Writing is not easy. But, it sure is satisfying. We all have that one friend or relative that likes to write short stories, poems, or articles. Or, maybe you are an avid closet writer yourself.
But, have you ever thought about making a solid income with your storytelling skills?
A great script is the very foundation of a film project. And, since the movie industry is constantly changing and innovating, good screenwriters are in greater demand than ever. And, you probably already know that there is A LOT of money in the movie business. For instance, Disney recorded a profit of $3.4B in 2019. These are staggering numbers by any standard.
But, to be a successful screenwriter, you need to stay grounded. It is highly unlikely that you will be selling your first script to Disney.
Novice screenwriters should start by tapping into the independent film market. With the right mindset and good technical writing skills, pursuing an independent film project could provide a great risk-reward ratio.
For example, let’s take a look at “Leaving Las Vegas”, the legendary indie hit featuring Nicholas Cage. The film had a budget of $3,6M. Pennies by Hollywood standards. It was both written and directed by the same person, Mike Figgis, and the project ended up grossing more than $32M.
So, there is money in scripts and film, we got that clear. But, how does one start a career in screenwriting? Ideas mean nothing. Everyone has ideas. What you need to develop is the work ethic, technical writing skills, and a relentless dedication to your craft.
But, before we proceed to the list of the 7 best screenwriting courses, I would like to share a motivational Twitter Q&A with the legendary screenwriter Aaron Sorkin.
Now that you have an idea of how a professional screenwriter works and thinks, let’s dive right into our list.
These are the 7 best online screenwriting courses.
Best Screenwriting Courses
Best Overall: Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting (MasterClass)
“Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting” is our pick for the best overall screenwriting course. It is a medium-length course that takes 8 hours to finish in full.
But, what makes this screenwriting program stand tall amongst other similar courses? Let’s examine the course content in detail.
For one, it is led by none other than the legendary Hollywood screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. As you know, the easiest way to master a skill is by learning directly from the best. And, Sorkin is a true giant of the movie industry. He has been nominated for three Academy Awards, winning one of them (“The Social Network” in 2011).
With such credentials, he is an ideal instructor for teaching the ins and outs of developing masterful, marketable scripts.
This class teaches everything you need to know about character development, dialogue, and storytelling. It is also filled with captivating case studies and practical exercises. For example, you will get first-hand insights from the writers’ room of the hit television series “The West Wing”.
All in all, this is one of the best screenwriting courses for both beginners and seasoned writers. It will give you invaluable industry insights and practical writing skills. Plus, it is one of the few screenwriting classes that will teach you how to market your scripts in real life. All these aspects make it the best online resource for starting a career as a professional screenwriter.
Best for TV Writing: Shonda Rhimes Teaches Writing for Television (MasterClass)
We continue with another great online screenwriting course from Masterclass. This class takes 6h and 26 min to finish in full and is led by Shonda Rhimes. For those of you unfamiliar with her name, Shonda is the legendary screenwriter behind the one and only “Grey’s Anatomy”.
As you might have guessed, the focus of the course content is on TV writing. When compared to a feature film, the essentials of TV writing are the same. Good storytelling, developing captivating characters and mastering your writing habits. Whether you are writing a novel, a television series, or a film, mastering all these technical aspects is key to your success.
Still, writing TV has its nuances. For one, you must approach writing TV with the big picture in mind. You must use practices that will keep your audience coming back. And, Shonda Rhimes is an ideal teacher for these specific storytelling skills. Her track record speaks for itself, as none of her shows have lasted less than 6 seasons.
All in all, for people serious about starting a career in TV writing, this is one of the best online screenwriting courses out there. It is engaging, well-focused, and full of real-life case studies of writing a TV series. Plus, it is loaded with useful career advice that novice screenwriters can follow. A true step-by-step guide on becoming a TV writer.
A Crash Course on Plot Development: Writing Suspense: How to Write Stories That Thrill in Any Genre (Skillshare)
You might have the work ethic of Elon Musk, storytelling chops to rival George R. R. Martin, and character-building skills of Stephen King. But, if you do not know how to make your plot connect with the audience, you will get nowhere.
The simplest way to engage with your audience? Building suspense.
And, suspense-building is the key concept behind the next screenwriting class on our list.
“Writing Suspense” is a 1-hour crash course on the art of building suspenseful stories. It is presented by acclaimed novelist, comic book writer, and screenwriter Benjamin Percy.
According to Percy, engaging writing should “grab the reader by the throat”.
And, as you will see in this class, developing a gripping writing style is surprisingly easy. All you need to do is cultivate an understanding of the so-called “story math”. And, this class will teach you this skill with actionable tips, practical steps, and useful advice.
This class is unique in that it is not specifically designed for screenwriting. The suspense-building skills taught here are useful for writers of all mediums. So, whether you are planning on writing a novel, a screenplay, or even a journalistic piece, this class will benefit you. And, since the class only takes an hour to complete, you have nothing to lose.
Best for Writing a Pilot Episode: Script Writing: Write a Pilot Episode for a TV or Web Series (Coursera)
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“Script Writing” from Coursera is what we will be looking at next. This screenwriting class is one of Coursera’s project-centered courses. In short, this means that this screenwriting course is almost entirely structured around practical learning.
The video lessons led by David Wheeler (an experienced writer, director, and cinematographer) take only 1-2 hours to complete in full. But, finishing the practical project will take 30+ hours to finish.
So, what is this practical project about? Producing a professional, pitch-ready script for a pilot episode of a TV show. The engaging video lessons help students with actionable technical tips on storytelling and structure development. But, the key strength of the class is the motivational boost Wheeler gives to his students. At times, his presentation style feels almost like a cold shower for aspiring screenwriters. Uncomfortable, shocking, but oh-so-useful for calling you to action.
This makes it an ideal screenwriting course for the procrastinators out there. You can have an arsenal full of technical writing and structuring tips, but theoretical skills alone will not put words on paper.
To summarize, this is a great medium-length class for people looking for a practical online screenwriting boot camp. It will make you think, write, and work. And, you will come out the other side with a finished project in your hands.
Best Crash Course: Write Your Screenplay: The Craft of Story, Structure, and Script (Skillshare)
Next, we will be looking at “Write Your Screenplay” from Skillshare, the best online crash course on screenwriting.
The course is tailored specifically for beginners and takes only 1 hour to finish in full. It is led by Joshua Dickinson. Joshua is a writer, director, and actor. Having seen this many aspects of film first hand, Joshua knows precisely what makes a screenplay shine.
I must admit, the length of the class made me a bit wary at first. 1 hour to learn screenwriting? Is it possible? Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised by the syllabus.
A good crash course needs to be quick, clearly understandable, and engaging. And, “Write Your Screenplay” gets high marks in all these aspects. It is a superb choice for students looking to master the fundamental mechanics of creating a screenplay.
But, a straightforward course such as this is not only useful to beginners. In fact, even film school graduates have praised this online screenwriting course. Several of them have credited the class as being ideal for quickly brushing up on their previously learned screenwriting skills.
All in all, if you are yet to write your very first draft, start here.
“Write Your Screenplay” is a super solid course for getting well-versed with the basics of screenwriting.
Best for University-led Knowledge: Writing Suspense: New York Film Academy Online Screenwriting Courses (NYC Film School)
New York Film Academy has an impressive alumni list with the likes of Aubrey Plaza (of “Parks and Recreation fame), Issa Rae, and Paul Dano.
And, these are only a few examples of people who have launched a solid career in the film industry after graduating from NYFA.
NYFA was founded on the philosophy of “learning by doing”. And, this philosophy has been applied to their online screenwriting courses as well. NYFA currently offers a total of 9 workshops. Each workshop is designed for a different specification.
For example, you can opt for a workshop for television rewriting, pilot episode development, or even comic book writing. All of the classes are full of high-quality video lessons and practical assignments. And, each workshop also comes with the possibility of interacting with your instructor between the sessions. This makes the learning journey fully personalized for each student.
All the workshops and courses offered by NYFA take either 15 weeks or 4 weeks to finish in full. So, the courses are definitely not short in duration. Still, for those of you serious about a career in the film industry, enrolling in an NYFA online screenwriting course would be a great starting point. After all, we are talking about a film school acclaimed by the likes of Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg.
All in all, NYFA offers some of the most highly detailed and practical online screenwriting courses. But, I must emphasize that this class is intended only for students who want a real career in film. Hobbyists would benefit more from some of the other screenwriting classes featured on our list.
A Good Course for Beginners: Learn To Write Movies: Screenwriting Step By Step (Skillshare)
We continue with “Learn to Write Movies”, yet another solid online screenwriting course from Skillshare. This beginner-friendly screenwriting program takes 4 hours to finish in full. The class is led by John Watts, a seasoned industry veteran with 20 years of experience in the film industry.
Despite the short duration of the course, the syllabus manages to go over all the key concepts of screenwriting. For example, students will have video lessons on writing techniques, scene construction, character development, and traditional screenplay structure. And, you will even get some inside scoop on the current Hollywood standards and trends.
But, the practical part is where this course really shines.
“Learn to Write Movies” comes with included worksheets. So, while participating in the video lessons, make sure to also take notes and fill these worksheets. If you do exactly as instructed, you will finish the course with your movie idea fully mapped out.
In a nutshell, “Learn to Write Movies” is a great class for students who prefer a short yet highly practical screenwriting course. It is ideal for beginners who already have story ideas, yet have a hard time putting their projects on paper.