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Complications Ensue:
The Crafty Screenwriting, TV and Game Writing Blog


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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Q. I'm 19, living in England, studying English at University. The plan is to finish, then do a masters of some sort in screenwriting. From there, I'd LIKE to move to the lovely USA and start my screenwriting career. So, by that time I wouldn't be that young, but my question is basically - do agents and producers etc like the young folk? Do they see them as potential talent that they can shape to their liking? Or do they see them as inexperienced, with their heads in the clouds?
As I've mentioned a few times on this blog, I don't think anyone needs a masters in screenwriting, unless their goal is to teach screenwriting at a university. Working as an assistant at an agency for a year will teach you far, far more, and you'll actually get paid for it. (Underpaid, but that's better than paying for it!) I would urge anyone thinking about getting a degree to spend eighteen months in the biz. If you still think you need that degree (you won't), then you'll make much better use of your time in school, because you'll know exactly what you need to learn, instead of flailing around like the rest of the younglings.

I don't think Hollywood is that enamored of the young. There was that 30-year-old woman who pretended to be 19 and got a job on FELICITY. But she got hired because she had the skills of a 30-year-old writer, AND people thought she was nineteen. If people thought I was 22, they'd look at my writing and conclude I must be some kind of geeeenius. If you're nineteen with the skill set of your average nineteen-year-old, no one's going to cut you slack because you're appallingly young.

it's all about the writing. And the people skills. Both of which take time to craft and build.

Some people do start out young. Once you investigate their biography a bit, you discover that their parents are in the biz. They may be staffing their first show at 21. But they have been writing screenplays since they were 11.

There is also something to be said for going out and actually living. Some screenwriters have been lawyers. Some have been criminals. I knew a guy who'd been a cop. Do you think that gave him an edge writing LAW & ORDER? Having life experience enables you to write from real life, rather than stealing moments you saw on TV -- concocted stories which everyone else saw, too.

If my son were 19 and wanted to be a screenwriter, I would suggest he travel around the world for a year. I would suggest he get a job with the Peace Corps in Southeast Asia. I would suggest he start a company. I would suggest he join a political campaign.

I spent 3 years and change getting an MFA in filmmaking at UCLA, one of the top five film programs on the continent. (USC, AFI, NYU and the CFC if you're Canadian.) I learned more about lighting working as an apprentice electrician on two features. I learned more about screenwriting from being a producer's assistant, reading scripts. I got my first permanent showbiz job because of my French skills and my computer science degree. The first time my degree proved really, really useful was last year, when I made a short film.

To be a lawyer, you need to go to professional school. Going to school for screenwriting is a way to ease into the business. It is much less scary than trying to get a job in the biz, or outside of the biz, and just writing. But if you can't get yourself going without being assigned the work, you need to learn to self-motivate.

Come to LA by all means. But forget the degree. Get a job! You can cover up that crack in the wall with art.

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Truly great post Alex!

I studied Computer Science and earned a Bachelor Degree and some years ago i started all over in movie business.

In some jobs there aint any way around studying (lawyer, doctor, etc.), but movie business is different.

I struggled a lot with the decision whether i should study something movie business related, but i thought i´ve studied enough in my life, i wanted to work. And if work meant starting as Production Assistant and serve coffee - so be it.

If you are 19 the whole situation is different - i can completly understand why you want to study - studying is a great time. But as Alex said, you don´t have to study screenwriting. Probably you´re even better of studying moviemaking in general or something else you like - develop your screenwriting abilities on the way. In the end you´ve got a degree in something useful AND are a screenwriter with experience.

Some while ago i posted an article on my website - my personal way to get into business:

Probably that can be of help for you too....

By Blogger Michael, at 10:41 AM  

Thank you for this insightful and intelligent response to one of those "what should I do with my life?" questions. I did not get such good advice long ago, but I will share your thoughtful words with my own 19-year-old son now.

By Blogger Marty, at 3:08 PM  

I went into animation school at 18, and when it came time to make my freshman film, I realized that I had no real-world experience and had absolutely nothing to say.

I dropped out, worked in a butcher shop where every one of my coworkers was a character, a person, and had THEIR own life philosophy, which they were always eager to share... and once that got too maddening to do any longer, I quit and went freelance... a year's experience isn't so much, but it's way better than a degree.

By Blogger Emma, at 8:48 PM  

Good luck getting a visa, that's all I'll say.

By Blogger ?, at 9:14 PM  

I'm a 30 year-old that has been thinking about breaking into the TV and movie screenwriting biz for 5 years. Finally, I'm ready to do something about it.

Looking for some advice.

I'm about a year away from completing a PhD in environmntal marketing (i know, i wonder what that means sometimes too). I've started wrting TV specs, original features, SNL sketches etc. on the side. I'm debating whether or not to finish my PhD and just move forward.

Q1: Would a PhD be helpful AT ALL as I attempt to break into the business? (in terms of differentiating myself from others)

Q2: I've been looking at the one year writing program at Vancouver Film School. Any comments about their program?

Any other suggestions would be appreciated :)


By Blogger Unknown, at 2:36 PM  

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