The mission of the Film MFA in Screenwriting/Directing is to rigorously train storytellers in film, television and digital media.
The course of study at our film school includes two years of creative workshops and related courses, followed by one to three years of thesis and Research Arts work. Students are immersed in the principles and working methods of a variety of genres and dramatic forms. Through multiple exercises and short film and script projects (both short and feature length), they are encouraged to explore their understanding of the medium, with the ultimate goal of establishing each student’s personal voice.
Students in the Film MFA: Creative Producing Program share the first-year curriculum and some of the second-year electives. In bringing these programs together, the faculty actively encourages the development of professional collaborations that last throughout film school and beyond, and fosters the environment of mutual support that we have believe is essential to the creation of film.
Course of Study
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The first year courses include workshops in producing, directing, screenwriting and directing the actor, reflecting the faculty's belief that the best training for screenwriters, directors, and producers must include experience of and knowledge in all of these essential disciplines.
Studio classes are comprised of about 12 students and the emphasis is on hands-on, process-oriented creative work.
In the first semester, each student works on short scripts in screenwriting, and directs a 3-5 minute film in their directing classes.
The culminating project of the first year is the creation of an 8-12 minute film. Each student directs a film, using a screenplay originally written by another student in the program. For each of these films, director and writer work together during the spring semester, with the guidance of several faculty members, to prepare the final script. Additionally, every student must act as producer on a film other than the one he or she directs. The films are shot over the summer after the first year, and a critique of all the finished films begins the second year of study, and is open to the entire film school.
Also by the end of the first year, students will have completed their first feature-length screenplay.
As the second year begins, students in Screenwriting/Directing continue their course of study in these disciplines, with the goal of selecting their concentration mid-year. At that time, the student will be assigned an advisor, and that advisor will both steer the student through the Research Arts years and supervise all thesis work.
Electives for the second year may include writing, directing, producing and cinematography courses, or courses in other programs of the School of the Arts, or throughout the University.
Every student must take one courses in Film History/Theory/Criticism (HTC) during the first two years of study.
Both second-year directing courses, Directing 3 and Directing 4, culminate in the creation of short films, adding to the portfolio with which the student eventually leaves the school.
The principal second-year screenwriting sequence, Screenwriting 3 and Screenwriting 4, requires the student to structure and write a feature-length screenplay, working with the same instructor and the same classmates for both semesters.
Also in the second year, students interested in television writing may take an intro Spec (or thirty minute script) class in the fall semester, followed by a class in writing the Pilot (or one-hour script) in the spring semester.
Those students interested in the Screenwriting concentration can choose at the end of the second year whether to focus on writing a screenplay thesis or a television thesis, and will be assigned an advisor accordingly.
The required 60 credits of course work must be completed in the first two years, after which the thesis period—lasting from one to three years, at the student and advisor’s discretion—begins.
For those students concentrating in Screenwriting, the thesis is either a feature-length screenplay or the equivalent amount of writing for television (two pilot scripts, a pilot and two specs). The thesis in TV Writing must include one original pilot, and the non-thesis work must be a feature-length screenplay. Students writing thesis screenplays may submit an additional screenplay as the non-thesis, or the commensurate amount of work in writing for television (strongly encouraged).
For directors, the thesis can include up to two completed short films directed by the student.
Additionally, students in the Screenwriting concentration may direct a film (the optional non-thesis film) prior to completing their screenwriting or TV writing thesis.
Likewise, each student, regardless of concentration, may polish one or more feature screenplays or television scripts in our Research Arts workshops on Script Revision and TV Revision. All students concentrating in Screenwriting are required to take Script Revision at least once, and TV Revision at least once if their thesis work is in writing for television.
Screenwriting also offers courses in Advanced Feature Writing and Advanced Pilot Writing, which are open to all students in the concentration.
During the Research Arts or thesis period from the third year on, students are no longer taking courses for credit, but they meet regularly with their advisors for intense developmental work on their thesis ideas, take thesis preparation classes, and may take master classes with guest filmmakers. Topics regularly offered in master classes include television directing, directing the first feature, comedy workshops, pitching seminars, advanced editing, and film scoring. Shorter master classes are regularly offered by a range of internationally recognized screenwriters, television writers, directors and producers.