Hello Writers All,
So you want to be a writer? Not just any old writer, but a really good one?
Desire and passion are the right stuff to help you build your stories. But the number one thing you need to produce in order to become a paid scriptwriting success, no matter how many drafts it takes, is a top-notch screenplay writing sample. Not just a mediocre draft, not the “I feel it could use some more work but hey I’m tuckered out” version. I mean a really polished script.
Because that’s how you will get noticed in filmmaking or TV-making circles.
And it takes time and learning to become that accomplished.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to become a skilled scriptwriter more quickly.
Okay, okay yeah, here’s the part where I mention my website. I offer screenwriting tips on my blog, and you can also read my book The Story Solution: 23 Actions All Great Heroes Must Take to get insights on creating strong characters and building solid, audience-ready plots.
There are also many other excellent screenwriting blogs and YouTube channels to learn from. (Don’t miss the great YouTube channel “Film Courage”!) As well, there are online libraries of produced screenplays available free for downloading. Reading scores of professional scripts is critical to writing success.
And take advantage of The Story Solution’s partnership with Final Draft, the world’s most popular screenwriting software. My proven Hero Goal Sequences® Story Structure Paradigm is now available as a downloadable template included in Final Draft 10 (under “edu templates”).
Then too, you really should consider learning to create great scripts for film and TV in a classroom. Yes, I’m a university professor myself so I am partial to classrooms. But there’s more to it than that.
You might already have the passion and natural talent to be a writer, but attending film school can give you the necessary skills, tools, experience and contacts you need to become a bona fide screenwriter in a much shorter period of time. Yes, it costs money. But so do medical schools, business schools and law schools. In so many ways film school can really pay off for the committed screenwriter. Here are ten of the better reasons:
- There Is A Right Way And A Wrong Way to Build Stories That Grip Audiences.
This architectural skill MUST be mastered and it’s nowhere near as easy as it looks. There’s a structure through which visual storytelling communicates both consciously and unconsciously with an audience. You also need a great story idea, of course, and then you need to add characters, write believable dialogue, and create dramatic tension throughout your story to keep an audience glued to their chairs. Film school breaks down all these elements into core fundamentals that you practice daily with mentor-instructors who are themselves experienced professional writers and filmmakers. There is no other professional experience in the world available for screenwriters that can hold a candle to this one.
- You Must Learn To Write With Clarity And Depth.
Making it look simple isn’t simple at all. Very far from it. In a film/screenwriting M.F.A. program, you gain a huge advantage over your competition by learning and mastering all the concepts and tools in a screenwriter’s toolkit so you never have to waste time floundering in confusion, or being gripped by writer’s block. When you get hired to write a script, the producer is not going to coddle you. You need to be a knowledgeable pro right now – so you better be ready to rock. Remember, when getting launched as a screenwriter (or TV writer, or creative executive, or studio production executive, or independent producer, or director, or or or) the definition of luck is when preparation meets opportunity. What you learn in film school gives you the confidence to analyze dramatic material quickly, accurately, and to see in any script exactly what works, what doesn’t work, and how to fix it. When opportunity arrives, you will be very, very ready.
- You Can Grow Your Personal Network.
Every screenwriter needs industry contacts and friends in the business. So…why not get to know all those other film school students sitting right beside you in class? You work together and grow together and come trust each other’s opinions. In film school you gain life-long friendships who share your passions and who understand that helping each other out is good for everybody. After film school, writers also need a network of knowledgeable, insightful, trusted friends and mentors to react to the material they write so that the work can continue to grow and improve. You build relationships that become invaluable going forward.
- You Can Get Out of Jail.
Writers spend way too much time alone. And the more isolated you are, the more self-isolating your temperament becomes, as well as less self-confident. Film school puts you in the active thick of what you love to do. In the old days, the 1920s Paris literati had the Les Deux Magots Cafe where Ernest Hemingway, Simone de Beauvoir and James Joyce came to talk stories, share opinions and argue about their art. And Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald and Ezra Pound had Gertrude Stein’s parlor soirees to discuss each other’s work. In our current era, what a growing number of all the creative people in Hollywood have in common is film school.
- You Can Create More, and Better, Work Samples.
It is important to have a large polished portfolio of scripts and treatments in order to be taken seriously as a screenwriter by agents and producers. Film school works with you to build your portfolio, teaches you to expand into various genres, and to have well thought-out, pitchable ideas at the ready for when that big break comes.
- Get the Straight Truth From Instructor-Professionals.
It’s nice when mom or dad tells you how great they think your writing is. Maybe they’ll even take you out to dinner to celebrate your finishing that new script. But unless mom is an established film producer, you most likely are not getting any knowledgeable, experience-based criticism. To become a better writer you need to hear the straight truth that only a circle of mentor professionals and insightful fellow students can provide. Film school puts you in the midst of people who share your passion for creating the best script you can write. Knowledgeable criticism is essential for refining any screenplay.
- It Helps You Master The Rewriting Process.
Ever hear the writer Lin-Manuel Miranda talk about the work he put into creating “Hamilton,” the smash Broadway musical? He spent years creating, writing, honing and revising – but it all paid off with a record run and 11 Tony Awards. This is what it takes to create a great Hollywood script, too. Film school gives you the motivation and environment to create and refine not only one but several scripts as you come to understand the essential process of rewriting. And it shows you what you’re really capable of as a writer. You come out the other side a changed, more confident and committed writer than you ever thought you could be.
- You’ll Learn How The Industry Works.
Film school offers the advantage of getting students launched into the film and TV industries and teaching them how the business actually works, through internships at some of the most important Hollywood companies. Most Master of Fine Arts graduate programs in screenwriting or film have top-notch sponsored internship programs. And some undergraduate film programs (such as the one at Cal State Northridge) have excellent internship connections as well.
- You Will Have Instructors Who Love To Teach.
Film school is a very unique environment. All the instructors have already worked creatively in film and TV, and they truly love writing just like you do. They enjoy being around eager students of all ages and backgrounds. They love engaging in the back and forth of creative dialogue. Respect is mutual, and enthusiasm abounds. You learn from the best, and the relationships, experiences and knowledge acquired in film school will inevitably change you for the better and remain with you forever. I have never heard anyone say they regretted going to film school.
- The M.F.A. Degree Qualifies You To Teach At Colleges And Universities Worldwide
Each year at Cal State Northridge, a number of our newly entering M.F.A. in Screenwriting students come to us already accomplished professional screen and TV writers. They come to get that required M.F.A. degree in order to teach screenwriting and film at the university level. These student-professionals wonderfully augment our program for ALL students, and each brings a whole career’s worth of experience with them. Many mature professionals see the great value of a graduate degree in screenwriting/film because they now plan to transition into teaching at the university level. On the other hand, I earned my two M.F.A.s at the very beginning of my career because I wanted to become a master at this craft, and I already knew, too, that someday I wanted to teach. Sooner or later. It works either way.
Yes, film school costs money. Anything worthwhile does. But shop around, because the price of a Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting degree can vary a great deal. One of the qualitatively best, and at the same time least expensive, M.F.A. programs can be found at California State University, Northridge. Florida State has a top-rated program, too. As does Arizona. Along with many others. And there are scholarships, financial assistance and loans available. I was paying off my American Film Institute loan for years after I got my degree there, but AFI kept the payments down and even during my struggling years it wasn’t that bad. We got through okay. And eventually with that M.F.A. degree on my wall, I became a tenured full-professor. Frankly, I wouldn’t trade my film school experiences for anything.
Here’s wishing you a joyful, creative, and productive year!
p.s. Be sure to visit my website at https://www.thestorysolution.com to download complimentary film structure breakdowns for Back to the Future, Bridesmaids, and Finding Nemo.
About The Story Solution: Eric Edson’s The Story Solution provides concrete insights for those interested in writing a screenplay. Regarded as one of the best books on screenwriting, The Story Solution is currently #1 in its category on China Amazon. Visit the website at https://www.thestorysolution.com to download a complimentary book chapter and to see video and hear audio clips about creating characters. “Like” the Facebook page to receive tips on writing a movie script and scriptwriting.