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Screenwriting Courses or Four-Year Degree?

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If you query on "screenwriting courses" in Google, you'll see everything from weekend workshops offered by local film schools and private film institutes to extensive four-year bachelors and postgraduate MFA degree programs that are designed to provide a comprehensive education.

It can all be a bit of a blur when you're trying to decipher which you should enroll in as you begin preparing for your screenwriting career.

Here are some of the pros and cons of each to consider as you ponder your decision (and future):

Degree Program Pros

  • Comprehensiveness: Screen writing may be your focus, but you'll learn everything about the filmmaking process, from lighting to acting to cinematography. Think of how much this will help you create character and story when you can envision your script dimensionally and visually.
  • You'll learn other skills: Your program will also provide courses in liberal arts. Script writing is a competitive field, and these courses can prepare you to work in other types of jobs while you write that script at night.
  • Networking: Your degree program may offer the opportunity to network with industry professionals or meet peers that can help you later on
  • Accreditation: Employers value degree programs that are accredited. This means you've graduated from a school of merit and is esteemed by peers and community and upholds professional standards.
  • Time: Many screenwriting course degree programs are offered online so you can work while you go to school if you need to
  • Outcome: Most of the film school programs with a focus in script writing also teach you to sell yourself, pitch story ideas, and complete a script or two before you graduate
  • Financial aid: You're eligible for government financial aid, scholarships and grants when you choose an accredited school

Weekend Workshops Pros

  • Specific focus: A workshop may provide insights into the conventions of writing for a specific genre, such as sci-fi, action or romantic comedy
  • Problem-solving: If you're stuck, you may receive one-on-one help if you're having problems with character development or you've reached a wall on a plot point
  • Script completion: If you're ready to polish your draft, this may be a good place to learn what to do
  • Changes in the field: Scriptwriting has a specific template and format so if any changes occur within the field, you may learn about them here

Weekend Workshop Cons

  • Expense: Some of the workshops cost as much as one quarter of film school; sometimes $1,000 or more
  • Specific focus: If you're just getting started on your script, you may not find the love you need, as many of these short screenwriting courses cater to professionals advancing their careers or brushing up on their skills
  • Lack of holistic approach: Most of the workshops pinpoint an area of scriptwriting and you won't receive much of a holistic approach to the craft, so you'll have to enroll in several courses to get a complete education, and it may wind up taking longer than a bachelor's degree program (and costing as much—or more)
  • Scarcity of programs and format: The big schools may offer online courses which you can take at any time, but small private film schools often only offer a few courses a season, and may not be available online
  • No accreditation: Accreditation is important when you want to transfer credits or present your degree to a future employer. Generally, private film institute workshops are not accredited.
  • Limited financial aid: You may or may not find resources to help you pay for workshops and one-off classes

So, which one will best prepare you to ply your craft? Which type of program will potential employers value more? The answer may lie in what your ultimate goal is, and how far along you are in your screenwriting career.

If you're already established, short screenwriting courses and weekend workshops can help you brush up on, and refresh your skill-set. But if you're just starting out in the field, nothing really can take the place of getting the education in screenwriting and the holistic filmmaking training that a degree program from an accredited school can offer.

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Filmmaking Degree & Career Guide