You do not need a degree to become a screenwriter.
If you’re just beginning to explore pursuing a screenwriting career, know that you do not need to go to college to become a professional television or movie writer. But also know that it doesn’t hurt if you plan to get into the film industry.
Today’s blog will explore how life differs for screenwriters who want to go pro based on whether or not they’ve attended film school.
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Then, hopefully, you can make an informed decision about the route that you’ll take on your screenwriting journey!
Can I be a screenwriter without a degree?
You can be a screenwriter without a degree. You can be a screenwriter without a high school diploma, too! As long as you know how to write and can tell a great story, you can write a feature film and television shows, and no one will care what school you did or didn’t attend.
What kind of education do you need to be a screenwriter?
To be a professional screenwriter, you’ll need to master these areas:
Screenplay format (but this will change with SoCreate!)
To master the aforementioned areas of study, you can watch a ton of movies, read plenty of screenplays, try your hand at shooting a movie yourself (all it takes is an iPhone), and read some popular books on the craft of writing for television and film.
Do you see something missing from that list? That’s right; there’s no schooling required to master screenwriting. Plenty of famous screenwriters have no formal education, and you can follow that same path.
Is a degree in screenwriting useful?
A degree in screenwriting is useful but not required for a few reasons.
1. You’ll make connections
Many of the people you meet at a university will become lifelong friends and acquaintances. They’ll be people you can lean on when you have a question about your script and people you can call when you move to a new city. But on top of friends, you’re also going to meet people already working in the industry, including screenwriters, directors, and studio executives. These are excellent connections to have once you’re out in the big world looking for a job because connections often set apart the people who make it and the writers who struggle to find work.
2. Instant community
Sometimes, it’s hard to find your tribe. But not in film school. Everyone is there for the same purpose as you, so it will be easy to find common ground.
Having a community of writers around you also impacts your work: you’ll be more focused on the goal because you’ll be surrounded by people headed in the same direction as you.
By attending film school, you will have access to production resources that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive or out of reach in the real world. We’re talking cameras, sets, lights, actors, and more, available for you to tinker and experiment with.
In addition to physical resources, you’ll have access to some of the best minds in the business when it comes to writing, the business of entertainment, and other professional matters. In the real world, these mentors are harder to find – and usually less willing to volunteer.
Let’s face it: a degree looks good on paper. If you don’t get into the screenwriting business, you may want to pursue some other position in entertainment where a resume that shows a degree can get your foot in the door.
A degree shows a potential employer that education is essential to you, that you can commit to something difficult for several years, and that you know how the film business works.
But remember, a degree on its own isn’t enough to sell a screenplay. You need to get good at the craft of writing, and a degree won’t guarantee that you do.
5. Learning fast track
It is totally possible to learn screenwriting independently, but it may be faster to do it in a classroom environment.
Of course, it depends on you: how you learn, where you focus best, what you want to do, your maturity, etc.
In film school, you’ll learn a lot about making television and movies in a relatively short amount of time. It may open your eyes to filmmaking styles, film history, and entertainment jobs that you may not have otherwise explored.
On the flip side, it’s important to understand what a screenwriting degree will NOT get you so that you can make an informed decision.
1. Degrees are limited at universities
Screenwriting is a specialty, so there aren’t many universities where you can earn a degree in this craft. You’ll usually earn a degree in a film program or media studies instead. With that said, your options for schools that offer this degree will be limited. We’ve got a list of the best screenwriting schools worldwide if you’re interested.
2. You’re only as good as your curriculum
If you depend on your film studies instructors to teach you everything you need to know about becoming a professional writer, your curriculum will limit you. There’s only so much you can learn from a degree program; to understand differing philosophies, gain real-world experience, improve your writing skills, and experiment with writing style, you’re going to need to take matters into your own hands to learn both inside and outside of the classroom.
3. Access to writing communities is free
While you’ll meet many cool people at film school, you could do just as well on your own by being an active participant in free writing communities around the world. In-person and online, these writing communities are strong and filled with writers like you. From subreddits to networking groups that meet for coffee once a month, writers are everywhere, and you don’t need to pay a dime to meet them and glean knowledge and lifelong friendships.
4. A screenwriting degree might not help you
While you’ll learn a ton about screenwriting while pursuing a degree in the topic, what if you decide later that screenwriting isn’t for you? Suppose you know you want to earn a degree but you’re unsure that screenwriting is a definite career path. You may be better off choosing a different degree that applies to more industries – say, a creative writing degree, for example. That way, you can get a job in a different field if screenwriting doesn’t work out.
5. More deadlines and less creative freedom
Sometimes writers need deadlines set for them, so deadlines aren’t necessarily bad. But know that you will have less time to really explore your style and creative direction when you’re under the pressure of homework due dates. In addition, you’ll be graded on your work, which takes a bit of the fun out of creative freedom.
6. If your work is good, it speaks for itself!
A film degree won’t make your screenplay any better. You don’t pitch a script to production companies and then add on “oh and by the way, I have a screenwriting degree” to give it credibility. Nope, your screenwriting skills speak for themselves. Having a degree won’t make your screenplay more attractive to producers and studio executives.
7. You can learn for free
More free screenwriting information is available online than you can fathom. From YouTube videos to screenwriting blogs like this one, it is simple to find answers to your questions about screenwriting, storytelling, and the entertainment business. And if for some reason, that’s not enough, writers have authored hundreds of books on the topic that you can buy for far less than the cost of formal education.
8. The competition is still out there
Where screenwriting programs and degrees can set you apart from job market competition in some industries, it does no such thing in the film and television industry. Your ability to get a job will depend only on your connections, craft, and being in the right place at the right time!
Screenwriters do not need a degree to be successful, which has been proven repeatedly by all the industry professionals who are writing award-winning film scripts without a formal education. But that doesn’t mean they’re uneducated: they’ve taken the time to train themselves in the craft of screenwriting, learned how the business works, and built their writing network. The best part about being a writer is that anyone with a story idea can do it, including YOU! Take time to understand whether a screenwriting degree is right for you before you plunk down the cash.
And if you choose not to pursue a screenwriting degree but still want to go to college, that’s great. Choose another field that interests you, such as creative writing, and remember: there’s always grad school!