Finding the Right Screenwriting Course in 2021

Finding the Right Screenwriting Course in 2021

Everyone has a story to tell. Whether it is a true story from their life or a fictional tale that offers greater truths, there is a message we want to give to the world. In today’s world of visual media, these stories often find themselves best told as film or television.

Fortunately, screenwriting is a skill, not an innate talent. This means that, with practice and study, we can all become screenwriters. All we need is the drive to do so, and the right teachers.

Choosing the Right Online Screenwriting Course for You

Lessons in screenwriting no longer need to be held in cold lecture halls or stuffy back rooms. No, we can now learn this art in the comfort of our own homes, during lunch breaks at work, or even on our morning commute. Through online courses, we can get the same education in film and television writing as any film student that pays tens of thousands of dollars. Sometimes, we can even get this education for free.

To choose the correct screenwriting course, we only need to consider a few factors. However, these factors are extremely important and should be considered carefully.

Who Is the Teacher?

There are sadly many charlatans online, and many graduates of film schools that think they can move from student to teacher without first putting their studies to the test. Fortunately, many great online courses are run by industry professionals. From the Hollywood greats to those unknown but highly integral script-readers for big companies, all the way to the world’s greatest academics, online courses can provide knowledge and experience that no community college could.

How Is the Online Course Run?

Not all of us can spend hundreds of hours watching lectures, writing notes, analyzing scripts, and writing. Not while we have work, family, and other commitments alongside our passion. It is important to know how long a course is, how it is provided, and what we need to participate in.

While all online courses need the internet, some can be downloaded to use offline. While some courses include only videos, others include worksheets, exercises, and even assessments that offer real feedback from the experts.

How Much Do You Already Know About Screenwriting?

For someone who hasn’t written since high school and only has an idea for a movie, there is a course. For a person who has already begun writing a script and wants that next level of education, there is a course. For the person wanting feedback from those who know better, there is a course. Knowing the level of your own skills will help you choose the best option here, and our reviews will further point you in the right direction.

What Does the Screenwriting Course Cost?

As always, budget is important. Fortunately, there is a course for any financial situation. High-end courses may run into hundreds of dollars but often come with major benefits. Many courses offer both free tuition and, for a small fee, a certified course that counts as much as a university unit. Some, well, they are university units, and can even be credited to a degree if you later so desire.

Cost is always about more than money. It is also important to see how many hours a course may run through and if you get to work at your own pace. You may also want to see if you can review material at later dates. While some courses are highly structured to ensure students get feedback, others simply offer high-quality information and let you approach it in your own time.

We’ve searched across the internet to find the best screenwriting courses out there. Paying special attention to the teachers, the skills they teach, and how they present the information, we are certain that all you need to know to choose the right course can be found below. For more information about how you can prepare for taking a screenwriting course, and other resources useful for writing your first script, check out our “Guide to Online Screenwriting Courses” section below.

Top 10 Screenwriting Course 2021


1. Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting

  • 8 hours plus exercises $$$ Our rating  
  • Course Highlights
  • Includes workbook, downloadable app content and a community forum
  • Taught By: Aaron Sorkin (world famous Academy-award winner)
  • Skill Level: Intermediate

Why we like it

Advice from one of the greatest screenwriters of all time makes this one of the greatest courses of all time.

Oscar-winning screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, is considered by some in the industry to be the greatest dialogue writer of all time. His first script was A Few Good Men, and the dialogue between the characters played by Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson is one of the most studied scenes in cinema. It is something amazing, therefore, that we have the opportunity to peek behind the curtain and see how a true genius approaches the art of screenwriting.

The Masterclass is short in terms of the material provided, but it will take multiple viewings and a lot of reflection to unpack everything there is to learn from these thirty-five mini-lectures. The course also comes with a workbook to encourage putting what Sorkin says into your own work, as well as example scripts to break down and analyze. The videos are high-quality, full of great advice, and can even be downloaded using the Masterclass app (for Android and iPhone). This means you can review the classes while on the train or during your lunch break.

Masterclass sets you up with a community forum to work with peers on what you have learned and even has a Q&A section in which you can see Sorkin’s answers to previous questions (and have him answer your unique ones if they haven’t been asked before). While the man himself never interacts live with you, this sense of personal connection is extremely encouraging.

Masterclass is expensive and is a subscription service. This means you will be paying a couple of hundred dollars to access the course over a year and cannot access it any longer once the year is up. However, the fee ALSO includes access to all other Masterclasses, which includes courses from amazing writers like David Mamet, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, and James Patterson. These incredible people will teach you as much about storytelling as anyone else.

Masterclass is a premium option, but one in which you can trust the advice you are given. You are also given the opportunity to have a glimpse into the skills and work habits of the very best in their field.

Pros

  • Learn from one of Hollywood’s greatest screenwriters.
  • Gain access to hundreds of other courses from world experts.
  • Can view videos on any device.
  • Comes with a workbook and examples.
  • Access to a community forum and Q&A with Sorkin himself.

Cons

  • Quite expensive compared to other courses.
  • Can only access videos while subscribed to service.
  • Less structure than many other courses.


2. Write a Feature Length Screenplay for Film or Television

  • 93 hours Free (or pay $$ for certificate) Our rating  
  • Course Highlights
  • Takes you from beginner level to a completed manuscript
  • Taught By: David Wheeler (CBS and Universal)
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Why we like it

A comprehensive university course that you even access for free, MSU’s material covers everything you would need to know.

Michigan State University has partnered with Coursera to create a comprehensive course as large and detailed as any university unit on screenwriting. By the end of it, you will have a completed manuscript that, if you choose the paid option, will have even been assessed by professional teachers of screenwriting.

This is an easy-to-follow course where the process of writing a script is broken down into the smallest pieces. The first two weeks concentrate simply on creating a good idea and, by the last week, you will have learned structure, characterization, creating realistic dialogue, and even how to pitch to agents and producers.

Being detailed, however, means dealing with some things you may not be interested in right now. This includes learning the specific formatting expected by modern film scripts, expectations of completed homework each week, and continuously interacting with the class through the twenty-week course.

While the paid option allows for professional feedback and an industry-recognized certificate at the end, those of us on a budget won’t need to miss out. Simply by signing up for free to Coursera, you can view all of the course material without paying a cent.

An added bonus to this course? The teacher, David Wheeler, has not only worked in film and television for CBS and Universal but has also worked on computer games with Electronic Arts. This kind of experience in multimedia storytelling is not something you can always get from other courses.

It’s a large, detailed course that will take up a lot of time, but this beginner-to-expert series covers everything you need to have a completed, polished script, and truly call yourself a screenwriter.

Pros

  • Can view all course material for free.
  • Peer reviewing of work for constant feedback.
  • University Certification (if paid).
  • Simple, easy-to-follow lectures that can be reviewed later.

Cons

  • Sometimes problematic user interface.
  • Specific script formatting required.


3. Building Your Screenplay

  • 40 hours Free (or pay $$ for certificate) Our rating  
  • Course Highlights
  • Offers a theoretical and philosophical framework for screenwriting
  • Taught By: The University of Cambridge
  • Skill Level: Intermediate

Why we like it

This not-for-profit course from The University of Cambridge takes you beyond the practical and goes into great depth about the movie industry.

It is absolutely incredible that we live in a time when you can take a course from the fifth-oldest university in the world, currently ranked third greatest to attend, and not pay a cent. Yet this is the case with the “Building your Screenplay” course created by The University of Cambridge through the non-profit edX.

“Building your Screenplay” offers a far more theoretical and philosophical framework than other courses, taking time to discuss how the movie industry reflects the culture of the time, and how visual metaphors offer new life to films. It analyzes the latest works, including those of Phoebe Waller-Bridge and James Frey, while offering real tips for how you can take your idea to a new level.

This is a dense course and, while it requires less time watching material than some other courses, the amount of reading and thinking you will do is far more taxing. It also doesn’t go into the finer details of writing, assuming that your practical skills are somewhat honed already. Feedback is scarce - in fact, you only have one assessment that will receive feedback, even in the paid program.

The “Building your Screenplay” course is part of a larger “Micromasters” program that the university offers and, if you decide to pay a premium, you can end up finding yourself a qualified professional through Cambridge University. Needless to say, this is a prestigious award to have.

If you have a draft already and are trying to find a way to take your work to the next level, this course will bring you a new understanding of film and television and put you in a better place to be recognized by agents and producers.

Pros

  • Certificate from the University of Cambridge.
  • Supports a non-profit organization.
  • Big picture concepts are explained in detail.
  • Part of larger “Micromasters.”

Cons

  • Doesn’t get into the practical writing components.
  • Only one formal assessment in the paid version.


4. Micro-Budget Filmmaking: Screenwriting

  • 40 minutes plus exercises $ with access to all classes on the site Our rating  
  • Course Highlights
  • Teaches screenwriting for those on a limited development budget
  • Taught By: Dustin Curtis Murphy (award-winning writer/director)
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Why we like it

When you want to make, not just write, a film, you need to think differently. This course makes sure you know how to do so.

For some of us, writing a screenplay isn’t the end but the beginning. We have a vision of a piece of media and we want to create it from beginning to end. For that, we need to accept our limitations - we don’t have a Hollywood budget, so we cannot make a Hollywood blockbuster.

Writing a film on a budget requires facing challenges that other screenwriters may not. From limiting settings to special effects, there is a range of considerations that must be made when writing a film that can be made at low cost. Fortunately, Dustin Curtis Murphy has created an amazing course for us, taking his experience from making films that have been shown at festivals (and even sold to Amazon) and translating that into easy-to-comprehend lectures and exercises that can turn us from budding writers into fully-fledged filmmakers.

This screenwriting course is also part of a larger series that Dustin has created, with five separate parts approaching the different roles you will need to fulfill to make your film. These courses are short, punchy, and to-the-point, which means reviewing them won’t feel like a drag.

Skillshare does require a small fee to access their classes, but it covers all the classes available on the site. While the course isn’t as detailed as others, it makes the perfect first step for someone who has an idea but doesn’t know if it is feasible to do on their own.

For screenwriting designed to be filmed independently, this unique course can offer advice that others sometimes neglect. For the person who wants to make a film, start to finish, this is the course to look at.

Pros

  • A practical look at getting a film made yourself.
  • Part of a larger series.
  • Ongoing feedback from an engaged, experienced teacher.

Cons

  • A short course (but part of a bigger one).
  • A superficial look at the art.


5. Learning Screenwriting

  • 3-10 hours $ Our rating  
  • Course Highlights
  • Provides insight into the intricacies of screenwriting (tension/conflict/stakes)
  • Taught By: Mark Tapio Kines (writer of the first crowd-funded film)
  • Skill Level: Intermediate

Why we like it

An intelligent look at stories, how films tell them, and how we can get ours told. Engaging and informative.

With such a simple title, and such a clean user interface, one might mistake this course for being a sparse summary of the basic skills of a screenwriter. Prepare to be surprised.

Mark Tapio Kines is the writer and director behind Wil Wheaton’s “Foreign Correspondents,” the first crowd-funded film in history. Other credits include his work on “The Other Guys” and his Getty Images’ “Next Big Idea” winner, “The Closest Thing to Time Travel.” His course takes a deep dive into what makes a story engaging, how to build tension and conflict, and understanding the concept of stakes. His final videos also cover the reality of filmmaking and discuss concepts like copyright, co-writers, and the legalities of parody.

Sadly, this course only consists of videos and recommended exercises, with no feedback, group involvement, or other interactive elements. It is more like a visual textbook than anything else. But Mark is engaging and easy to understand, which makes this set of videos well worth watching.

It’s a small price to pay to receive some useful advice from an industry professional and produce a screenplay that people will be excited to read.

Pros

  • Can download videos for offline watching.
  • Breaks down a screenplay into detailed sections.
  • Written by an industry expert.

Cons

  • No opportunities for feedback.
  • No workbook.
  • No group/peer involvement.


6. Creating a Short Film

  • 3 hours plus exercises $ Our rating  
  • Course Highlights
  • Low-cost exploration of the core skills required for screenwriting
  • Taught By: Chad Perkins (award-winning filmmaker)
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Why we like it

Part of a larger series, this short-film course introduces those core skills you need to write a good screenplay.

Chad Perkins is a man who knows the practical skills to make a good movie, and this is a great, practical course to learn how to make those first steps. From learning what makes a conflict interesting to the kind of software that will best help you, Chad covers all the things you need to get started.

While this course focuses on short films specifically, the skills learned are the sort you need for whatever film you are writing for. It is his later courses for which the mode of the short film becomes more important. Still, it is good to note that there are small differences.

We appreciate the effort put into the exercise sheets, which cement the concepts learned, but wish that these were coupled with feedback from the man who knows what he is talking about.

This low-price course is a great choice for those who have an idea but don’t know where to go from there.

Pros

  • Can download videos.
  • Includes exercise sheets.
  • Industry expert.
  • Part of multi-installment class but good as stand-alone.

Cons

  • Focuses on short films rather than feature-length films.
  • No group or teacher/student interaction.


7. Screenwriting & Storytelling Blueprint: Hero’s Two Journeys

  • 6 hours plus exercises $ Our rating  
  • Course Highlights
  • Deep-dives on character creation and development
  • Taught By: Christopher Vogler (Hollywood Executive) and Michael Hauge (Board of Directors – American Screenwriter’s Association)
  • Skill Level: Intermediate

Why we like it

When you understand “The Hero’s Journey,” you can write a good story regardless of the medium. This course, by the expert of the topic, will ensure you have the best understanding possible.

Christopher Vogler is credited with turning Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” analysis of storytelling into a powerful tool for creating character arcs and stories that resonate with audiences. Together with Michael Hauge, this course offers a comprehensive look at this journey and how we can use it in our own creations.

A very character-centered course, this low-cost set of lectures also comes with a large pack of written resources, a deep-dive breakdown of the very successful “Erin Brockovich,” and a certificate of completion. Unlike many other courses, you get lifetime access to all materials, as well as any materials that are added at later dates.

While very story-based, this course doesn’t go much into the format of screenplays, the differences between screenplays and novels, or how to improve things like dialogue. These things are assumed to be skills you have already developed. For this reason, it is better suited to people looking to make their story more engaging, rather than for those just starting out. Unfortunately, there is little chance for feedback.

With Hauge and Vogler at the helm, this course offers a powerful set of lessons in what makes films engaging. Creating better characters never got so easy.

Pros

  • High-quality videos and extra material.
  • Working with Christopher Vogler.
  • Deep analysis of examples.

Cons

  • No staff interactions.
  • Advice is more about the story than screenplays specifically.


8. Beginning Screenwriting Made EASY

  • 2.5 hours plus exercises $$ Our rating  
  • Course Highlights
  • Starts at the core fundamentals for true novices
  • Taught By: ‘Word Dancer’ (winner of Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting)
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Why we like it

If you have no idea what you are doing, this is a golden introductory course that takes you from idea to execution in very little time.

For someone who has an idea but no idea what to do with it, “Beginning Screenwriting Made EASY” is a great course. It covers stories, characters, formatting, and even industry information like copyright and submitting.

While sometimes too simplistic for the intermediate user, this course is extremely welcoming to those whose fingers have never touched the keyboard. Each set of videos come with included notes, and there’s a great set of resources for analysis and exercises.

There are fewer videos here than we expected, but they are easy to understand and engaging. The teacher also has an amazing YouTube channel called “Word Dancer” that offers a few more hours of specific advice on topics from horror to voice overs. We also recommend keeping an eye out for special offers as sometimes discounts can be as high as eighty percent.

If you have an idea and are not sure where to start, this course will give you everything you need for your first script.

Pros

  • Covers everything you need to know about screenwriting.
  • Filled with bonus articles and material.
  • Free YouTube videos from the teacher for those extra tips.
  • Talks about industry information.

Cons

  • Not a large number of videos.
  • May be too simplistic for intermediate screenwriters.


9. Screenwriting Workshop

  • 7-20 hours plus exercises $$ Our rating  
  • Course Highlights
  • Teaches you how to analyze films to improve your own writing
  • Taught By: Dani Alcorn (COO at Writing Academy)
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Why we like it

The most comprehensive course that isn’t a university unit, the materials here cover every topic you can think of.

Dani Alcorn’s “Screenwriting Workshop” must be the most information-packed course out there for this kind of money. Dozens of articles are provided on top of the fifty-one videos. Topics range from “Creating Compelling Characters” to “Marketing your screenplay.” Dani even teaches us how to analyze films ourselves, through multiple examples.

Alcorn’s own progression as a screenwriter may not appear to be impressive, not yet having a film made. But with three screenplays and options under her belt, this should not be seen as too concerning.

While we don’t get any teacher feedback, the information provided is often updated and expanded, which means getting more material well after completing the course.

One of the most comprehensive courses out there, but without the expenses of a university unit, we have no problem recommending Alcorn’s “Screenwriting Workshop.”

Pros

  • A comprehensive course with a lot of written material.
  • Easy-to-understand content.
  • More content available in the future.

Cons

  • The teacher is somewhat inexperienced compared to other course teachers.
  • No feedback or interaction.


10. Comedy Filmmaking: Make Your Low-Budget Videos 100% Funnier

  • 1 hour plus exercises $$ Our rating  
  • Course Highlights
  • Teaches you how to add comedy to your writing
  • Taught By: Amber Schaefer (award-winning comedy director)
  • Skill Level: Intermediate

Why we like it

This course teaches you how to punch up your existing script by injecting comedy into your screenwriting.

You may think, “my film isn’t a comedy.” That doesn’t mean it isn’t important to learn how comedy works. There’s comedy in Life is Beautiful. There’s comedy in The Shawshank Redemption. Comedy is a powerful way to relieve tension and provide structure to your story.

With that in mind, Amber Schaefer is a great teacher of comedy. Having worked with Ben Schwartz, Shaquille O’Neal, and Sam Smith, she has the chops to back the brilliant advice on how to add comedy and what makes good comedy.

To be clear, this isn’t a course that will help you write a screenplay from scratch and isn’t suitable for beginners. But for the screenwriter that is wanting to punch up a script but isn’t sure how, the advice in this course is invaluable.

To learn how to properly add comedy to a screenplay, Schaefer’s course is what you need.

Pros

  • Great material on teaching a difficult skill.
  • A deep dive into comedy from a comedy professional.
  • Extra resources.

Cons

  • Is not for beginners.
  • Concentrates on narrow topics within a wider knowledge base.


Frequently Asked Questions

A lot of people starting with film writing ask the same questions. We’ve gathered some of the most common of these and provided the answers. The courses we’ve recommended give even more detailed answers to the below questions, plus much more.

Unfortunately not, but you do get access to what can be hundreds of other classes, including other classes in screenwriting, storytelling, and writing. Subscription services also offer monthly options, so if you are taking time off, you may be able to complete a single course in a few weeks and simply take a lot of notes.

While some courses allow downloading to their own apps, you cannot simply download to your hard drive for watching later. This is to crack down on piracy. However, many courses allow you to access what you have previously purchased for life.

Film degrees are not scams. In fact, they can be very helpful in providing not only skills but also motivation. William Goldman (The Princess Bride, Butch Cassidy, and the Sundance Kid) received his master’s from Columbia University, while Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Spy Kids) attended film school at the University of Texas.

Of course, that isn’t to say a film degree is necessary, either. Quentin Tarantino simply watched a lot of movies, and Aaron Sorkin was an acting student.

If you are unsure if you want to pursue a film degree, consider taking Cambridge’s or Michigan State’s courses and pay for the certification. This will give you a good feel for what film school can be like, and help you enter one if you decide to apply in the future.

Nothing. They are interchangeable words, and you should not be concerned if someone refers to your work as either.



A Guide to Online Screenwriting Courses

Having a strong desire to create a piece of art, be it visual, musical, or written, is rarely enough. Very few people are born with magical talents. Even the best of us have to work at it.

To help us on our journey, we can enlist the help of those who have been there before, teachers from the industry who have written those films and seen their work on the big screen. The courses they offer can be extremely detailed or a basic overview. They may focus on the story, characters, or structure in different amounts. And these courses can range from costing hundreds of dollars to being available for free.

To help prepare you for finding the course you need, and to guide you to the resources that screenwriters around the world find invaluable, we have compiled this short and easy-to-follow guide.
film camera next to coffee and script

What Do I Need Before Starting a Course in Screenwriting?

Before picking a screenwriting course, we need to think about a few specific resources that might just make life a little easier.

How to Know What to Write About in Your Screenplay

Online screenwriting courses are wonderful for fleshing out the details of the script you want to write, but most assume that you already have a basic idea or “premise” with which to start. Sometimes a premise may be as simple as “Cowboys in Space” or “Romeo and Juliet but as street games in New York.”

To get a stronger idea about your idea, we recommend this simple exercise. How would you describe your story in the format “CHARACTER faces PROBLEM and tries to solve it BY DOING SOMETHING.”

In Toy Story, this can be described as “A toy cowboy faces the jealousy he feels about a new toy and tries to solve it by pushing the toy out of a window.”

For another example, The Godfather can be described as “The son of a mafia don faces the problem of not being able to avoid the family business and tries to solve it by handing responsibility over to his brother.” The character doesn’t need to succeed.

This simple exercise can help us on our way. Online courses can then help us flesh out characters, provide a structure in which to tell these tales, and teach us the clever techniques screenwriters use to make these stories more engaging.

Computer Equipment Needed for Screenwriting

To do an online course, you need a computer and the internet. However, a common mistake many writers make when first starting out is to think they need the latest computer. This simply isn’t true.

All you need to get started is a computer with a comfortable keyboard (we recommend a Logitech), a good internet connection, and somewhere quiet to use them both. A ten-year-old computer will do the job as well as a brand new one.

Plus, almost all of us have this already – in our pockets. That’s right. A smartphone is often enough to partake in many of the courses. You can download or stream the lectures straight to your device and, with a notepad and pen to take notes, do these courses while on the move.

Screenwriting Software

As you will quickly learn, scripts are often formatted in a very specific manner. To make this easier, many writers like to use custom suites that make writing and formatting a breeze. The most popular program for this is Final Draft, which is used by industry professionals everywhere.

However, Final Draft is expensive and not exactly necessary. Luckily, some awesome free alternatives also exist. Trelby, for example, offers all of the same core features and is updated regularly.

For the courses on our list, we highly recommend starting with Trelby and decide later if you wish to invest in more expensive products.

Books About Screenwriting

Sometimes, starting a course can be made easier by first reading one or two books (or listening to them, if that is easier). While there is no book that would give you all the information you need to become a screenwriter, and online courses are far more beneficial, there are some very popular titles that are well worth exploring alongside your course study.

Writing Screenplays that Sell

This book by Michael Hauge is considered, by some, to be the bible for screenwriters who have yet to write a word. While it is very “industry-focused” and may not be as beneficial to writers who are more experimental, it is engaging and easy to follow.

Buying this book is also a great way to see if you would like the style of Hauge, who offers even more great advice in Screenwriting & Storytelling Blueprint: Hero’s Two Journeys.

Save the Cat!

While its subtitle is hyperbolic, this book can offer some amazing tips for the screenwriter who wants to take their work to the next level. It may, unfortunately, provide a feeling that your work hasn’t even begun, but it may also provide solutions to problems you have been mulling over for months.

I’ve Completed My Screenplay. Where Can I Send It?

Fortunately, there are many ways. Just some of the successful techniques include:

  • Submitting it to a reputable competition like The Script Pipeline or the Nicholl Fellowship.
  • Attending a pitch event, like the Hollywood Pitch Festival, where you are given the chance to convince producers and agents that your script is something special.
  • Find what production companies accept direct submissions. BBC and Warner Bros, for example, both accept scripts without agents or managers.
  • Enter your script into The Black List. When readers from this site are impressed, writers often get calls from producers and agents excited to learn more.

The Final Cut

There are many paths to having a good screenplay, but there is no reason to re-invent the reel. Taking a short online course can give you the skills you need to start working on your story and help you create a script worth making or selling.

Consider your budget, time, and what kind of skills you think you need to learn. We are certain that you will find the course you need.