Here’s one of those Friday Questions that warrants an entire post.
It’s from A. Wayne Carter:
As a fellow alumni of your partner David Isaac's University of Miami, I was curious on your thoughts of the value of a four-year college degree if you want to be a scriptwriter in Hollywood. Or is it better to just write and get in on a low-level industry job as soon as you can. My ship already sailed on that front (I got the B.A. and started later) but for the benefit of the next gen, what are your thoughts?
School is great, but it’s not mandatory. If you want to become a doctor you can’t just watch a lot of videos and take notes. You kinda have to go to medical school, even if that means Mexico. That’s not necessarily true when it comes to learning how to write for television.
That said, there’s a lot to be said for getting a great education. You save a lot of steps when you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. A good professor can save you years of making rookie mistakes. And more importantly, can inspire you. As someone who teaches a course at USC (the above picture shows some of my kids) I certainly believe in the value of an advanced degree.
Other advantages are being able to immerse yourself in the world of writing surrounded by a built-in support group of fellow students. Writing is a lonely endeavor. It sure helps to have friends who understand. Just having people you can hang out with late at night discussing the structure of this week’s MAD MEN is a God send.
But here’s the thing: to make the college experience really worthwhile, you have to go to the right university and have the right professors. And that can depend on your sensibilities. NYU might be great for some but not you. USC, UCLA, Emerson, Northwestern, Chapman, and Michigan I know offer great programs. I’m sure a lot of others do as well. The great thing about those colleges is that they’ve dumped a lot of graduates into the industry, which is great for networking. Sometimes contacts are more important than degrees.
But remember, just because you’ve graduated with honors at a prestigious feeder university, doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed entry. At the end of the day, it’s talent, desire, preparation, opportunity, and luck that propels someone through the door. It’s quite possible to attain all of those while skirting academia.
If you can break in by being a PA or writers’ assistant, jump at it. Again, it’s all about contacts and learning. Being on the inside, watching how a show is produced every week is invaluable.
Obviously, it’s easier to break in if you’re in Los Angeles. You can take extension courses at UCLA, meet industry types, create your own network of fellow aspiring scribes. It’s always better to be where the action is. You wanna build airplanes? Move to Seattle. You wanna write scripts for Mindy Kalin? Head out West.
But then again, even that’s not mandatory. People from Wisconsin and Tennessee break in by writing plays that get noticed. Or they make YouTube videos that go viral. Or win screenwriting or playwriting competitions. Or winning contests like the one NBC is having.
If you ask 100 writers how they broke in you’ll get 85 different answers. So you have to decide what’s best for YOU. The good news is, if you don’t get into USC or NYU you don’t have to go to school in Mexico.
As always, best of luck to everyone. Make me proud.