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Thread: Best place to live & study screenwriting

  1. #1
    figuring it all out JenniferMannering's Avatar
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    Aug 2016

    Lightbulb Best place to live & study screenwriting

    Does anyone have any recommendations for the best schools to go to to study screenwriting? What's the best city to live in? Probably LA, right? I live in Toronto -should I move?
    Please help me with my query letter! Trying to write it feels like trying to run through wet sand...while drunk....and on fire...wearing ten tonnes of steel armour....

    Query Letter


    “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.”

    ― J.K. Rowling

  2. #2
    Slow and Steady Jade A's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2016
    I live in Toronto, too, and have spent the last few months trying to enter the film scene. My experiences are not going to be optimistic, warning you now. I know you asked about schools, but I want to tell you as much as I can about the Toronto film scene so you can go in with information.

    Okay, so, in film, no matter what role you want to fill, you'll be working for free. A lot. You're also going to start as something like a production assistant or a similar entry level job. But that's okay, because that's how you meet people. Toronto has a lot of people trying to make it, without as many jobs being offered as some other places. It's definitely the best place to get work in Canada, but think about how many Canadian movies you've watched lately. Think about how many are shown in regular theaters. In fact, in a lot of movie stores, our films are put among the international stuff, even though the store is also in Canada. There's a lot more work in television, in this city, than actual films. We have a few regular shows that give people good work. Getting on a TV set is tough, though. I've only been on one, and that was part of an internship I got through Humber College. You need a lot of connections to work on a TV show, in any capacity. To get there, you've got to do a lot of aforementioned volunteer production assistant work. And go to networking events. A LOT of networking events. Although I'm sure that's the same for LA or anywhere else. A good place to start is Inkdrinks, which is a big screenwriting group in the city.

    As for schools, Humber, where I went, is pretty good. You learn a lot, and the profs make a point of bringing in multiple guest speakers from the industry a week. They'll also help you get internships. The one downside is that you'll be expected to do internships WHILE in school 5 days a week. So you'll be missing classes for them. But everyone does that, and most of the profs encourage it

  3. #3
    The general wisdom is yes, move to LA or anywhere else on the west coast which is close by to LA. For film & TV writing.

    (If you want to work in other types of writing, then possibly NY. But not really, because even if stuff is filmed in NY its still usually produced out west. Maybe there's opportunities in stage or commercials? I don't know.)
    Bottom line: west coast for sure.

    As for college degrees, what I would advise you is not to look for any kind of 'degree in screenwriting'.
    And don't get a BA in English either. The best degree for this field is a degree in Creative Writing.
    Last edited by dinky_dau; 11-22-2016 at 01:50 AM.

  4. #4
    practical experience, FTW cornflake's Avatar
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    Jul 2012
    New York has, and has had since the dawn of the medium, a thriving television industry. There aren't as many shows coming out of the East coast, but there certainly are a number of them, and they're not just shot here.

    There are film prodcos here too, even if some are offices of.

    I agree LA is the center of moviemaking, and there's more tv there, but there's certainly tv in NY, and in Tor. There are also some premier programs, mostly MFAs, mostly at schools in the areas -- UCLA, NYU, Columbia, etc. I wouldn't think creative writing programs, especially at undergrad, would have too much in the way of pro screenwriting knowledge to impart or work to do. That said, an MFA isn't required. There are good classes to take -- again, usually in the centers -- at writing centers, but check out who the teachers are, if you're unsure of what you're doing, but lots of people don't have degrees or classes, they read and polish and find people to help critique.

    The advice about networking is something I'd pay heed to. If you want to work in film, find your way to film sets, which exist in NY, LA, Tor, Van; if you want TV, try for one of the internships.

  5. #5
    Certainly New York has always been one of the twin centers of production of media. The stage, and also advertising is here. I just don't think the writing market "is what it once was"; (it isn't even what it was five yrs ago, and five yrs ago it wasn't what it was fifteen yrs ago). Said another way: the decline in opportunities on the east, is severe.

    So the question is, how easy is it to find an entry? How long is your travail likely to be? How many real jobs are there? History is fine, but can you work here? And live--with these apt rents? Whereas, the west is always thriving.

    I just don't think the ladder-for-a-newbie-to-climb in NY is at all as 'clear' as it is in the west. North Carolina and Florida maybe shoot just as much footage as NY these days. NY is dominated (it seems to me) by too many fly-by-night indie companies and also by a tremendous amount of scams. I wouldn't steer any newbie into their career via this coast. New York writing...also seems mostly focused on comedy. Eh.

    Regarding degrees: I stand by my assessment. English majors graduate with some interesting flexibility and well-roundedness, but it's simply not a writing degree. English degrees are about reading. You read a truckload of lit and analyze, analyze, analyze. It ill-prepares you for the kind of demands LA will put on you.

    Conversely, screenwriting degrees are too thin, too sketchy, too recent a fad. Not enough depth. Its like getting a degree in basket-weaving. MFA...for this field? Overkill. I agree that getting a 'degree' at all may be ineffective compared to sheer hard work and networking. But of the degree choices, a creative writing undergrad is surely tops. No other degree is as targeted on hardcore writing skills. You can do anything with training like that. It's a writing bootcamp which lasts two yrs. Acquaintance of mine writes for Pixar and that's how she got there. Take it for what you will....
    Last edited by dinky_dau; 11-22-2016 at 08:54 AM.

  6. #6
    practical experience, FTW odocoileus's Avatar
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    Jun 2005
    Chatsworth, CA
    My recommendation is a degree in Theater from the best program you can get into that allows you to pay in-state tuition.

    In Cali, that would probably be UC San Diego. In North Carolina, that would probably be UNC School of the Arts. In Wisconsin, that would probably be UW-Madison.

    Why Theater? It gives you the best introduction to the whole process of creating and presenting dramatic work for an audience. Since everything you write will be performed by actors, want to know something about acting. Writing scenes for your fellow students in acting class is a great way to get started. There are usually one or more Playwriting classes you can take as well.

    You need to understand understand and break down a playscript for performance; the way things can change from page to stage. You also want to know something about how an audience works, and how a show is put together. Lighting, costumes, sound, sets, and so on.

    So many major writers have come out of Theater programs. Shonda Rhimes, Phil Rosenthal, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Aaron Sorkin, Alan Ball, and so on.

    In-state tuition because the worst thing you can do is get deep into debt. If you want a career, you have to be in it for the long haul, and debt can only hold you back. You want to be able to live as cheaply as possible for as long as possible because you've got to stay in the game. It could take you ten years to get where you want to go in Hollywood.
    It's the dirty story of a dirty man
    And his clinging wife doesn't understand

  7. #7
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
    Join Date
    May 2014
    I'd argue in favor of a double major or majoring in something that allows you to have a job that pays you while you're getting good enough to be a writer.

    As far as the English major theory: I majored in English and Spanish (double major) and took a lot of journalism and creative writing. I later got an MA in education. If I had flat-out majored in creative writing, I wouldn't have had enough credits to teach high school. Teaching high school has given me the flexibility to learn screenwriting on my own and via online courses at UCLA and write after school/weekends/vacations/summers, etc. I have enough money to put a roof over my head AND still have time to write. My friends who majored in film are working 12-16 hour days as crew and only have time to write when the show they're working on goes on hiatus. My friends who made cool Sundance/SXSW films and got jobs teaching at universities don't make what I make as a teacher -- they do a lot of work, and still struggle. Also, that analysis stuff someone was complaining about helps when you get a job as an intern for a production company or as a reader with a contest -- you'll be writing coverage and an English major means you like to read and can analyze story.
    But majoring in law or engineering isn't a bad idea, either. You need money to be in it the long haul OR you need to be a brilliant, talented and (ideally) rich 22 year old who can live in LA, work for free in the mailrooms and go to a lot of happy hours to network with the other mail room workers.
    Last edited by cvolante; 12-16-2016 at 10:08 PM.
    Into Dust - The Thunderbird Chronicles


  8. #8
    figuring it all out
    Join Date
    Dec 2016
    I enjoyed working on film projects with friends and classmates. It teaches you how everything meshes together. How the story is translated by the director. How the props department creates your vision. And how the actors translate your characters. Seeing that is quite important. I know writers aren't usually allowed on sets, but if you ever get the chance, take it. Also, be an extra for Hollywood films made in Toronto or nearby. You might make a connection or two!
    Reed Afton
    WIP ~105,000 words

  9. #9
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Mr.Bohemian's Avatar
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    Feb 2017
    Your home.
    Au revoir,
    Mr. Bohemian


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