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The Best Academic Screenwriting Programs & Film School Degrees in the USA

Learn Script Writing Through A Master of Fine Arts

For those budding screenwriters out there who have a great idea for a movie but don’t know where to start and are considering studying the craft of screenwriting, we have compiled a list of the best academic screenwriting degrees and courses in the US for you to review.

Is A Film School Program Right For Me?

Pursuing a formal full-time degree in screenwriting isn’t for everyone and it is by no means necessary to launch a career in filmmaking. All you really need is a passion for film, a talent for telling stories and some screenwriting software like Movie Outline to develop your story and characters and a professionally format a screenplay.

Agents, managers and Hollywood studio execs will like a good script no matter who wrote it or where it comes from and a good script will always garner attention if you can get it in the right hands, but sometimes new writers need a little formal education and discipline to get them on the right track, focus their creativity and hone their technical skills in the craft. Attending one of these MFA programs can also help you experience the broader aspects of filmmaking and take part in practical modules in other areas such as directing, producing and editing.

The contacts you make at film schools, both with students and professors, can last a lifetime, create collaborations that endure into your future career and open doors once you are ready to launch yourself and your scripts into the professional arena.

What Does A Master Of Fine Arts In Screenwriting Entail?

A Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree is typically the highest degree offered in creative writing. To qualify for most MFA screenwriting programs you need to have graduated from an accredited four-year college with a sample of your own creative writing that forms the most important part of your application. You may also need recommendations from past instructors.

MFA screenwriting programs usually last two or three years and require the student to attend on-campus daily or weekly classes, though some online courses are now available which include occasional intensive workshops.

All MFA program workshops encourage students to discuss each other’s creative writing in a collaborative environment and most screenwriting programs offer opportunities for students to experience other disciplines in the medium such as editing and directing to help students familiarize themselves with the wider aspects of the business they will be entering into.

On Your Marks...

Visit the websites listed below for more information and research each program carefully. It is always a good idea to contact the professors and/or lecturers who teach the courses for more details and even better to talk to past students and learn from their experience.

Remember, each course will differ in structure and teaching methodology so be clear what you want out of the course from the start so as to avoid disappointment down the line.

Good luck and may the force be with you!

First, the Top Six...

USCUCLANYUColumbiaAFIBoston

University of Southern California (USC)

Widely considered to be one of the best schools to study film in the country, the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema & Television (located in Los Angeles) was also the first and has a rich alumni that include George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis and Ron Howard.

USC offers both undergraduate and graduate screenwriting programs to students from all over the world and out of the thousands of applicants each year, only 26 undergraduate students and 32 graduate students are admitted for their respective degrees. The Master of Fine Arts with a Major in Writing for Screen and Television is a two-year program that focuses on the basics of narrative structure by writing scenes, treatments, short scripts and full-length feature screenplays.

USC: “Our philosophy in storytelling is a combination of compelling characters and three-act structure. Additionally, we encourage experimental narratives, and television pilot writing and preparation for growing media like mobisodes, internet series, and gaming. Most of our students graduate with extensive writing samples.”

Students also take elective classes in video production and technology, editing, directing, producing, acting and directing actors, history and theory of film, and the business aspects of the entertainment industry. The school's research and technology labs enable students to pursue a wide range of related activities that include work with high-definition television, multimedia, virtual reality, animation and CGI.

During the program students attend lectures that bring top film executives and screenwriters to the school, and during the final year, USC help pair students with professional mentors and gain industry internships.

Degrees Offered:

  • Bachelor of Fine Arts in Screenwriting
  • Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting
  • Undergraduate Minor in Screenwriting
Visit the USC Website for more information and to apply.

The Final Six...

Loyola MarymountChapmanTexasMiamiFloridaNYFA

Loyola Marymount University

Loyola Marymount University offers two different screenwriting two-year Master of Fine Arts degrees at its Los Angeles based School of Film and Television: Writing and Producing for Television, and Feature Film Writing.

LMU: “The MFA in Writing and Producing for Television trains writer-producers who will become the creative leaders of television programming. The television writing student must complete a portfolio, which consists of a one-hour teleplay, a half-hour teleplay, an original television series pilot, and produce a presentation of the pilot. The MFA in Feature Film Screenwriting trains students to write and work in long form storytelling where students must complete a portfolio that includes three feature screenplays and develop a project adapted from another medium. Students of either program can take elective courses in the other.”

Both screenwriting programs teach the importance of story and its faculty help students find and express their creative voice, learning about dialogue, character, story plotting, visual writing, and cinematic structure. During the course, students write and rewrite feature length screenplays, study different genres, and learn how to adapt stories from different mediums.

Degree Offered:

  • Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting
Visit the Loyola Marymount University Website for more information and to apply.

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