Thursday, October 15, 2009

Colleges with Good Screenwriting Programs

Tobie writes: I was wondering if you could tell me what colleges have good screenwriting/playwriting courses?

Here is a list of schools that I know people have enjoyed and/or resulted in them coming to LA and getting a job in Hollywood. I'm sure there are others out there; feel free to comment. Definitely give prioirty to any school in LA (or that has a LA semester program), since that allows you to do really valuable industry internships while you're still in college. (Any schools in NY also would be attractive for internship possibilities.) Note that just because a school has a screenwriting or playwriting program doesn't mean it has any connection to Hollywood. If you really want to pursue this as a career, you need to study craft AND the business of it all.

Ithaca (I went here and it led to me studying in LA and ultimately moving here)
Boston University
University of Miami
UT Austin (one of few public schools with an LA semester program)
Notre Dame (not sure about their programs, but I have a bunch of friends who work in Hollywood who went here)
Yale (same as above)

Keep in mind that being a screenwriter or TV Writer doesn't require a degree (but if it's the only thing that really interests you, I say go for it.)

You could also attend a different school and then study in LA through a school that does have a program here.

Related posts:
Is TV School Worth It?
Grad school? UCLA Extension?
Getting a Head Start

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samuel.x.killer said...

vanderbilt has a program that helps people find internships in los angeles. all the film classes are taught by will akers (imdb him)

Kristan said...

I'd like to add Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh (my alma mater). I loved my screenwriting courses/professors, and CMU has a HUGE network in Hollywood. I mean, John Wells is an alum. (He was just elected president of the Screenwriters Guild. Also look him up on IMDB if you need to, it's impressive.) He even came back for a casual meeting with some students in my dorm (including me) and was awesome.

I also contacted a lot of LA CMU alums about something I had written, and although ultimately I decided I did NOT want to move to LA to pursue it, they were all very willing and eager to help me. A lot of people who I thought I had no right to contact were very friendly via email, and a few even gave me their cell #s to get in touch.

Amy Butler said...

University of Michigan. Yep, it's cold, but it has a very strong competition-based screenwriting program. There is at least one class in tv writing, a class on reading and analyzing screenplays, and a series of three feature writing classes. The first you write a full script (which I was actually surprised a lot of schools don't make you do your first class). Half of those students are invited to the second class, where you rewrite your script (having a class in rewriting is SO helpful, since writing is rewriting). Half of THOSE students are invited to the master class. It's a workshop class of 6-7 students.

The best part is we get working screenwriters to come out to the school. They give a lecture open to everyone, then they workshop WITH the master class. They read a scene from each student's script and give their comments. Then we take them out to lunch and pick their brain and just generally bask in their glow. :) You can look at the website for all the pros who've visited, but the semester I was in the master class we had Pamela Gray (Music of the Heart, Walk on the Moon, Betty Ann Waters Project with Hilary Swank) and Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor). This class alone was worth it all.

Plus, we have some amazing alumni:
John Briley (Ghandi)
David Newman (Superman, Bonnie & Clyde)
Kurt Luedtke (Absence of Malice, Out of Africa)
Adam Herz (American Pie)
Judith Guest (Ordinary People)
Lawrence Kasden (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Grand Canyon, Body Heat)
Jim Burnstein (D3: The Mighty Ducks- professor and head of the program)
V. Prasad (Before the Rains, Ocean of Pearls)

Amazing script library. Great alumn network. We received a list of 8 or 10 names and emails of other Michigan alumns in the industry who would always read a script from a Michigan student, no matter what. I haven't really tried for an industry job yet, but a lot of peers have gotten into some great stuff. People seemed to get internships pretty easily (I didn't have summers free).

Clearly, the whole being in Michigan thing does not illicit an optimistic first response, but the writing program is phenomenal. And most people aren't going to use any contacts for their writing the first few years they're practicing their craft (aka, writing the crap we all do) anyway. Use your summer for internships and you'll have that covered. :) I never wanted for film-related things to do. Equipment is pretty easy to get to, even if you're not in a production class. I wrote and directed a short mockumentary with two friends on our own from equipment we borrowed. The professors are easy to reach, talk to, and actually develop relationships with. One of our professors is a USC grad, and he said that it was ridiculously difficult to get in touch with professors or check out equipment with the sheer number of students who wanted it.

I could go on and on about Michigan's screenwriting program. I've written more about it on my blog, or you can find a good post about it here at Screenwriting from Iowa:

It's definitely worth checking out for anyone who's interested in screenwriting. Though their website needs a little updating. :)


Kate LaChapelle said...

Building on Emerson, it is a fantastic school that does pretty much everything it can to get you a job in LA afterwards.

The school is really great for all aspects of film and television and it's nice to learn more about the industry than just screenwriting--it helps the writing in a way because you start getting into the mindset and understanding where people are coming from in these positions, and then you can take that and apply it to how you write.

It's a great school and I love it and I can say that most of our VMA grads do go to LA.

Bethany said...

NYU (while super expensive) of course has a film program... but they also have an entire major devoted just to "dramatic writing". It is 4 years of playwriting, screenwriting, and tv writing. And if you're in that program you are also able to take some electives in the film program while your there.

WriterGuy said...

I've studied at two of the schools on the list, so I thought I'd chime in. I studied at Boston University and UCLA. BU taught me how to write a screenplay, but UCLA taught me how to be a screenwriter. UCLA teaches the writing techniques needed to write screenplays day in and day out. It is almost like going to a trade school in that sense. BU approached it from a much more artistic perspective. I've found that both methods are very important and both have their pros and cons. Ultimately, I'm glad I was exposed to both. I'd be happy to elaborate if anyone wants to know more about those two schools. Thanks for all the valuable information, Amanda.

Z said...

To expand on the NYU comment...

The Dramatic Writing program only takes about 60 kids a year and by sophomore year is divided up by film/tv/theater. The TV department was still getting built up when I was there (03-06), but I took five TV workshops... there's two levels of comedy, drama, kid's TV/animation, and a thesis class. My only complaint was we never got to do pilots, but that trend was just shifting when I left. All classes are taught by real, staffed writers... my old teachers are currently on Criminal Intent, In Treatment, and 90210. So that was nice -- not just failed wannabees but actual working writers.

The producing program through Tisch is also incredibly practical, moreso than anything in the regular film or dramatic writing classes from a "Survive Hollywood" standpoint.

Worth it? Depends on the individual circumstance, but craft-wise, it's a killer program.

Alicia Guarracino said...

Does anyone know of any screenwriting programs that provide generous funding--scholarships, tuition waivers, stipends...?

Adrian said...

Does anyone have an opinion on San Francisco State? They have a screenwriting program and I'm just wondering if anyone has any personal experience with it since I plan on studying at the university (closer to home and cheaper).

cind said...

Brandeis University has a great screenwriting class. It's taught by a professor who is a)amazingly honest in that he'll support you if you deserve it but never sugarcoat your chances of succeeding and b)also a screenwriting professor at Emerson and BU. Brandeis has a lot of successful alumni -- among them Marta Kaufman and David Crane, creators Friends (Central Perk is loosely based on the campus coffeehouse). There's a new film program just starting, and it's quite good. It's also a huge theater school if that's more your thing, and has a great playwriting course as part of that. I'm headed out to LA from Brandeis, and I'll be joining quite a few peers.

Also, ditto to Michigan. I have a friend there who's in a great screenwriting program. Plus, lots of movies are shooting in Ann Arbor because they have new tax breaks, so there's a possibility of getting some PA work there as well.

I also highly recommend the USC Summer Film Program. It's intensive, filled with networking opportunities, screenings, and great classes. It's open for anyone of any age, and it's a chance to study at arguably the best film school in the world, without having to get into their very competitive regular program.

John Reha said...

Drexel University in Philadelphia has a great Screenwriting / Playwriting program. They accept about 20 students a year, so everyone gets personalized attention, and the advisor and screenwriting staff are all working writers.

I had a job coming right out of the program, and I've worked consistently in the industry since moving to Los Angeles.

Ashley F. Miller said...

FSU has a young MFA program in Screenwriting. 2 years, 6 semesters, TV, playwriting, screenwriting, and production. They're very generous in scholarships and it's pretty easy to get in state tuition right at 1500 a semester.

Everyone I know who has done it has loved every moment of it and not been put in debt. They're young but the ones I've known that have been out a year or more have jobs working on TV shows, though not writing yet!

jaclyncullen said...

I'd like to add UNC-Chapel Hill. It's a fairly new program- I think like 8 years old or so? It's a minor in the COMM department, but definitely worth it. It's got a nice range of teachers- all of which were writers or producers in Hollywood at some point, and all the classes are super small and personal. The tv writing classes are set up to function like a writer's room, which is really helpful in learning more about the practical aspect of being a tv writer.

It may not sound like a very big deal, but I talked to a friend of mine who was graduating from USC grad in screenwriting this summer, when I'd just graduated from UNC undergrad...and in comparing our screenwriting classes I did a lot of the same stuff, and I think I actually came out the 2 year minor program with more completed feature length and tv scripts than she did. Plus UNC has a great Hollywood Internship program for their COMM majors, which is what got me my start out here, so they still have some ties to the industry, even if they are all the way in NC.

punch-drunk said...

Cal State Northridge has a great program, is in Los Angeles and pretty cheap (if you're a CA resident).