The 10 Best Academic Programs for Aspiring Screenwriters

The Independent takes a look at the best degree and non-degree granting programs for screenwriters.


Students particpating in the USC Writing for Screen and TV Video program.
Students particpating in the USC Writing for Screen and TV Video program.

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Whether or not to pursue an education in the film industry has long been a hot topic. Clearly, there are identifiable pros and cons of electing to formally study film, more particularly choosing to concentrate on a single element, such as screenwriting. The most notable advantages are the value of an encouraging writing environment, a consistent work schedule, and various networking opportunities, yet pursuing screenwriting also requires a great deal of commitment, namely in time and money, as well as to overcoming the very obstacles inherent in navigating the options.

Aspiring screenwriters need only recognize the myriad options that are out there—a vast number of choices range from prominent degree programs to more alternative non-degree or certificate programs. The ten most interesting programs, both degree and non-degree options, are listed below.

University of Southern California (USC) – Writing for Screen and TV Video

Considered among the best schools for the study of film, the University of Southern California, located in Los Angeles, offers both undergraduate and graduate screenwriting programs at its School of Cinema & Television. Each fall, 32 students are selected to begin the two-year program, which concentrates on writing for narrative film and television. The program involves a curriculum that covers the writing of dramatic scenes, story structure, and provides the full array of tools available to the storyteller for heightening audience interest, involvement, and participation. Graduate students learn the basics of visual storytelling to writing short scripts and treatments and, finally, feature-length screenplays and scripts. Course work also includes video production and technology; acting and the direction of actors; directing; film economics; and history and theory of film.

To learn more about this program, visit
http://cinema.usc.edu/programs/writing/

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) – Professional Program in Screenwriting

UCLA is home to the highly prestigious MFA screenwriting program offered by the School of Film Television and Theater and its Professional Studies Program. As the only non-degree screenwriting program overseen by the UCLA, the Professional Program offers a viable alternative to the MFA screenwriting program that accepts so few applicants each year, and was specifically created to bring a greater number of promising screenwriters to UCLA.

Highlights of the on-campus program include the annual UCLA Professional Programs Screenplay Competition, an agent/manager panel, and guest speakers from the industry. Previous guest speakers have included Nancy Oliver (Lars and the Real Girl), Paul Haggis (Crash), and Dan Futterman (Capote), among many more.

By eliminating critical studies seminars and electives that are required to obtain a degree, the Professional Program, which lasts three academic quarters and provides a certificate of completion at culmination, allows students to focus on the theory and craft of professional screenwriting. It is designed for the student to produce two original feature length screenplays. As their website boasts, this program just may offer a perfect way to get a respected UCLA screenwriting education, and to come away with two completed feature-length screenplays in only one academic year, “all while keeping your day job.”

To learn more about this program, visit
http://www.filmprograms.ucla.edu/screenwriting.htm

Loyola Marymount College – MFA in Screenwriting

Another in the Los Angeles based triumvirate of note, Loyola Marymount offers a screenwriting program in its School of Film & Television. Writing for film and television has been a traditional focus in the school. Progressing from the core courses, the writing student must complete a portfolio, which consists 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. Students applying for the MFA Screenwriting Program are required to submit a writing sample with their application and will need to fulfill one or two prerequisites.

To learn more about this program, visit
http://www.lmu.edu/Page13254.aspx

The New School – Certificate in Screenwriting, Master of Arts in Media Studies

In addition to graduate programs, the department of Media Studies at The New School offers alternative certificate programs, including Documentary Studies (graduate level), Media Management (graduate level), and Film Production and Screenwriting. The Screenwriting curriculum is designed for serious and talented graduate, undergraduate, or adult education students. These intensive programs can be completed in one year and prepare students for careers in the media industry. Upon completing the core sequence of screenwriting courses, students have a comprehensive grounding in story, character, theme, action, visuals, and dialogue, as they have been carefully guided through the entire screenplay writing process. As enrollment is strictly limited, early registration is strongly advised. According to their website, “the Screenwriting Certificate Program is for the committed student at any experience level. Upon completion, participants should have a professional screenplay ready for the marketplace.”

To learn more about this program, visit
http://www.newschool.edu/mediastudies/screenwriting/

Chapman College – MFA in Screenwriting

Whether you’re starting from scratch with no prior experience or you want to hone your already established skills, Chapman College hosts a strong program for aspiring screenwriters of all levels. Located in the heart of Orange County, California, Chapman offers a two-year MFA in Screenwriting at the Lawrence & Kristina Dodge College of Film & Media Arts. The Graduate Screenwriting program accepts students from a variety of backgrounds, its website listing, “Literacy, passion, an open mind, and a desire to learn the craft” as essential prerequisites, while “prior experience or training in the field is not.” The first “foundation year” of the MFA presents students with the fundamentals of screenwriting, directing, cinematography, editing, production, and design, regardless of their intended specialization. But those looking to pursue screenwriting can expect to concentrate on the evolution of the language of visual storytelling.

To learn more about this program, visit
http://ftv.chapman.edu/prospective/grad/graduate_screenwriting.cfm

New York University's Tisch School Of The Arts – Certificate in Dramatic Writing: Screenwriting

NYU's Tisch School offers film students a variety of film & television programs at the Maurice Kanbar Institute. A screenwriting workshop is required of all Dramatic Writing majors. The workshop is designed for new screenwriters, offering particular emphasis on character and purpose and how this leads to conflict and the construction of plot. The first third of the course focuses on developing five in-depth story ideas to sustain a full-length screenplay, one of which will serve as the basis for the final work. The program also emphasizes reading and analysis in conjunction with original work. The course covers the writing and completion of a full-length screenplay.

To learn more about this program, visit
http://specialprograms.tisch.nyu.edu/object/screenwritingcert.html

Emerson College – Screenwriting Certificate Program

While New York and LA remain the major hotspots for film production, Boston has increasingly gained momentum, and several schools there now offer promising screenwriting programs. Emerson College, which has long been considered a strong school for communications, offers a screenwriting program in its School of Visual Media and Arts. The Screenwriting Program offers individuals the opportunity to learn the craft of screenwriting through a series of non-credit workshops designed to build both writing skills and a sensitivity for form and structure. Program participants who successfully complete the two required workshops and one elective from the screenwriting series have the option of earning the Screenwriting Certificate.

To learn more about this program, visit
http://www.emerson.edu/ce/programs/certificate/Screenwriting-Certificate...

Boston University School of Communications – MFA in Screenwriting

Students participating in the BU graduate program will earn an MFA in Screenwriting and be prepared to place their work in the film industry. The website of this self-proclaimed “small yet vigorous and nurturing” program bears their motto, which, simply stated, is “writers write.” 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 and what it takes to sell their work. The degree in screenwriting requires 64 credit hours of classes—an intensive combination of writing and film and television elective classes—about 40 of which are devoted to requirements. Screenwriting students are eligible to compete in the annual 'Fleder-Rosenberg' short screenplay contest, which offers cash prizes for the best scripts and a funded trip to Los Angeles for the grand prizewinners. The finalists' scripts are also made eligible for two production grants that could potentially bring a screenwriter’s work from script to screen. Lastly, they have the option to participate in a 5th semester, located in Los Angeles and titled “The Writer in Hollywood.”

To learn more about this program, visit
http://www.bu.edu/com/ft/film/graduate.html

University of Miami, School of Communications – MFA in Screenwriting

“The story in the form of a screenplay is the beating heart of every moving image experience,” UM’s website states, introducing its MFA in Screenwriting to prospective students. Located in Coral Gables, Florida, this program provides an immersive experience in professional screenwriting as art and craft. It allows students to concentrate in narrative, documentary, animation, or experimental storytelling, while equipping them with critical, analytical, and professional development skills. Students in the program can expect to take on a major creative writing project or feature-length screenplay from conception to completion. Professionally based courses offer hands on experience writing for feature films, short films, series television. Attention is also given to analysis and exercises in character and dialogue.

To learn more about this program, visit
http://com.miami.edu/graduate/screenwriting/

University of Texas – MFA in Screenwriting

The MFA in Screenwriting at The University of Texas is a two-year degree program designed for creative individuals committed to storytelling for the screen. The objective of the program is to provide a foundation of skills that will enable writers to achieve success. Only seven students are admitted each year—a testament to the program’s commitment to utilizing personalized workshops and providing maximum guidance. In the first semester, students can expect an introduction to the principles of writing for the screen—characterization, story structure, dialogue, and conflict. In the three subsequent semesters, students complete three original feature-length works. In addition to the core coursework, students are encouraged to study adaptation and rewriting. During the summer between the first and second year of the program, students are strongly urged to participate in the College of Communication’s Semester in Los Angeles Program for further industry-related experience and exposure. Students are also required to intern as part of their degree fulfillment.

To learn more about this program, visit
http://rtf.utexas.edu/graduate/mfa-screen/index.htm


Pepperdine MFA

We're only three years old, but check out our Facebook page to see the astounding profs we have teaching in our MFA Screenwriting program: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Pepperdine-University-MFA-in-Writing-for-S.... Check us out at http://www.pepperdine.edu.

A new screenwriting program worthy of consideration

I just wanted to add that a new MFA program in professional screenwriting is being launched at National University. It is 95% online with a 2 week residency requirement in L.A. This flexibility will allow students to participate who cannot take off from jobs or family responsibilities to attend school in a traditional setting.

Program is created by former HBO Films executive and teachers and content creators are all working professionals in the business.

For more information please feel free to look up the program in the National University catalog at www.nu.edu or email lead faculty, Bettina Moss at bmoss@nu.edu.

The NU program is now in its 3rd year and expanding!!

Great news - the program is proving to be quite a success! We have added two new tracks - Television Writing and Transmedia Writing (graphic novels, comics and webwriting). Check out our blog and faculty page for the most up to date info: http://nu-screenwriting.tumblr.com/

Bettina Moss
bmoss@nu.edu

TheFilmSchool in Seattle

As a reader, I just wanted to add to the (fantastic!) list above an incredible program I attended last Spring in Seattle, TheFilmSchool. It's a 3-week intensive program focused on the Art of Storytelling...just an amazing experience all around. One of my five instructors was Stewart Stern, the legendary screenwriter of 'A Rebel Without a Cause' and 'Sybil' -- we also had a section in which students acted out each other's work as directed by Tom Skerritt. Great for someone who is in the Pacific NW, as Seattle has a real and growing film community...also ideal for someone who wants an alternative to a longer program. The classes are small and the hours are LONG so you really become part of a family with your classmates and instructors alike. www.thefilmschool.com