Saturday, March 7, 2009

What's your major?

Manda writes: I know you mentioned that you switched from journalism to majoring in television. How soon into university did you do that? My goal is to one day be a writer/producer and I've just started a journalism degree but I'm kind of unhappy with it. My only option is to change my major to Writing and Cultural Studies (which is just fancy for creative writing), and I think I would be happier doing that course except it's not as practical as journalism and although I would be able to experiment with screenwriting in my subjects, I don't know what kind of job I'd get out of it at the end. Do you see any hope for creative writing graduates in the entertainment industry or is it better to just keep your interests outside of your studies?

It sounds like you've already read them but in case other readers haven't I first want to point you to these posts:

Is TV school worth it?

Why I (aspire to) write for television

But to answer your questions - I think I technically switched in the fall of my sophomore year, before I went to London...but I ended up taking only classes outside of my major requirements in London, so I didn't really hop on the TV writing path til I got back. I was in a good position because I already had 30 credits under my belt when I entered college (yay AP classes), and my school had very few "gen ed" classes (0 for journalism majors, and 5 for TV majors, 3 of which I covered with APs). Every school is different. Switching majors late in the game can make it hard to fit in all your requirements, and also present the interesting scenario of being the random junior or senior with all the freshmen in Media Prod 101, but I found it to be doable.

My instinct is to tell you to go for Creative Writing and not Journalism. It seems like you're going to gain more from writing prose than shooting B-roll of the local mayor election. But it really kind of depends on what the programs are like at your school. Remember that there is no specific degree requirement for becoming a writer - or for getting a job in Hollywood. For writing it all comes down to your writing, and for the Hollywood job, it all comes down to someone giving you a chance. Personally, I recommend taking courses that allow you to read and write as much as possible. I was a TV writing major, so I ended up taking several TV writing and screenwriting courses. I was also an English minor, so I took a ton literature courses - Asian American Lit, Feminist Lit, Poetry, Dramatic Lit, etc. They were all great. And then I took a bunch of regular creative writing courses on my own, too. You also might want to think about picking a major that allows you to take the most classes OUTSIDE of your major. Courses in science or psychology or architecture might just inspire you to write something really interesting.

Lastly, happiness is important. Since in the long run it doesn't really matter what your major is, I think you should pick the one that makes you happy. And yes, journalism might seem more "practical," but really only if you want to be a journalist, I think. And it's a pretty tough career right now: Check out this blog, which chronicles all the newspaper layoffs in 2009.

Ha. As if TV writing is an easy career :)

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Sasha said...

Re: practicality

My college boyfriend and his clique all graduated with engineering degrees. He and his friends were genuinely interested in science, but a few of them picked their specific majors in an attempt to be as practical as possible.

All those "practical" people are now feeling regretful- they're only qualified/have experience for jobs they don't really love, because they shunted their favorite subjects aside.

Meanwhile, the people I knew who got degrees in the fields they were most drawn to are all using their studies directly, and are happy with their time in college (including me).

Might just be my sample, but....

I agree with Amanda about studying what you love, because in the end, that's what you're ultimately going to do anyway. It's easier if you start training for it early.

(Btw, re: college classes

I was also a creative writing/English double major, and also couldn't find many script writing/creative writing classes during my time studying in London. Took acting classes instead- talk about disaster :)

Amanda, how did you find studying writing/lit. in London v. the US? I found the teaching style VERY different, but I don't find English writing to be all that different from American.... wonder why, if the training is so different, the product comes out pretty much the same? Or does it? Maybe my experience is just too limited to make a judgment? ANYWAY :) ).

Jim Cartwright said...

Hey Manada,

From my experience many, many people get into the entertainment industry, including myself, with out being a tv/film major.

Your Major is just one line on your resume. The trick, to when you get out of college and look for your job, is to have A LOT of lines on your resume.

Get involved with your college TV and/or radio station. Any clubs or organizations really.

Then probably the most important thing next to actually graduating from your college is interships. Your resume is golden if you can fill it with internships. Internships to employers = actual experience.

Lastly, get some skills, learn the technology. I wish I had learned some Final Cut pro skills in college that would help me earn a spot in a story department. Or even knowing programs like photoshop has helped me countless amount of times to impress the higher ups. I even taught my company's EIC how to use powerpoint (I know ridiculous).

Takes Amanda's major advice is dead on about taking a variety of different classes. But remember your major is still just one line on your resume.

AdicaRoy said...

I want to add one thing to the conversation about how what you study in college pertains to your entertainment industry career - if you want to be involved in the creative side at all, I think studying widely never hurts you. Being able to research is integral, and having a wide swatch of knowledge to use as a jumping off point on any project can only be a benefit. You never know when your next project might focus on an Iraqi art historian during the 1980s...a mix of political science, history, cultural studies and art knowledge never hurt anyone, even though it doesn't pertain at all to a Film/TV degree.

Amanda said...

Sasha -
I found studying in London to be similar, but I also went to Ithaca College In London, my school's program. Our professors were Brits who also taught at British Unis, but since they were teaching at an American school in London it might have been different...I'm sure their syllabi had to be approved and everything. If I were to do it all again I think I would have picked another program and gone to an actual British school so I wasn't always with my island of Americans... ah well.

Sasha said...


No regrets- I went to University of London and lived in an English dorm. Still found myself hanging out in a little island of Americans.... it was '05-'06 and the English weren't too thrilled with the US, plus, I'm not the most.... reserved person on the planet, which didn't fit in too well with the natives ;) Surprising amount of cultural difference! Yet another reason I'm surprised the writing/television/movies translate so well.

Anyway, I had some friends studying abroad in a similar way you did, and they learned lots/had a great time, so... I doubt you missed out on much. :)

Training is such a weird thing with writing... looking back, traveling and being alone in foreign countries and (even) acting class *seem* to have helped me, but I really have no idea. Guess the only things that really matter are passion and persistence... but I'm thankful for the things I learned in college (ie, discipline and analytical thinking), and there is no way I could have had as much fun there learning about anything else. (to bring it back to the topic at hand :) ).

cind said...

I read in an interview in Pamela Douglas's book Writing the TV Drama Series that the best advice for aspiring writers is to go to med school, so they have something to write about. I think that's a little far fetched, but the point is to explore all sorts of areas so that you bring something to the table in your writing. I don't if this is 100% true, because there are many people who have gone to film school and done just fine in the industry, but it is an argument for studying whatever you want to, and not letting that affect your career goals.

This is from a creative writing/journalism double minor and American Studies Major. The bottom line, though, is study what makes you happy. If journalism isn't what you thought it would be, don't suffer through it. If writing and cultural studies will make you happy then you'll look back on college happily. Plan your career future with internships, diverse school activities, and networking as much as possible. Luckily, in this field, academics aren't the main focus.

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