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Should I Earn an MFA or a BFA in Screenwriting?

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When you're doing research to find a film school with a track in screenwriting, you'll likely notice there are a lot of not only Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) but Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programs available.

You might wonder if there is a benefit to those additional two years of school that will help you get your foot in the door of a highly competitive industry.

The truth of the matter is a BFA will suffice, thank you very much, especially if you're determined to actually write scripts, no matter if it's for a television sitcom or a feature-length film. The old saying "writers write" applies here, and if you've got the talent and drive, you'll find the grit to enter the field no matter what degree type you earn.

Breaking down the BFA in Screenwriting

Raw writing talent may be the blood that courses through your screenwriting veins, but earning a degree adds weight and muscle and you'll flesh out your skill set with other courses in filmmaking. Besides writing, character, theme, action, emotional storytelling and dialogue development you'll also get a holistic education in other aspects of filmmaking and television production. Some of the topics you'll study include:

  • Editing
  • Production and design
  • Directing
  • Acting
  • Cinematography
  • Lighting
  • Film history

Additionally, some screenwriting schools partner with established industry professionals who work with students in the program as mentors and guides, and this type of school stewardship provides students with golden opportunities to network with the best in the field.

Online programs are also available. For example, Full Sail University offers a BFA in Creative Writing for Entertainment as well as an MFA in creative writing, entirely online. These programs are designed to help you create a portfolio of your work and teach you how to market yourself within the entertainment industry.

No matter whether you enter the BFA or MFA program in screenwriting you'll graduate with not only contacts, but at least one completed script (although programs vary—some require a mix of television and film scripts, or short film and feature length scripts).

When an MFA is a Better Choice

Two-year MFA programs are generally much more intensive and focused on strict script writing than the BFA and almost all of the best programs provide one-on-one partnering with screenwriters who have a reputation and years of experience. You're more likely to choose an MFA program if you've already earned a bachelor's degree in filmmaking—or another area—and are changing careers to become a screenwriter.

Those who don't necessarily want to write scripts but are intrigued by teaching screenwriting at the college or university level will be required to have earned an MFA in the field, so if your passion lies in helping students achieve their screenwriting career goals, you'll want to pursue an MFA.

Two Sides to Every Story

Some argue that holding an MFA is one of the strongest ways to enter the film and television industry, but there are exceptions to every rule. If you have a thick skin, can take rejection, and are gifted with perseverance and the ability to network (think Quentin Tarantino, who has no college degree but an incredible ability to understand the audience, lets criticism roll off his back, and who maintains that one of his strengths is "storytelling") the BFA in Screenwriting can get you out of the classroom more quickly and moving into your dream career in the entertainment industry.

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Filmmaking Degree & Career Guide