So you want to become a professional screenwriter? Naturally, one of the first steps that may come across your mind — especially if you are new to writing scripts — is taking creative writing or screenwriting classes at a local college, university, or private educational company.
But before you spend thousands of dollars and hours on classes promising to launch your blockbuster screenwriting career, it’s important to take an objective look at whether paid screenwriting instruction is truly worth the significant investment for an aspiring writer.
In this comprehensive guide, we will analyze the potential benefits of creative writing and screenwriting educational programs, balanced with an unbiased view of the downsides.
You’ll also get key questions to ask so you can determine which route may be best to nurture your talents while avoiding falling prey to overpromises of instant Hollywood success just from taking a writing course.
The Potential Benefits of Screenwriting Classes
For both beginning wordsmiths with more story ideas than technical script expertise, along with intermediate writers looking to hone their skills, classes focused specifically on writing for film and TV taught by industry veterans can provide:
Hands-On Learning of Proper Screenplay Format and Story Structure
Unlike novels or short stories that afford more literary flexibility, scriptwriting has strict industry formatting standards to follow if you want your work to be taken seriously.
While free online blogs and YouTube videos reference basics for font, scene headings, transitions, and more, nothing beats learning directly from professional instructors.
They can provide more depth on proper title page layouts, scene organization, beat boards, and all the necessary elements expected by entertainment executives and reps.
Classes centered specifically on writing TV pilots, features, documentaries, or other media drill down into detail on bringing script pages to life through plot points, story arcs, organic character development, writing visually, and more within standard film/TV writing conventions.
Whether it’s learning to craft authentic dialogue, mastering subtext, or baiting emotional hooks throughout your story, professional education guides you to avoid amateur mistakes and follow time-tested writing best practices.
Constructive Feedback in a Structured Peer Workshop Setting
Even the best writers have blind spots when assessing their material. As a student in a screenwriting program, you’ll not only create review material but also read and critique your peers.
Top instructors facilitate this process through writer’s workshops, where students respectfully discuss what writing elements work or may need revision.
This feedback loop challenges your creative assumptions and helps all students improve through analysis from multiple objective perspectives.
Exposure to the Business Side of Breaking In
It’s easy for even experienced screenwriters to exist in a creative bubble and have little knowledge of the ruthless business machine that is Hollywood.
But to launch a money-earning screenwriting career, you need to understand the roles of managers, agents, development executives, producers, and beyond to get your scripts sold and/or produced.
The best creative writing instructors not only have demonstrated writing chops but also direct industry experience that exposes students to modern entertainment business practices.
They candidly prep students on what it takes to promote your work, find representation, land writing jobs, avoid problematic contracts, navigate intellectual property issues, and sustain a screenwriting career.
Connections Through Alumni Networks and Industry Access
Writing talent drives opportunity, but positive personal connections accelerate success, especially in a tightly-knit industry like film and TV writing.
One hidden gem that quality screenwriting programs offer is an engaged community of alumni – many already working in the industry – who support one another long after graduation through critique groups, informational interviews, job leads, and more.
Industry access is another underrated benefit, as the best creative writing schools and instructors are actively networked with literary managers, talent agencies, development executives, showrunners, and production companies.
Strategic introductions and insider recommendations from admired creative writing instructors hold tremendous influence that aspiring writers may struggle for years to build themselves.
Mentorship and Promotion Opportunities
Many screen and television writing instructors maintain active industry careers or have previously succeeded as writers, directors, or producers.
More than just skilled teachers, the very best instructors take a personal interest in mentoring standout students – especially if shown high promise in pursuing film/TV writing professionally.
Whether as simple career advice, opening doors through industry connections, partnerships on creative projects, or even shopping exceptional student scripts to their reps, influential writing coaches can provide invaluable real-world guidance both during and long after a writing program ends.
For distinguished graduates, a respected instructor’s public endorsement also lends tremendous credibility.
When a writer with proven Hollywood success vouches for your talent, management companies and studio executives are far more inclined to add you to their watch lists of emerging writers to meet.
The Potential Downsides of Paid Screenwriting Education
While the inherent networking, mentoring, skill-building, and industry exposure noted above can give many writers a creative career boost, professional creative writing classes – often costing thousands per course – guarantee no surefire path to success.
Beyond just money, intensive writing programs also require a serious commitment of finite time and energy – often over one or multiple years – with no certainty that your career goals will come to fruition.
It’s also key to point out that the Hollywood landscape is littered with jaded writers who feel burned after investing heavily in educational institutions or programs that promised far more than was delivered.
This makes it essential for aspiring wordsmiths to balance optimism with pragmatism when assessing paid creative writing programs. Common drawbacks writers should watch for include:
High Financial Costs and Opportunity Cost Tradeoffs
Even shorter-term creative writing classes often require tuition running thousands for just a single course or workshop.
Full writing certificates, graduate degrees, or long-term talent incubators can land $15,000-$60,000+ in total student debt that may take students years to pay off.
Less discussed is calculating the opportunity cost that dedicated educational programs require by essentially putting your writing dreams on hold for their duration.
That’s time not actively writing new scripts, networking, or pitching your work. Nor allows for grabbing day-job writing opportunities that arise unexpectedly. What price can be put on lost or sidetracked momentum?
No Guarantee of Launching a Successful Writing Career
Perhaps the most predatory illusion that some writing programs perpetuate is that enrollment alone can transform anyone into a commercial screen or television writer.
While the best creative writing schools do churn out working writers, they also readily warn that much more beyond instruction is required to break into Hollywood’s elite writing ranks.
Stats on what percentage of graduates actively work as writers are also rarely tracked or advertised. What little public data is available indicates single to low double-digit employment numbers. Worth noting many writing careers also kick off outside of film and TV entertainment sectors.
So while paid screenwriting education has tremendous intrinsic value, students with unrealistic expectations are often significantly let down after completing classes.
Outdated Approaches Less Aligned with Current Industry Trends
The entertainment industry progresses rapidly, with changing viewer tastes and distribution models demanding new voices and writing styles.
While evergreen screenwriting fundamentals remain intact, what studios and production companies are looking for – especially regarding platform diversity beyond just network and cable TV – evolves quickly.
Some writing instructors and institutions, especially older programs tied to previous generations of Hollywood success, struggle to keep instruction aligned with current market needs. That means newer emerging writers risk learning approaches less relevant to break in today.
Lack of Standardization in Feedback Quality and Instruction
Not all writing programs are created equal. Study a class roster and you may find next-door neighbors taking the course alongside aspiring wordsmiths from different states or countries.
Such diversity can enrich perspective, but with a mix of both beginners and intermediate writers comes a wide spectrum of workshopping abilities.
While one may receive simple encouragement, others get thoughtful analysis and constructive feedback to meaningfully improve their craft.
The same goes for the educators themselves, as writing instructors vary greatly in industry experience, teaching expertise, professional connections, and more.
It’s essential to research programs, read reviews, and querying grads about getting both your money and time’s worth.
Key Factors to Evaluate if Screenwriting Classes Are Worthwhile
Determining if creative writing classes merit the required investments comes down to a personalized cost/benefit analysis based on your specific writing talents and career objectives. As part of your decision-making process, be sure to evaluate:
Success Rates and Reputations
Foremost, look at statistics and examples on what percentage of previous students actively work as writers today, especially in film/TV/streaming media.
Always independently verify employment claims. Strong indicators of program quality also include prestigious writing awards won and whether notable writing grads vouch for the instruction.
Equally important is vetting your potential instructor’s industry reputation and history of advocacy. Their professional work and connections can either open doors or severely limit opportunities.
Desired Writing Mediums and Genres
Are you primarily interested in writing drama TV pilots or feature comedies? Do you see yourself specializing in action, sci-fi, true crime, rom-com?
Establish your creative strengths and passions, then assess if classes support that genre and medium. If maximum flexibility across film, television, web series, and other formats is your goal, investigate instructor experience guiding talent across all platforms.
Your Current Writing Skills Level
Be honest about your current writing abilities. Beginners will find great value in starting with fundamental courses teaching core screenplay conventions, scene structure, characterization, effective dialogue, etc.
More experienced writers may better benefit from working one-on-one with veteran instructors focused intently on assessing portfolio strengths and weaknesses towards a professional career.
Formulaic Instruction vs Fostering Creative Confidence
Compare program philosophies, as some schools rigidly push plot paradigms and prescribed commercial formats.
That can restrict talent by dismissing more experimental scripts unlikely to sell quickly. Other instructors believe in nurturing writers’ creative instincts and signature voices. See where faculty opinions fall across this spectrum before enrolling.
Local vs Online Options
If hands-on collaboration and in-person networking are high priorities, onsite writing workshops allow connecting face-to-face with mentors and peers.
But if easily accessing industry veterans is key, online courses also offer incredible access these days. Leading programs centered in L.A. or other industry hubs like Atlanta or NYC now provide remote options widening their geographical reach.
Just ensure digital curriculums still enable sufficient student-teacher engagement. Compare local school choices if concurrent writing/film communities are most conducive to launching your career.
Time and Financial Commitment
Creative writing courses can vary tremendously in scope, length, and cost depending on whether they are single classes, multi-month certificate programs, or even Master’s degrees spanning 1-2 years.
Compare minimum single class, full certificate, and total program costs to measure true value, ROI, and opportunity costs against your career goals.
- Single class costs
- Full certificate or degree total tuition
- Time commitments
- ROI against your career goals
Single night classes may only be a few hundred dollars, but multiple foundational workshops, advanced instruction, and intensive talent incubators can quickly snowball to $10k, $20k, or even $50k+ in total.
Remember to account for additional expenses like software, books, event fees, and production costs.
Calculate total time investments for completion too, from a single weekend workshop to 9-12 month certificate programs up to 2-year Master’s degrees.
Compare your affordability limits and availability calendar to determine what fits your budget and schedule.
Alternative Pathways to Build Writing Skills Without Classes
If sky-high tuitions or questionable career prospects from paid creative writing programs give you pause, numerous alternative channels exist to strengthen entertainment writing abilities without traditional instruction.
Consider if the following options better suit your learning preferences, industry access needs, or career timelines:
Screenwriting Books and Online Learning Platforms
Hundreds of screenwriting, filmmaking, and insider industry books line library shelves, with new titles published yearly.
Leading authors and teachers also offer detailed writing video tutorials via MasterClass and other online learning sites.
For little money down, these self-education resources teach foundational and advanced creative writing techniques on your schedule.
Free Web Articles, Podcasts, and Screenwriting Communities
A wealth of writing tips from working film and TV scribes are just a Google search away for free these days. Industry blogs, podcast interviews, Twitter threads, and lively forums like Reddit’s r/Screenwriting also provide money-saving peer support and critique groups.
Informal Writers Groups or Collectives
If missing the camaraderie and peer feedback dynamic a formal workshop setting provides, gather a few friends for informal writers’ meetups.
Share script excerpts, discuss plots, and cheerlead each other’s progress. Many communities have organic free networking groups centered on TV/film collaboration. Start your own or join existing ones.
Writer Staffing Services and Entertainment Labor Unions
Entities like entertainment industry guilds and writer staffing agencies maintain searchable talent databases where you can directly list your scripts.
They also host events, provide mentoring programs, publish hiring leads, and more. While fees vary, it just takes one introduction to launch a career.
Strategic Contests and Fellowships
Zero-cost screenwriting competitions offer cash/prizes but also provide peer exposure to reps and executives across studios, production companies, and agencies.
Universities and non-profit film institutions also award funded writing fellowships supporting project development – no enrollment required. Just craft standout submissions.
Direct Industry Networking and Pitching
At the end of the day, nothing advances a Hollywood writing career faster than putting exceptional scripts directly into decision-maker hands.
Attend screenwriting conferences, writing association mixers, and film/TV events in your region to connect with producers, showrunners, development VPs, and literary managers.
Social media also enables efficiently pitching reps and following leads for writing gigs. Cold call when you have to!
Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck with Paid Screenwriting Education
If weighing all factors of your current situation and future writing goals puts quality creative writing instruction as the optimal next move, wonderful! Still approach exploring programs smartly, just as with any major investments.
Here are key steps to ensure you maximize tangible returns whether attending local colleges or national talent accelerators:
Ask Pointed Questions About Career Preparation Offerings
General writing skills Matter, but so too do the job placement resources schools provide. Before enrolling, ask very specifically what career prep is included.
Do they assist in creating professional portfolios? Provide pitching and networking guidance. Have intern placement arrangements? Get detailed answers.
Leverage School Industry Ties Like Alumni Connections
We highlighted the potentially invaluable networking a quality program’s esteemed writing teachers and successful alumni offer.
So once enrolled, work diligently to build these relationships long before graduation. Join relevant LinkedIn groups, attend info interviews and creatively demonstrate your collaborative spirit at every opportunity within legal and ethical boundaries.
Seek Out Programs Aligned With Your Creative Aspirations
No two writing dreams look identical, nor should the educational paths toward achieving them. Whether seeking TV staff jobs selling big spec feature scripts or launching your web series, find programs addressing your exact aspirations.
Boutique classes from working genre writers or intensive showrunner labs offer incredible visibility toward specific writing vocations that starkly benefit-driven, focused writers.
Vet the Reputation and Results of University Extension Courses
Many acclaimed schools like UCLA, USC, and NYU offer world-class screenwriting courses at just a fraction of their degree program rates via evening/weekend extension classes.
But even among the iconic institutions, significant quality variability exists. Talk with as many former students as possible to gauge the career impacts of specific courses and network with instructors before registering to confirm teaching expertise and industry connections suit your growth needs.
The Best Decisions Balance Data and Intuition
This guide aims to provide ample objective data assessing paid screenwriting class merits…and risks. Ultimately building a career hinges on personalized aspects no formula can fully capture – your distinct talents, risk tolerance, connections, and circumstances.
So incorporate both external insights and inner wisdom when plotting your optimal writing path. Sometimes that still means going “all-in” on formal education, even without guarantees. But do so strategically, eyes wide open.
Trust your gut, balance with logic, and perhaps discover the magical training environment where creativity transforms into opportunity.
The Key Takeaway: Choose the Program, Not the Empty Promises
No magic bullets are launching a screenwriting career, only elevated skills, and connections combined with exceptional tenacity.
Talent accelerators CAN provide ground-floor industry access and mentor figures critical to writing success.
But the onus falls upon you as the writer to siphon the applicable lessons and relationships to actively advance your career.
So the core question when assessing creative writing programs simplifies to whether their specialized instruction and access offerings organically fit your educational needs and preferred learning formats.
Beware false gurus promising universal formulas leading directly to sold screenplays, staffed writing jobs, or studio deals.
Let your writing voice and demonstrated skills – not purchased pedigrees – serve as the keys to Hollywood’s gates.
Then if built upon solid educational foundations, your talent shines bright enough for decision-makers to welcome you in.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are screenwriting courses worth it?
Screenwriting courses can be highly beneficial for acquiring knowledge of script formats, story structure, industry insights, peer feedback, and access to mentorship opportunities. However weigh factors like cost, time commitments, career prep offerings, and instructor qualifications against personal writing goals when determining if classes provide sufficient value.
Is film school worth it for screenwriting?
Film school provides well-rounded exposure to developing, pitching, shooting, editing, and marketing films, but screenwriting-focused classes may only comprise a portion of the total curriculum. Aspiring screenwriters should ensure a prospective film program dedicates ample course attention specifically to writing instruction from experienced entertainment writers before committing.
Should I go to film school if I want to be a screenwriter?
There is no single best path to becoming a professional screenwriter. It’s possible to break in without traditional film school through dedicated writing programs, online education, books, networking events, and competitive fellowships. But for some, film school course immersions and peer/industry connections can significantly accelerate Hollywood career progress.
Is it hard to get a job as a screenwriter?
Yes, breaking into professional screenwriting is very difficult given the substantial competition for limited writing jobs in TV, film, streaming, and new media. Perseverance, exceptional writing talent, industry literacy, and access to decision-makers increase the odds. However, financial sustenance from a supplementary job is a reality for most working toward their first writing credit.
What are the odds of becoming a screenwriter?
While no definitive data exists on precise odds, some estimates suggest maybe 1-in-1,000 aspiring screenwriters actively work and earn income in entertainment. But many produce independent scripts or find writing roles in non-film industries. Dedication to the craft, seeking and acting on feedback and aggressively promoting your best work can greatly improve your chances.
Are screenwriters in high demand?
Veteran screenwriters with produced credits earn livable wages, but competition is continually intense for emerging writing talent in film and TV. Demand rises exponentially however for experienced multi-platform writers as streamers and digital studios create more original programming. Writers able to adapt styles across genres, formats, and mediums gain an advantage.
Do most screenwriters go to college?
There are no education or background requirements to begin a screenwriting career. Much essential writing skills are learned by reading scripts, watching films/TV, and putting in long hours writing/honing the craft. Higher learning centers help many writers tremendously through instruction and connections. But ultimately writing abilities, grit, and career navigation lead to success.
What GPA is needed for film school?
Acceptance criteria vary widely across different film school programs from 2.0 to 3.5+ GPAs, along with standardized test scores, writing samples, essays, and portfolios. Top film schools weigh past academic performance but emphasize evaluating student potential and diversity of experiences that enrich collaborative filmmaking education.
How much do screenwriters get paid?
Professional screenwriting income potential has an extremely wide range based on factors like previous credits, the production budget for projects you work on, involvement duration, and negotiated contracts. But many sources estimate entry-level script sales between $30,000-$70,000 at minimum, scaling exponentially upwards into potential millions for A-List screenwriters over time.