Years ago, when I decided to become a filmmaker. I naturally I was drawn to screenwriting seeing as its the first part and in my opinion the most essential part of creating a film. At this time, I was looking for the best way to be educated on the subject. So, I considered all options which at the time was a traditional screenwriting degree, Online courses, or attending workshops.
All these options had a few things in common. They all cost money, and they all taught you screenwriting. Below I’m going to break down the differences in each so you can determine which screenwriting class is worth it for you?
Before we begin, there is a couple of questions you should ask yourself. Those are:
How do you learn?
What motivates you?
Knowing the best way you learn will determine which option below is best. Knowing this could save you either a couple of hundred dollars or and a couple hundred thousand. The second question what motivates you? Is asked because if you are driven by your surrounding that might sway your opinion in one direction. But if your more like me and is highly introverted and is dragged down by most people that will push you in the opposite direction.
Are Screenwriting School Degrees Worth It?
A school degree, in general, is starting to be looked at as a waste of money for a lot of people. Going to school for 4 or sometimes six years only to play hundreds of thousands of dollars back and make an average salary is not looked like as the golden egg anymore. I think the same goes for a degree in screenwriting. But that doesn’t mean that this isn’t the option for you.
Out of all the screenwriting learning forms listed in the article, A degree is still the number one way to create life long connections. Connections that will help you in the future.
I decided not to go to school for screenwriting, but I still have friends from my time in college and teachers even that have helped me out professionally and financially. Going to school for a screenwriting degree will probably serve the same purpose.
If you and 10 of your college friends go out in the worlds looking for a job to write and one lands a job writing for TV. And he happens to know you wrote an excellent TV pilot in college; he could pass that along.
This is the power of the college community that still happens today. We’ve all heard the saying “who you know is sometimes more important than what you know.” Schools such as Princeton and Harvard have clubs just for graduates where they meet future business partners and clients. So the question now is where do they do this with screenwriting.
What is a BFA of screenwriting Degree?
A BFA is a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree with a concentration in screenwriting.
Most classes will teach you the basics of writing a plot character etc. But with this degree, you learn editing, directing film history, acting, etc. More for the person who wants to be a writer-director or writer-producer. This method of learning is more expensive than what we are going to talk about next. Mostly because its a part of a typical 4-year degree. A BFA degree from USC will cost about $77,459 a year.
What is an MFA Screenwriting Degree?
An MFA screenwriting program is typically a two-year but sometimes one year Master of Fine Arts degree that teaches you to write for Film and Television.
I recommend this type of schooling over a traditional four year BFA degree. You will be amongst an entire class of just screenwriting professionals that more than likely already have working experience. For a lot of them, they are exclusive meaning you have to be invited.
But if you apply and out of thousands of applicants each year, less than 5% may be admitted. Compared to the 25% admitted to there BFA program.
Surrounding yourself with highly talented people will increase your chances of meeting someone that can help you into a writer’s room or vis vera you helping them. I talk about the community effect because there are many ways to learn to screenwrite I’m just trying to focus on what makes each one on this list unique and stand out.
List of the Best Screenwriting MFA Programs
I created this list based on the percentage of graduates to get hired and work as a professional screenwriter after they finished the program. But remember professional can mean many things as long as your cashing checks in the career you studied for your a professional. You don’t have to be Aaron Sorkin to add to the percentage breakdown.
- American Film Institute (MFA Screenwriting)
- New York University Tisch School (MFA Dramatic Writing)
- The University of California Los Angeles (MFA Screenwriting)
- The University of Southern California(MFA Writing for Screen and Television)
- London Film School, UK (MA Screenwriting)
- Toronto Film School(Writing for Film and TV Diploma)
How Much Does an MFA Screenwriting Degree’s Cost?
For this example, we are going to look at USC. One year in this program with fees will cost you $47,520. According to there website but this is a two-year program so double that to $95,040, which is almost equivalent to one year as a BFA student.
By far the most expensive option from my research and other schools most likely cost less than USC, so take this with a grain of salt. Schools do offer scholarships that could lower that cost a lot, but it’s still pretty expensive, especially if you’re broke.
Is A MFA screenwriting degree worth it?
I can’t answer this question seeing as I didn’t go down that route, but I know a YouTuber who did.
So, in my opinion, I don’t think it’s worth it, but she has a job writing three days a week that pays all of her bills. I don’t know how the hell that’s possible but more power to you.
Let’s wrap up this section with a list of the pros and cons.
- A network of writers
- A higher percentage of getting a job (It’s trackable compared to other choices)
- MFA courses are for experienced writers
- It’s expensive
- Two years until competition
Are Screenwriting Online Courses Worth It?
This question depends on your learning styles and your goals. The level of your ability matters with online classes as well. If you are a newer writer, this might be an excellent option for you seeing as it covers a wide range of topics related to creating a story. But unlike the other two options, you really can’t ask your instructor any questions after the lesson is over.
What is an Online Screenwriting Course?
Online screenwriting courses are a set of prerecorded videos created by an expert to teach a set number of ideas related to screenwriting. For example, some classes teach dialogue or character development. And others teach a wide variety of topics all in one course.
The length of these classes depends on the creators; some lessons are seven videos long each video spanning 15- 20 minutes. Some can be 35 videos long, giving you 7 hours of content.
It depends on your needs. Classes that are broader seem to be longer over specific topic courses like Chacater arcs.
How Much Do Online Screenwriting Courses Cost?
It’s safe to say that this option is the cheapest out of all three. You can find an online screenwriters course for as little as $14.00 too much as $200.00. So why is this option so cheap? Most if not all of them are prerecorded videos created by a professor or famed screenwriters to sell over and over again repeatedly. This model keeps the cost of creation low, and they then pass those saving over to you their customer.
This model also comes with some flaws. Seeing as this option is the only one that is entirely virtual, there is no connection between the students and teachers. So when your learning from someone like Aaron Sorkin, for the most part, you can’t ask followup questions about the lesson. Meaning you have to be more intuitive when it comes to your takeaways.
The Best Screenwriting Online Courses?
The best online courses depend on your needs. Are you a beginner, or do you already know your problem areas?
If you are that scrappy beginner, you can try David Mamet class on dramatic writing. David Mamet to me is the best type of teacher he’s entertaining and gives you clarity on complicated topics. He’s been screenwriting, directing and playwriting since before you were born and has received academy awards for his work.
Now Mamet’s class isn’t just for beginners, in my opinion, he talks about complex ideas, but his trick is making it seem simple. The next class that I took that I understood a little later after writing my first couple of scripts was Arron Sorkin’s class.
If you don’t know who Aaron Sworkin is may god help you. But if your new in this field you’ve probably seen some of his work. If David Mamet’s the godfather, Sorkin is the son.
He is not only a feature film screenwriter but a prime time TV writer as well. So this class will also teach you to know if your one or the other.
The third and final class I can recommend is Shonda Rhimes Teaches Writing for Television.
Whether your a TV writer or a feature film writers. We all write for the screen. Story still applies to both formats. What’s great about this class is it also teaches you how to pitch. Pitching to TV executives is roughly the same as to movie executives.
Ok, enough of this I want to give you enough information to decide on which learning path is best for you not overwhelm you with choices. Just out of all three options I’ve had the most of my experience with online courses.
- For all screenwriting levels
- Costs are low
- Learn at your own pace
- Better for introverted learners
- No chances for follow-up questions
- No tailored advice
Are Screenwriting Workshops Worth It?
In my opinion, yes. This type of training is like a hybrid from the first two options. You get all of the convince of an online course without the high cost of a 2-year university program. You get personalized attention on your current projects, and you can build that everlasting writers community.
So are they worth it? I think so, especially if you take a specialized workshop. Say you’ve written a couple of scripts and you have gotten feedback and noticed you need help on character development. You can take an entire workshop on characters, or dialogue or whatever your weak points are.
When I took Aaron Sorkin’s class the first couple of lessons was just a refresher for me, I needed help on character development. Most online courses are always going to assume people don’t know anything. So if your more advanced signing up for a workshop is ideal.
What is a Screenwriting Workshop?
A screenwriting workshop is a short class anywhere from one day to eight weeks that teaches you the screenwriting progress from idea creation to pitching your script.
Some workshops can focus on a topic within screenwriting, but most from what I’ve seen takes you through the entire process holding your hand along the way. There are no tests like a typical classroom, and you get all your questions answered, unlike an online course. Online workshops are a thing as well. You can do an entire 1-month workshop via Skype and email, adding to the convenience level.
How Much Do Online Screenwriting Workshops Cost?
The cost of a workshop varies depending on the type and who is hosting it. A workshop you take at NY University is going to be less expensive than one with Aaron Sorkin.
But generally they range from $1,000 – $3,000. Now I will say the smaller the workshop are a higher price. For example, If they are only excepting ten students, you’re going to pay more for that individual attention, but if it’s 100 people in a school hall you could sometimes pay as low as $400
The Best Screenwriting Workshops
- NY film academy
- Robert McKee
- Writing Pad
- UCLA Extention
What does the first day of a workshop look like take a look at the video below.
- Full emersion
- For all levels
- Instant feedback
- They force you to write
- They cover every topic in a short period
- The price increases when taking more advanced courses. And the smaller the class, the more pricy it becomes.
Beware of The Marketing
So by now, you have a good idea of the paid ways to learn to screenwrite, and in a minute I’m going to go over some of the freeways to learn that you can implement right now while you save up some cash for that paid decision. But before we do that I want you to make a sound decision and to do this, you must see through the marketing efforts of these paid services.
What do I mean about seeing through marketing? All of the choices above are fighting for your dollar and will hide information about there faults to gain it before there competition.
For example, when you go to one of the school’s websites, I recommended, yes out of all the schools in the world they are the best, but that doesn’t mean you will get your dream job after graduating.
The school will advertise their success stories. For example, the American Film Institute will say
” Some of our alumni include Scott Frank who wrote The Wolverine and Minority Report. Bill Duke who is an Award winning Actor, and Documentarian and Karen Janszen who wrote Dolphin Tale, and a Walk to Remember.”
Knowing full well that most of there graduates don’t go on to make it that big. This is a creative field, and there are no guarantees for creatives. Look past the marketing of there star players and what they offer and find out the truth. What will you learn? How you will learn? And what’s the percentage of students that work in film or TV after graduating? Everything else is just fluff. Find out the truth.
Can You Become a Screenwriter without a Degree?
Yes, You can become a screenwriter without a degree. There is no formal education requirement to become a screenwriter. This question comes up in the forums and throughout the web a lot. But surprisingly to most people almost, every profession doesn’t require a degree or formal education. The few that do are:
- Police Officers
- Fire Fighters
Anything that is a public service requires some schooling to learn officially because you are servicing the public, ot just yourself. On the other end of the spectrum is the creative field or the Arts. Now if you were working for someone or a company they might require some formal education in the field to prove competency but this is changing slowly. People are waking up to the steep cost of high education and are not impressed with the returns.
The only qualifications required for screenwriting are intangible qualifications. Things that can only be obtained through sacrifice and life itself. Qualities such as:
- Patience – More than likely you will not sell a script right out the gate for most it takes years.
- Will power – Control of your emotions during the long nights writing without a for sure sale at the end.
- Consistency – The ability to write even when you don’t feel like it or lack inspiration.
- Adaptability – When you can take in new information and change what you’re doing quickly.
The great thing about these qualifications is they are buildable, and everyone has the power to achieve a high level of each. But on the other hand, this gives anyone the ability to try and be a screenwriter. So the competition is steep, but the masses will fall off after a short period. The same way people come to LA to become an actor and then quit in 3 months.
Famous Screenwriters without a screenwriting Degree include:
- Quinton Tarantino
- David O. Russell
- Melisa Wallack (degree but not in screenwriting)
- Diablo Cody
- James Cameron
- Aaron Sorkin
- Richard Linklater
- Nancy Meyers
- Oliver Stone
How do I Learn Screenwriting Free?
We made a list of 17 that will improve your writing ability and teach things most people and even some classes keep out.
The second way is youtube. Believe it or not, some great youtube channels offering great advice on screenwriting. Two of them are film courage and Lessons from the screenplay. The third option is not exactly free, but books are a great reference. They cost less than the cheapest online course you could buy. So head over to Amazon and take a look at the highest rated ones. And beware of the best-marketed ones.
So now you’re aware of all the methods of learning to screenwrite. From the cheapest to the most expensive and so on. I hope you learned a bit about each. Now armed with information can go out and make the best decision for you.