to screenwriting. Students also write, direct, and edit a digital short film or scene from a script. The second year has students create a feature-length script or television series. The NYFA also has online courses in screenwriting.
Chapman College offers a two-year MFA for aspiring screenwriters of all skill levels. The Graduate Screenwriting program accepts students from a variety of backgrounds, even those with no prior experience. The first year of the MFA gives students the fundamentals of screenwriting, directing, cinematography, editing, production, and design, regardless of their intended specialization.
NYU’s Tisch School offers a workshop in screenwriting that is designed for new writers. It emphasizes character, motivation, and conflict. The first third of the course focuses on developing five in-depth story ideas, one of which will serve as the basis for a feature screenplay. The program also emphasizes reading and analysis.
Emerson College in Boston offers a screenwriting program in its School of Visual Media and Arts. The program allows students to learn screenwriting through a series of non-credit workshops designed to build both writing skills and a sense of form and structure. Students who complete the two required workshops and one elective from the screenwriting series can earn the Screenwriting Certificate.
Students can expect to complete three or four feature-length screenplays and several short screenplays while gaining a strong understanding of the film and television industry, including what it takes to sell their work. The degree requires 64 credit hours of classes in both film and television. Screenwriting students are eligible to compete in the annual “Fleder-Rosenberg” short screenplay contest, which offers cash prizes and a funded trip to Los Angeles for the grand prize winners. Finalists scripts are also eligible for two production grants and an optional 5th semester that is based in Los Angeles.
Students initially write short screenplays, one of which will be the basis for a first-year production. They collaborate with Producing and Directing Fellows to produce their work. They also write a feature-length screenplay. In the second year, students may develop for television in addition to writing films. They also have the opportunity to collaborate with their peers from other disciplines, either by writing scripts for second-year thesis projects or by helping Directing and Producing Fellows develop thesis portfolio material.
Only seven students are admitted each year. In the first semester, students learn characterization, story structure, dialogue, and conflict. In the three subsequent semesters, students complete three original feature screenplays. Students are also encouraged to study adaptation and rewriting. During the summer between their first and second year, students are strongly urged to participate in the College of Communication’s Semester in Los Angeles for more industry-related experience and exposure. Students are also required to intern.
Before you start any of these programs, take advantage of our ebook, The Craft and Business of Screenwriting which provides our best advice from years of experience working with top screenwriters, Hollywood producers and studio executives. Get it here.
Have any more screenwriting programs to recommend? Leave a comment here or on Twitter!