There was a discussion over at the Wordplay forums about screenwriting jobs and careers, how to best prepare for it and how stable it is. It's funny, there's not much support for a formal education in film, especially screenwriting. I think it's because some programs are just lame and won't really help you and because sometimes it doesn't matter how much training you have in the end, it's about you and your ability to tell a good story. A college education is usually closely related to a career, and that sort of correlation just doesn't happen with screenwriting. So before I go into my rant and rave, I want to acknowledge the fact that I will, for the first several years, make no money off of screenwriting and I will need another job doing something else. I have no illusions of grandeur. But I'm still going to school for screenwriting. And in my post on Wordplay, as copied below, I explained why.
I *avoided* screenwriting for a long time. When I first started school, I knew I wanted to write. But I also knew that writing wasn't going to support me for a while, if ever, so I tried to pick majors that would give me a day job. I put down nursing for "intended major" but changed my mind about that halfway through my senior year. Then it was English so I could go into publishing and editing. And then I tried English education, but I couldn't stand the psychology aspect of the department. I ended my second year doubling in English and Theatre with my career path veering more toward theatre. But by that time I already knew I was going to switch to film.
The thing is, I spent the first half of my collegiate career trying to find a day job. In the end I decided that I needed to study what I love, because really, your job is pretty much your life. If I had stuck with nursing, that would have been 40+ hours a week that I wouldn't be writing or working on film, and I would be so drained from my real job that writing would seem even more exhausting. Someone above said you need to feel "compelled" to write. I don't necessarily agree with that. Writing isn't like breathing to me. But I love it, and I think it's powerful, and I want to spend the rest of my life doing it. Not being a nurse. I finally asked myself why I was wasting my time.
Now, I'm not stupid. I know I'm not going to get a "job" in screenwriting when I graduate, because like someone else said, "this is not a career of jobs." However, I *do* plan on getting a job in the industry. In addition to screenwriting, I'm going to try to get on the production staff of as many shorts as possible. It's very likely that I will come out of college with a short that I've written and directed. I want to learn and become skilled in as many aspects of the trade as possible.
And even then, I'm still doubling in English. And education still interests me, so if all else fails, I might take a page out of Emily's book and do Teach for America.
So do I think that my degree in screenwriting is going to get me a job? No. But the way you get better at writing, any kind of writing, is practice and interaction. You can read as many books on screenwriting as you want and learn a lot of stuff. I've read a couple, and I've learned a lot. But now they're starting to bore me. Because they all say the same thing in slightly different ways. And truth be told, there are as many different ways of writing as there are writers. By reading those books, I feel more prepared for my classes than my peers, but I know that books cannot replace the learning you get from being in a classroom and writing a script under the guidance of a teacher and the feedback of your peers. Becoming a great writer requires practice, and that's what my degree will give me. When I graduate college, I should have at least six completed feature length scripts. And don't they say your first sale comes around your seventh?
Honestly, going to school for screenwriting scares the crap out of me, and that's why I'll argue so much for it. Is it for everyone? Of course not. Everyone's got their own method to their own peculiar madness. It's just, going to school for screenwriting - or any aspect of film - is a perfectly good method, all on its own.
Here's to living life as you really want to, instead of how everyone else thinks it should be lived.