Saturday, June 6, 2009

Grad school? UCLA Extension?

Q: What do you think about grad school? I'm taking some online classes through UCLA Extension, do you think this is worth it? I want to work in TV Development/Producing, start out at an agency or production company. But my logic with grad school is at least if I never get a job, I can teach with an MA. What do you think?

Ahhhh so many questions! :) I think the most important thing to remember is that there is no one path that will lead you to be a successful writer, or a successful anything in Hollywood. Some people go to grad school. some don't. Some people work as assistants. Some don't. Some have important relatives. Some don't. You have to do what makes sense for you, and try to position yourself in the best way possible so that you can achieve what you want. At this stage, focus on learning as much as you can about the industry and your craft.

UCLA Extension - I've never done it, so I can't really speak to whether it's worth it (feel free to comment if you can). I've heard mixed things. It really depends on your professor, and your classmates. I don't feel like I need it, because A)I have a small writers group, B) I majored in scriptwriting in college so I've already had those kinds of classes, and C) I don't need a deadline; I'm motivated to write by my poverty and my lack of wanting to be an assistant for the rest of my life. But if the classes help you with motivation, or notes, or whatever - go for it. (And actually, if you've never taken a screenwriting class, I'm inclined to tell you to do it.) But is it 100% necessary? Nah. I'm also a little wary of online classes - so it's just notes via email? I feel like an in-person discussion would be so much more useful. Also...I think you know this, but in case others don't - UCLA Extension is not grad school. You're not working toward a degree or anything. Then again, a screenwriting degree doesn't really qualify you to do anything except say you have a screenwriting degree. I would know.

Sidenote - Since you're interested in development/producing, writing isn't mandatory. Still, I think writing and learning about writing is going to be really valuable for you. I wish every exec and producer had to do it. Lots of screenwriting majors go on to be development execs or producers.

Grad school - if you have a spare $100,000, sure, go to grad school (and now I'm talking about the actual degree kind from UCLA, USC, NYU, whatever). Sometimes I think I would have more fun being an English teacher than being an assistant. But how will you transition to being a writer or exec/producer in Hollywood? For writers, how will you get your scripts inside to the right people? I'm not saying you can't, but it's something to think about. Also, I'm wary of your "what if I never find a job" attitude. It's a valid fear, and it is REALLY tough to find a job in Hollywood right now (more on that later), but it's never been easy. If you want to work in Hollywood, you have to be determined - and refuse to accept defeat. I honestly think that if you want something badly enough, you make it happen. This is why I haven't eaten a carbohydrate in eleven days. I think it's a good mantra - but then again, my blood sugar could be dangerously low.

The other thing I think you should think about is that two years of grad school makes you two years older. It takes several years to work your way up and get your stuff read, and all that. If you want to work in development, you have to be an assistant in development. And you may have to work at an agency first, as you already seem to know (yay!). I think you might as well try it now. It only gets harder as you get older. Certainly, people find themselves working as assistants after meandering elsewhere (I am one of the youngest assistants at the agency), but I am happy I came here right after college so I could get started. I refuse to be a 35 year-old assistant.

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Jason A said...

I started out taking UCLA extension classes. It's a great start for new writers and it's less than $500 a class. The extension classes max out at 20 people, so if you get a full class, there's a lot of time reading/evaluating other people's material. Which is good to do, but it delays the development of your own script.

I also did the UCLA Professional Program, which is $5,000 (3 semesters). It's taught by the MFA teachers and the writing classes max out at 10 people. So a lot more hands on attention. There are lecture classes every week, too.

RE: Grad School. Some of the people in the UCLA Prof Program went on to do the MFA. One did it with hopes of teaching, the other just to further develop her writing. I've heard that there are a lot of non-writing activities that take away from actual writing. Plus, it's pricey.

Personally, if you don't plan on teaching, I'd recommend the Prof Program.

A screenwriting group with talented writers who give good notes is another good way to go.

Best of luck.

Kristiana said...

Thanks for the post on this topic! It's really practical advice. I'm encouraged to keep learning about the craft and industry, and you've confirmed my hunch that a graduate degree is not the only way to get there.

Heather said...

I have a question, related to this. If Amanda or anyone else can answer...what about getting an undergraduate it necessary?

I didn't finish mine...I have a little over a year left. I'm 25 now. Is it worth it to go back and finish, wait another year or so, or would it be better to just go for it now?

A. Jared said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A. Jared said...

There's something else to consider as well. If you're a male, grad school may not make too much difference. But if you're female, grad school in certain programs can be a GREAT way in. I have no idea why it is this way... but the USC Grad School Screenwriting program has a tremendous success rate for their female graduates. I'm told something like 80% of women coming out of MFA Screenwriting program at USC have sold a feature or been staffed on a tv show within 2 years of graduating.

Amanda said...

Heather -
I would tell people in general definitely to finish your undergrad degree. Do you need it to write scripts? No.. but if you're getting any kind of dayjob, be it assistant or otherwise, people will like to see that you at least have A degree in SOMETHING. I don't advise people to go straight from high school to getting a job.

For you specifically - you might not need to finish it because you did get 3 years in. You can probably write the name of your college and major on your resume without putting the actual degree and I don't know if anyone will notice.

If it's not that hard, though, I say finish it...because what if you end up taking a career turn? The job market is already so competitive (everywhere)...might as well position yourself in the best way possible.

Amanda said...

A. Jared -
Really? That sounds a little bogus to me, or a bizarre coincidence.

Often MFA programs like that are great ways to improve your writing...but I feel like many of them lack any sort of system to get your scripts within the gates of Hollywood. I see unsolicited query letters from these students all the time.

Heather said...

Thanks for writing back Amanda. Yea, I definitely see it both ways. If I could go back in time I would finish it.

But for me, at this point, is going back to school the right thing to do and will it get me anywhere...idk. Because it seems like after graduating you kind of start from scratch anyways in this business. Plus I'll be getting up there, 26 haha. I guess I should also add I'm specifically interested in comedy, and I want to take classes at an improv theater like Upright Citizens.

So it basically seems like a degree won't really get me anywhere, but it would be good to have. I wish I'd decided to do it a year ago! haha

Dan Williams said...

I did my M.A. in English literature and I've never regretted it. In a B.A., you look at centuries and schools of writers. In an M.A., you focus on one particular writer with each course. I took courses on Chaucer, James Joyce and Byron among a few others. It allows the student to look for a kindred spirit and go into depth about the writer's work, life and career. The course I took on Virginia Wolf didn't help much but the course on Chaucer was superb. All in all, the M.A. gives me a perspective on writing that not many persons have. It helps you generate insights even if it does not guarantee you a job.

Little Miss Nomad said...

At least one good thing about grad school is you can then do an internship on a TV show, and I know USC has the hookup. An internship is a great way to make your way up to WA or PA on a show. If I hadn't wasted my MFA on poetry in New York, I would totally do that.

new identity said...

I graduated college last year, am back living in Los Angeles with my parents. I was an English major in school but I didn't have any screenwriting classes in college so UCLA extension has been really wonderful. I've been thinking about going to graduate school for an MFA, but I'd probably go for creative writing.

I've taken three classes from some great professors at UCLA extension. It's been a great way to learn, get feedback, meet other aspiring writers, learn about the business. I feel like I have learned a lot in this short time, so I'm feeling more confident to continue to work and write on my own. I also like deadlines so it's good for me. There is quite the range of people who take those classes, some younger people, some older, some people that have written features, people looking for a career change.

It's not exactly cheap but I think for people that haven't had screenwriting classes that it is really beneficial.

Anonymous said...

I am in desperate need of information, I am in trouble of losing my financial aid and don't know if I am going to be able to afford to work and pay for school. Here is my question, do you think it is absolutely Important that you get a degree to write on a television show?

Amanda said...

@madlyunwell -

Make sure you read all the related posts about this. There is no requirement for being a TV writer except fantastic scripts.

But if your path to being a TV writer includes working your way up as an assistant, you will have a hard time getting hired anywhere without a degree of some kind.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Amanda, that was helpful. I'm still going to get a degree. It's just going to be a bit harder than I thought it would. Thank you again!

Nora said...

From someone with a 100,000 MFA from UCLA:

If you are smart about your time in a grad program you can get a lot out of it. If you're working, you don't have time to build a body of work. Also, I really believe that in order to write for a visual medium you should have directing experience so you understand the tools used to translate what you wrote. The best writers are directors. This said, no bank will just hand you 35k to make a movie. That is what film school is for.

Nicholas said...


All this information has been helpful. I was searching specifically for information regarding UCLA's Professional Program in Producing and Screenwriting. I have several years experience in broadcast and production but outside of L.A. with a BFA in Film. I am interested in these programs to work on my own projects. I see success related to the Screenwriting program but not much with the Producing Program. If the screenwriting program does not teach you how to get pitch meetings or sell your script then what is the point?