Do you need a screenwriting degree to be successful? The short answer is no. You do not need to go to school for screenwriting in order to become a working writer. A degree in something, anything, generally helps you get a job in Hollywood because a college degree is a base-level hiring requirement for a lot of companies, but that’s a whole other can of worms. Bottom line is that you have a lot of options if you want to be a screenwriter, and getting a college education in screenwriting depends entirely on you and what you want.
Pros and Cons of a Screenwriting Degree
A screenwriting degree is useful in a couple ways. The first is networking. If you go to a film school with a powerful network and build your relationships over the course of the program, it can give you a leg up when you exit school and need to find work and make new projects. A screenwriting degree can also help you build experience in your focused area, and you can work with other filmmakers in your program with equipment provided by the school to bring your scripts to life. Practice makes perfect.
A degree in screenwriting at one of the top universities might cost you an arm and a leg. Programs are extremely competitive and focused solely on that one area. Some people argue that if you’re going to spend an astronomical sum every year on higher education in the US, you might as well make a film on your own rather than spending that money on a degree that may be useless.
The Benefit of Non-Writing Degrees
Mathematics? Engineering? Pre-Med? A background in something other than writing can be super beneficial. There are so many medical shows, crime shows, and topic-specific shows on TV that a background in something other than writing gives you an edge. You have the knowledge to write what you know.
Getting an Entry-Level Job in Hollywood
There are many different types of entry-level jobs in Hollywood. The production side is one type of beast. A degree may help establish that you know your way around certain equipment and environments. On the more desk-oriented side of the industry – representation, production companies, studios – all you need is a degree in anything to qualify and apply for the position. Internships and connections help, too.
Breaking the Mold
You’d be surprised by the amount of scripts written about a writer who has writer’s block. Go live you life. Have experiences. Draw upon those experiences to write about something other than a writer. I’m not saying your script about a struggling writer can’t be great – it can. But Hollywood is flooded with them. Stand out.
Making Your Projects
Comedy is a great example of how making your own projects can get you seen. It’s becoming more and more common to see people who create their own content have that content picked up by studios and networks. Writer/director/producer types who make their own web series with moderate success can turn around and sell that project or pitch another one. You do not need a degree in production or screenwriting to make a film, short film, web series, or pilot. You just make it, then mentally get over the rough period where everything you make sucks.
Here’s an example of a writer who turned to making his own cartoons in order to get hired on a show. Spoiler alert, he’s been incredibly successful at it.
Have you written a play? Made a short film? Shot a web series with a friend? Try it.
If you’re afraid it looks bad, take a look at Broad City in its early stages. It wasn’t perfect, but it’s what launched their careers.
If you’re looking to focus on your filmmaking skills, learn production, or submerge yourself in a terrific program, then do it. Get that degree in screenwriting. You might gain a tremendous network, a lot of experience, and have a leg up when it comes to making your own projects.
Don’t feel like you have to though. You can study screenwriting on the side and get your degree in something else. The key to learning and growing is doing. The more you write and the more scripts you have under your belt, the more you will grow as a writer.