There are a few online degrees and intensive workshops for aspiring screenwriters out there. But, frankly, I’ve been a self-directed and motivated student of storytelling already for six years. It just doesn’t seem like it is worth the cost wade through the basics again.
However, there is certainly more to learn, especially the specifics of telling a visual story. So I am creating a screenwriting boot camp of sorts for myself. As an early Xmas present in November, I received a MasterClass membership for a year. And I am certainly getting my money’s worth! I’ve completed 169 lessons in about 6 weeks, most of them related to writing and filmmaking.
One important caveat to mention when it comes to MasterClass is that much of the time when I had the lessons on, I was not looking at the screen. There were certainly lessons where I needed to, but oftentimes it is the teacher simply talking to the camera. This made them a bit more like a podcast that I could put on while doing things like washing the dishes, cooking, and playing with the dog.
You can just sign up for one class at a time, but I’d personally recommend making the commitment to do several. This is especially true because the platform covers a huge swath of knowledge. I signed up for the writing classes, but I’m also going to take advantage of some of the cooking and dog training ones, too! Here’s a quick rundown of the writing and film-related classes I’ve done so far.
Neil Gaiman Teaches Storytelling
When asked “who is your favorite author?” I always answer Neil Gaiman. There is something about the way he weaves a narrative and the words he chooses really speaks to me. So his class was a natural place to start even though it is not at all related to screenwriting. It was also not as much about novels as I expected. He spent a lot of time on both short stories and graphic novels as well, and especially the collaborative nature of the latter. Though it might not seem at first glance the graphic novels have anything to do with movies or TV, it is a visual medium all the same. You write a script for a graphic novel not unlike how you write one for a film. His is a good class for the question of where to find ideas and how to find success. (In short, FINISH THINGS, then move on to the next thing over and over again.)
Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting
This was obviously a great place to go next if I wanted to learn about screenwriting specifically. In addition to his lessons where he just talked to the camera, this class has a wonderful collection of videos where he is working with other writers. One set involves them doing table reads of the first 10 pages (not all 10 pages are shown, maybe 3 min), and then them discussing what worked. There is a second set of videos working with this same group functioning as a mock writer’s room. This was very helpful in envisioning what a career in writing for television might look like.
Shonda Rhimes Teaches Writing for Television
Unlike Aaron Sorkin, I was not familiar with Shonda Rhimes’s shows directly. I had, of course, heard of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, but I’d never watched them. This didn’t matter all that much though, especially because the video format allows the student to see clips of what the teacher is talking about right in the lecture. Rhimes also did a version of a writer’s room, which again, was super helpful and different than what I would have gotten in a traditional classroom, at least in terms of having an experience showrunner at the helm.
Martin Scorsese Teaches Filmmaking
Though this was a bit further afield, I am so glad I took this class. Scorsese and his background is grounded in a very different time, both in general but also within the history and evolution of filmmaking. As a window into how the movie industry came to be, it’s fabulous. And where the other teachers showed clips of their own work and talked about it, he ended with showing clips of classic films and talking about how they either affected him personally or how they were groundbreaking for their time.
Judd Apatow Teaches Comedy
At the beginning of the month, the Impact x Netflix program announced their fourth and final call for submissions: Action-comedy. I loooooooooove this genre of film, and it got me excited to develop a concept. I don’t need a finished screenplay to apply, so I spent the last three weeks watching and dissecting movies like Bad Boys, Spy, and Get Smart. And of course, taking advantage of the wisdom of prolific comedy writer and director, Judd Apatow.
I’ll admit, I skipped lessons here and there on this course because much of it is devoted to breaking into standup comedy. It’s such a different genre than filmmaking that I didn’t want to take the time, though in the end I did go back and put those ones on in the background because they were still interesting. (Apatow is also a proponent of FINISH STUFF DAMMIT as the main road to success by the way.) I was especially intrigued to learn about how many different versions of his films are shown to test audiences, often as many as 5! His openness to just putting out the funniest possible thing vs. feeding his own ego is really wonderful.
David Sedaris Teaches Storytelling and Humor
I have been enjoying David Sedaris for a long time. If you aren’t familiar, he is an essayist and only rarely writes fiction, but like Gaiman has such a way of putting words together that what he writes is incredibly powerful. One of the big takeaways from his class is how the adage “writing is rewriting” is very true, at least for him. He has the advantage of being a performer, not just a writer. He is constantly gauging an audience’s reaction and making adjustments. His essays have often gone through over a dozen iterations before they are published somewhere like The New Yorker.
I personally do not actually do that much rewriting, at least not in terms of fully overhauling something or sitting down to write the same scene from scratch multiple times. However, in trying to adapt my novels for the screen, I have certainly done a lot of condensing and reformulating chapters in a new way, and it is heartening to know that this is not only common, but desirable.
The Next Classes I Intend to Take
I really really wish there were more classes specifically about screenwriting, especially for TV. Rhimes’s class was good, but she also writes a very different type of show than I am interested in doing. (Procedural vs. serial) However, there are plenty of novelists, playwrights, and other filmmakers that I plan to check out. R. L. Stine and Judy Blume, for instance, will be great for when I want to work on my YA project. Ron Howard and Spike Lee both have filmmaking courses that should fit well into my screenwriting curriculum. But I think it will be Steve Martin’s comedy class next on my schedule because of the action-comedy idea I am currently developing.
In addition to the MasterClass courses I’ve done and will do, and having read Save the Cat ages ago, I’ve made myself a reading list. I’ll share that bibliography and what I think of the books I’ve read so far in a future post.
But for now, I am curious to know if anyone reading has run across any good online classes or video tutorial resources you think I should add to my boot camp. Or have you taken any of the classes I mentioned and have any thoughts? I’d love to see them in the comments.