Even though many elements go into creating a film, the first step is writing the screenplay. Without the screenplay’s story, dialogue and scene descriptions there isn’t anything for the actors, director, sound producer, lighting designer or director of photography to interpret and bring to life. There are several different degrees that could help you write a screenplay, and by analyzing the major ones, which degree you need to write a screenplay will surface.
Many colleges and universities around the country identify that filmmaking is an art form and offer majors in screenwriting. For example, Columbia University has a Film MFA in Screenwriting/Directing with a mission to expertly train students to find their unique voice and produce work of the highest quality. The program, like many MFA screenwriting programs around the country, lasts for two years and demands rigorous hands-on and analytic work. You’ll exit a program like this with a script that’s been thoroughly work-shopped by your peers and professors.
Creative Writing MFA
A creative writing degree could potentially be incredibly helpful if you’re trying to write a screenplay based on the amount of writing experience you’ll gain from completing the program. Goddard College offers an MFA in Creative Writing with a concentration in screenwriting that demands you complete a full-length script before graduation. The program is constructed so you have a highly accomplished writer as a mentor who vigorously edits and analyzes your writing and scripts. The amount of individual attention your manuscript will receive by accomplished, award-winning writers is intense and demands each graduate to produce a final script of professional quality.
A fundamental attribute of great screenwriters is that they write on a proficient and sophisticated level. Regardless of whether you earn your English degree at a community college, an Ivy League school or anything in between, a four-year, writing-intensive program will give you an involved sense of how to write with clarity, power and urgency. Once you’ve established a strong writing base, approaching a screenplay will be less daunting.
Despite the fact that there are several degrees that could help you write a successful screenplay, you don’t absolutely need one in order to do so. Successful screenwriter Quentin Tarantino dropped out of high school and learned about writing films by working as a video clerk. Anyone can write a screenplay, regardless of degree or background, as long as the story is driving, the dialogue is natural and real, and it appeals to the masses in an insightful and powerful way.
Jake Shore is an award-winning Brooklyn-based playwright, published short story writer and professor at Wagner College. His short fiction has appeared in many publications including Litro Magazine, one of London's leading literary magazines. Shore earned his MFA in creative writing from Goddard College.