As I announced Tuesday, I have accepted an offer to become a full-time assistant professor at the School of Cinematic Arts at DePaul University beginning September 1. What does this transition mean? In accepting this position, my work at the School of Cinematic Arts becomes my number one priority. However the administration at DePaul supports me in continuing to host Go Into The Story, my partnership with the Black List, and my work with Screenwriting Master Class.
With regard to Screenwriting Master Class, let me take a few minutes to provide some context. From 2002 to 2010, I taught 31 online courses through the Writers’ Program at UCLA Extension with an average student evaluation of 8.9 on a 9.0 scale. I enjoyed that experience and received the program’s Outstanding Instructor Award in 2005. However as I created and taught those classes, I thought I could do something more.
In my interface with thousands of aspiring screenwriters, both through UCLA and my blog, I saw a recurring concern largely the result of what was emerging from writer interactions with so-called screenwriting ‘gurus’ — screenplay structure almost exclusively focused on plot. This was – and is – very much an Outside In approach to the story-crafting and writing process. Make sure this happens by this page count, that happens by that page count. The frequent results: Surface level writing. Formulaic stories.
In my teaching, I was discovering a different take: An Inside Out approach to the process. Engage characters, delve into their lives, and see what emerges from those interactions. By starting there, we begin the creative process inside the story, as opposed to working with some sort of prefab paradigm, then cramming plot elements into that formula.
I began to see the possibility of creating an entire curriculum based on what I called Character Based Screenwriting and it was the prospect of exploring that in a comprehensive and rigorous manner which became a key driver in launching Screenwriting Master Class.
From 2010 through 2012, I created sixteen one-week Core (theory) and Craft (practice) classes along with four online workshops — Story Prep, First Draft, Rewriting, The Quest — all centered on this mantra: Start with character. End with character. Find the story in between. And it worked!
In the 5 1/2 years since the SMC launch, I have taught 124 Screenwriting Master Class courses, 77 one-week intensives and 47 writing workshops. 40% of the writers who take SMC classes are so satisfied with their experience, they take multiple courses. 80% of my workshop participants finish their outlines or drafts within the official time period of the class and another 10% do after the course end date. Dozens of alumni have gone on to sign with Hollywood reps, optioned or sold scripts, and/or gotten movies or TV series produced.
You can read what writers have to say about us here.
I honestly believe what Screenwriting Master Class co-founder Tom Benedek and I offer is unique among any online educational resource: 60+ years of experience as professional movie and TV writers and producers combined with 20+ years of teaching, a passion for storytelling, and unparalleled instructor feedback, all grounded in a coherent, comprehensive, character-based approach to the writing process.
[One thing my position at DePaul will allow me to do is something I’ve wanted to explore for years, but have just been too damn busy: Write books. As it stands I have 5 stand-alone books about the screenwriting process in the works which, once written, I plan to combine into what is in effect a screenwriting textbook, as well as 3 other books related to the writing craft.]
With my upcoming move to Chicago, what about my schedule at Screenwriting Master Class? During the academic school year, I will no longer teach any of the SMC online workshops. Instead Tom Benedek will cover those. I will oversee the 1-week Core and Craft classes as they require much less of my time compared to the writing workshops.
In the summer, my plan is to teach two Prep: From Concept to Outline workshops and one Pages I: Writing the First Draft workshop. I may also offer one or two on-site 3-day weekend Quest Writing Workshops in Chicago and Los Angeles.
All of which means my upcoming Prep class which begins August 8 will be the last SMC workshop I will oversee until summer 2017. I will cap enrollment for this session, so if you are interested, best to jump in sooner rather than later.
Bottom line: I am extremely proud of Screenwriting Master Class. It has allowed me to road-test Character Based Screenwriting with over 1,000 writers, both theory and practice — writing and rewriting lectures, message board conversations, hundreds of hours of group and private teleconferences, working with writers on countless outlines and script pages — plus grow as a teacher, writer, and human being.
As I transition into my new position at the School of Cinematic Arts at DePaul University, I will continue to explore what I have been discovering over the years as a writer and teacher. Screenwriting Master Class will still be a part of that journey, however on a more limited basis.
Fortunately there are two instructors at Screenwriting Master Class and I cannot recommend Tom Benedek enough. He is the very first screenwriter I met in Hollywood… on the Universal lot back in 1987. We have been colleagues and friends ever since. He is a talented writer who has worked with some of the biggest producers and directors in the business Robert Zemeckis, Lawerence Kasdan, Lili Fini Zanuck and Richard Zanuck, David Brown, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Sydney Pollack, and Harold Ramis. Tom is a member of the Writers Guild of America and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (writers branch). He has taught at USC, UCLA, University of Michigan, and the University of Massachusetts, and he brings all that experience as well as a passion for writing to his teaching. You may look for more SMC classes and workshops from Tom in the future.
And that’s the last post on the whole School of Cinematic Arts move. Back to our regularly scheduled… schedule!