Screenwriting : Is a Degree worth it? by Kimberly Ruzich

Kimberly Ruzich

Is a Degree worth it?

I am thinking about pursuing an online degree in Screenwriting. I have numerous books, but go through fits and starts, feeling very lost going from Accounting to this very hard art. I never know if I am doing it right. Do those who have a degree in Screenwriting (MFA) find it to have been beneficial? Pros and Cons? TIA

Richard Paul Skinner

Why not learn by doing? I found Robert Mckee's book, 'Story,' the most help. Write 10 screenplays, doing your own thing, then you will be ahead of the game and can call yourself an experienced scriptwriter.

Dan MaxXx

The universal joke: if u cant write, teach. Read Mr Bill Martell's books and follow Scott Myers on Twitter. Write, read, watch movies, track names of Industry people. move to Los Angeles.

Jody Ellis

What kind of writing experience do you have? I found books and a few online classes helpful, but I was also a freelance writer for many years before I started screenwriting, and an English major in college. It's a big transition to go from accounting to screenwriting and I would maybe start with just a class or two in English and creative writing before delving into screenwriting or seeking an MFA in it.

Kimberly Ruzich

Dan MaxXx, I live in Riverside County, not far from Los Angeles, so I have that one covered...LOL Jody, I have written my whole life...short stories, articles, etc. I should have gotten a degree in Marketing, at the very least, but as a dumb college kid, allowed my college advisor talk me into staying with my Accounting degree. I had wanted a degree in English, but felt I had no job options if I did.

Elisabeth Meier

If you have no idea how to start try free online courses at There you find courses of all kind and also some about English literature, animation, general film making, screenwriting, creative writing etc. The advantage is you can learn when ever you like. They put the sessions online and you can work through them. You can get a certificate which is of course no degree at all and just a confirmation, but afterwards you might know whether you need a degree or not.

Jeff Lyons

The degree is only useful if you plan on teaching. You have to have a MFA or MA to get hired for community colleges, etc. Beyond that... nobody cares. I don't agree with the "those who can do, those who can't teach" (obviously, since I "do" and "teach"), but the degree thing is really just a waste of money and time if you are not looking to get into academia. There are some great indie teachers who do workshops.. and these are working professionals in the industry--worth checking out. For example: Tawnya Bhattacharya's class on TV writing is probably the best one in town. And frankly, my class on premise and story development is pretty damn good :) --- but Dan is right—as usual. Don't waste your money and time... the indie resources are out there to teach you the basics. Including coming into town to visit the WGA's library. Spend a few days there and you'll learn all you need to learn... :)

Al Hibbert

I know someone who didn't go to college and knows way more about English lit than most professors. They have a lot of BS degrees these days ( and I'm not talking about bachelor of science).

Sarah Gabrielle Baron

You have to follow your gut on this one, Kimberly. If you think a school environment will force you write, to learn the craft, to pick apart stories so yours can be better, to write, to write, and write more....if you think you and your craft will thrive in a school environment, then do it. Otherwise, save the cash. The drive to write must, ultimately, come from within anyway. You can learn everything you need from online courses (ST32!) and books, and networking.

Dan Guardino

I don't have a degree in anything yet alone screenwriting. However screenwriting is about 1 percent knowledge and 99 percent luck. People that get do get lucky are normally those that write a lot of screenplays and use them to make contacts. I do really find screenwriting that hard so I can't see why someone can't read a book on it and write screenplays. It does take a lot of practice though. I do agree with Jeff when he says he doesn't agree with those people that say "those who can do, those who can't teach" just because luck plays such a big role when it comes to screenwriting.

Jody Ellis

I agree with Dan G. I don't think it takes a degree, but it does take practice. And I think having a strong grasp of English, grammar and creative writing are important. You have to understand the concept of story in order to write a story. There is a lot of luck involved, but I've also seen that those who work hard, keep writing, keep striving, are the ones who find that luck and make things happen.

Todd Lowery

I personally just finally finished my Creative Writing and English undergrad Summa and I feel I learned a great deal. I have had some modest yet progressive success in short film. I felt completing my degree was a personal goal and I feel I will garner at least as much satisfaction and applicable usefulness from my MFA, for which I am currently shopping and applying. Most everyone I hear from feels consistent with the posts on this thread, but I am driven to make something of my Screenwriting minor. My first Screenplay from intermediate Screenwriting was a recent winner in the Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival (HIMPFF). Red Carpet is in January across the street from Paramount. It's what you make of it as to whether it's worth it or not.

Clayton Broomes Jr.

I think some here said what I would say. It isn't necessary to go to school unless you plan on teaching it. However, the best way to learn is to read the best books on the subject, watch madd movies, write, workshop it with writers (like the many here), take notes, do rewrites and repeat. Now your troubles with getting started? That is another topic. If have to ask yourself why you wish to write screenplays. I do it because I am a natural born storyteller and I have a lot to say about everything. What say you?

Kimberly Ruzich

Yes, Clayton, I am a natural born storyteller...which is why felt screenwriting would be my best option.

Elisabeth Meier

I would like to add something as I really learned the best and most by watching films I like with the screenplay on my knees. Additionally, of course a notebook by my side to write down what I learned. Afterwards I compared it to the scripts I've read before. BUT our society unfortunately asks for degrees. The best answer to those who ask for a degree is to write a script and sell it. This then counts more than any degree.

Dan MaxXx

Teaching is a great gig w/ benefits

Elisabeth Meier

@Dan True and I even think they wouldn't give a whatever on a degree if you were famous and already wrote a few great scripts. At that moment you don't need any degree at all anymore. Strange world.

Christopher Binder

For some yes, for others, no.

Kimberly Ruzich

Thank you, everyone. Dan, I hear they have blow up dolls on sale at your local adult all night in NYC. Elisabeth, that is a GREAT idea! I own both the movie and the script for one of my favorite movies..."Seabiscuit". I will have to try out that technique.

A. Ma

A degree is important for applying for a job in the media, however does not guarantee a position there regardless of how good the institution where your studies comes from. Unfortunately there's three ways to get a job in the media: 1- You have a good degree studying the media, 2- you know someone in the media, 3- Unique Talent. The second one is the most common and that is a seed of a lot of problems. I was working for a while in Sony pictures and i have to say a lot of people who work there are not professionals, is more of people who need to pay bills and knows someone and that job is more of a royalty towards other opportunities they may be more fit. Even in important specific task sometimes they hire people "who think they can do it" more than a professional with a degree. This kinds of decisions are and will be reflected in the development of the film or the project and is a normally a problem from an outsider director who normally will not match his work and respect for the art with this individuals. We need people with a degree, is true, but more important we need people who will be committed to the project because the idea is good and not cause there's going to be some economic interest (unless a writer is very talent and can create a great story out of a crappy idea. I give you an example. "The amazing spiderman 2"," Batman v superman" both scripts were made by screenwriters supervised by people who don't know how to write. ( Is like a chef getting cooking advise by clients that have no clue about food just cause the owner of the restaurant wants to please a client). Is a mess. However that's the case in this reality but in another hand you have people like Charlie Kauffman who his ideas putt him in the media regardless if he studied or not. He is good and everyone know it cause is hard to denied. No degree needed it there. If you need technique advise in the proses of writing then you can definitely study. But in the end i think a great screenwriter will shine with its own light. Is about the message not much about the degree of the messenger. is how its deliver and the clarity of the idea itself.

Jody Ellis

I would say write and finish a screenplay, get some feedback on it and then decide what direction you want to take insofar as pursuing a degree, etc. I don't think you're going to fully comprehend what writing a screenplay involves until you actually sit down and do it.

Kimberly Ruzich

Dan, I already have 5's the Pegasus I'm still missing for my collection....

Zorrawa Jefferson

Well, I'm young and I work as a writer and I don't have a college degree. While not having a degree makes it slightly harder, i wouldn't recommend getting a degree. That's just me....

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