Screenwriting & Directing Course of Study

The shared first-year courses include workshops in directing, screenwriting, directing the actor, and creative producing, reflecting the faculty's belief that the best training for screenwriter-directors must include experience of and knowledge in these essential disciplines. These workshop classes are anchored by lectures covering the fundamental principles of directing, screenwriting, and producing. Workshop classes are small, typically limited to 12 students; the emphasis is on hands-on, process-oriented creative work.

In the first semester, each student works on short scripts and directs a 3–5 minute film. Students are required to complete their first feature-length screenplay during the first year of study. The culminating project in the first year is the creation of a 5–12 minute film, which is filmed in the summer following the conclusion of all coursework; each student is required to direct a film of their own screenplay or one written by another student in the program. Additionally, every student must act as producer on a film other than the one they direct. 

A week critiquing all the 3–5 minute films begins the second year of study, and students on the Screenwriting & Directing path continue their course of study in these two disciplines. The two second-year directing courses (Directing 3 and Directing 4), culminate in the creation of a short film, which is shot and completed in the summer following the conclusion of all second-year coursework. The principal second-year screenwriting sequence (Screenwriting 3 and Screenwriting 4), requires the student to write a feature-length screenplay over the course of two semesters during which they work with the same instructor and the same classmates. Also in the second year, students interested in television writing may take an introductory television writing class in the fall semester, and television writing workshops in both the fall and spring terms.

Electives for the second year typically include courses related to writing, directing, producing, or cinematography as well as courses offered by other programs at the School of the Arts or by other programs at the University.

Every MFA student must take one course in Film and Media Studies (FMS) during the first two years of study. Students planning to apply for teaching assistantships should take two FMS courses.

Students are asked to confirm their plans for thesis work by mid-year of the second year. In the spring semester of the second year, students will be assigned an advisor from their chosen concentration and area of specialization who will supervise their thesis work.

The required 60 credits of coursework must be completed in the first two years, after which the thesis (Research Arts) period begins. During the thesis period, students are no longer taking courses for credit, but they meet regularly with their advisors for intense developmental work on their thesis script and their thesis film. Students are required to complete one thesis film, and may elect to complete a second thesis film with approval from their thesis advisor. Written thesis work can be an original screenplay, or a packet of revised and polished television or new media writing. 

In the third year, students may take script revision workshops and master classes with guest filmmakers. Topics typically offered in master classes include television directing, directing the first feature, comedy workshops, pitching seminars, advanced editing, and film scoring. The Screenwriting & Directing concentration requires a minimum of three years, but can be extended to a fourth year by mutual agreement between a student and their advisor, and with the approval of the Chair.