Screenwriting School: Do You Need It?

August 5, 2014

The Golden Rule cannot be understated: if you want to get better at writing, then write.

If you take nothing away from today’s post than that, so be it. But right from the off, it’s important to note that it doesn’t particularly matter how you go about it—practice your craft, learn from your goofs, find your own voice and growth will inevitably come.

So if we take that as a given, this begs the question…

… is there any point in attending screenwriting school?

Ten Thousand Hours

Malcolm Gladwell, the inspirational and intriguing science journalist, once posited that it takes 10,000 hours of practice in order to attain mastery in any field. While the accuracy of the number has come under academic fire recently, the underlying concept is fairly steady.

And this is where formal tuition in screen writing comes in. You can go those 10,000 alone and become a master screenwriter—many have, many will, and there’s nothing wrong with that route. Alternatively, you could put yourself in an environment that accelerates that process.

And attending screenwriting school helps on pragmatic grounds, too. While it is entirely possible to get your 10,000 hours in during the wee small hours of the morning between your family going to bed and getting up for your day job, it’ll feel like a lot more of a hard slog than if you went at it full time for a few years. And if that sounds like too long a spell to take out of working life, there are plenty of part-time screenwriting programs too, including eight and twelve workshop-based courses.

Don’t go into such a program lightly, however; while screenwriting school may sound like a relaxed walk in the park, they’re usually very intensive and mimic the ‘trial by fire’ nature of the industry out in the real world. This in itself can be instrumental in your growth as a filmmaker, since no artist became great without enduring some constructive criticism and hard knocks.

Art In a Vacuum

As well as getting some space to single-mindedly focus on advancing your career, there’s another tangible benefit. A lot of professions within filmmaking are inherently collaborative, and rely heavily on more than one person working closely together in order to breathe life into a project. Screenwriting, however, is not one of them.

Developing a script (at least for film, TV can be a different ballpark) is a rather solitary pursuit, and until your screenplay is optioned, it can usually feel like working in a vacuum. In fact, you’ll often feel like the outcast of the team all the way up to the final cut.

Since it can be hard to learn and grow without outside interaction (creatively speaking, at least), attending screenwriting school can help pierce that bubble. Not only will you get to mingle with film students of other disciplines – which is infinitely helpful in giving you a more rounded overview of the industry – but you’ll also get to work closely with other writers.

Ever been stuck on a plot point or characterization issue only to have a fellow writer help you crack it in ways you’d never have dreams of? At screenwriting school, you’ll practically have that fresh perspective on tap.

It also provides a good opportunity to observe how other screenwriters apply the fundamentals of the craft to different genres, which can be incredibly useful in expanding the proverbial writing toolbox. A good writer is like a sponge, so it makes sense to be in an environment where there’s a lot to absorb.

In conclusion, it’d be foolish to say that screenwriting school is for everyone, but if you suspect that your career and skill level would be enhanced by formal tuition in the craft, don’t be afraid to take the plunge.