What degree should I have to be a screenwriter?
Let me answer that question with a question…
Do I need a degree to be a screenwriter?
First and foremost, almost no universities offer degrees in “screenwriting” (and those that do are overwhelmingly MFAs, not undergrad programs). That aside, you’ll be glad to know that there’s no reason to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a film degree to be a screenwriter either.
(Although, if you’re a new or soon-to-be college student and would like to set yourself up for screenwriting success, I do suggest a writing program of some kind. I’m partial to journalism, which gives you an astoundingly good knowledge of storytelling and structure.)
Many people who become screenwriters start from the same place: a love of movies.
To be a good screenwriter, you need to be a good watcher. While film analysis classes can teach you the necessary skills, there are many ways to teach yourself how to critically watch movies and television.
In order to write a screenplay, you essentially need two things — an understanding of story and knowledge of the form.
It also helps that screenwriting is one of those specific fields that doesn’t require costly or extensive training.
Everything you need to know about screenwriting can be found in books or on the Internet.
Order Robert McKee’s “Story,” spend some time with blog posts about screenwriting, consult “The Screenwriter’s Bible,” and study the pacing, structure, and characters of your favorite movies or TV shows. There are plenty of places to find screenplays themselves — again, the Internet is the top resource, or, if you happen to be local to Los Angeles, head to the WGF Library on Fairfax and 3rd.
Our partners at The Script Lab have a streaming service called TSL 360, which is the #1 Screenwriting Education Video Library. Learn from top industry professionals and get 3 days of free access here.
Once you have a good sense of what a screenplay should be, and know what you want to write about, you’re in the clear.
No need to enroll at the nearest university or toil over lengthy application processes — it is entirely possible to be a self-taught screenwriter. Sharpen your pencils, crack open that new notebook, and get to learning!
Britton Perelman is a writer and storyteller based in Los Angeles, California. When not buried in a book or failing spectacularly at cooking herself a meal, she’s probably talking someone’s ear off about the last thing she watched. She loves vintage typewriters, the Cincinnati Reds, and her dog, Indy. Find more of her work on her website, or follow her on Instagram.