MFA in Television and Screenwriting

For official curriculum requirements, see the Graduate Curriculum Catalog for the year you entered Stephens.


Required Courses (48 credit hours)

SWR 500: Residency Workshop I: Craft and Character (3 hrs.)

This intensive 10-day workshop emphasizes story structure and character. At the core of the workshop is a foundational class on Screenplay Structure. It presents the basic elements of the three-act structure, which underlies all of film and television writing. Hand in hand with structure comes an examination of how to write rounded and riveting characters; the two are inseparable. During this workshop, the issues of structure and character are reinforced through guest lectures on the structure of one-hour television drama, as well as half-hour comedy and web series. Guest speakers who have created indelible characters share their process, and there are field trips to working writers rooms in studios.


SWR 505: Writing the Screenplay: Outline and Beginning (3 hrs.)

Over the course of a year, the student will develop and write a full-length screenplay, working one-on-one with a professor/mentor. This class is devoted to the development of an outline for the screenplay and beginning the script. Emphasis is placed on structuring the story, gaining a deep knowledge of the genre of the piece and its antecedents, and creating multi-dimensional characters and the world they inhabit.


SWR 510: Writing the TV Spec Script (3 hrs.)

During this course the student learns to develop and write a spec script, which is the student’s own storyline of a current television show. The student will study and analyze a television show (30 minute sitcom or one-hour drama), noting its structure and learning its characters. Then the student will pitch a story for a spec script, develop an outline, and write the script.


SWR 515: History of Screenwriting I (3 hrs.)

This course explores the earliest years of screenwriting from the birth of film through the flowering of the silent era. A particular emphasis is placed on the predominant female screenwriters of the era, with close investigation of the careers of screenwriters such as Frances Marion. The overview ends with the birth of sound at the end of the 1920’s.


SWR 550: Residency Workshop II: Creativity and Authenticity (3 hrs.)

This intensive 10-day workshop focuses on the challenge of crafting an original one-hour pilot, and finding authenticity in one’s script. In addition, students will focus on rewriting and revision. The workshop will also examine how scripts achieve authenticity — how a script rings true, no matter what the genre it is written in. Guest speakers will help prepare students for writing their one-hour pilot by discussing pilots they have written and examining successful television dramas. Notes will be given on the screenplays in development, and actors will read scenes from the spec hour-long television scripts that were completed in the fall, giving a different perspective on what kind of revisions are needed as actors engage with a script.


SWR 555: Writing the Screenplay: First Draft and Revision (3 hrs.)

In this course students write a first draft of a screenplay, working from the outline completed in semester one. You will revise the script based on notes and suggestions from your mentor/professor, and at the end of the semester the script should be professionally crafted and ready for the market.


SWR 560: Writing the Pilot (3 hrs.)

During this course, the student learns to develop and write a one-hour television pilot script while working one-on-one with her professor/mentor. The student identifies an idea-rich enough to support a series, create compelling characters and a show “bible,” outline a pilot story, and complete a one-hour pilot script.


SWR 565: History of Screenwriting II (3 hrs.)

This class covers screenwriting as it changed radically with the birth of sound, and then developed during the Depression era into the studio system, which peaked just before and during World War II. The studios produced masterpieces of construction, even as writers complained bitterly about their work being treated as interchangeable moving parts in a system controlled by the studios. The course ends with an examination of The Best Years of Their Lives, which marked the beginning of the post-World War II era.


SWR 600: Residency Workshop III: Consciousness and Community (3 hrs.)

This intensive 10-day workshop focuses on the arc of stories in an original series, and how writers work together to create story arcs over an entire season of a television show or web series. Students will pitch ideas for an original series, which may be hour-long, half-hour, web series, or close-ended cable series. With feedback from mentors, they will begin creating their own original series, which will become their thesis project. In addition, guest speakers will focus on the story arc of characters over time, and how to achieve a productive writing room.


SWR 605: Writing the Screenplay: Outline and Beginning (3 hrs.)

Working one-on-one with a new mentor in year two, the student will develop and write a full-length screenplay. This class is devoted to the development of an outline for the screenplay and beginning the script. Emphasis is placed on structuring the story, gaining a deep knowledge of the genre of the piece and its antecedents, and creating multidimensional characters and the world they inhabit. If students wish, they may work on an original web series instead of a traditional screenplay in this class.


SWR 610: Writing the Thesis Project I  (3 hrs.)

A capstone graduate course where each student begins conceiving and writing an original thesis project which can be a television pilot script/bible; a web series; a limited series pilot and bible; a pair of short films; an academic thesis; or a project conceived and customized by the student and approved by the Executive Director.


SWR 615: History of Screenwriting III (3 hrs.)

This course examines the history of screenwriting from the end of World War II, through the break-up of the studio system, and into the revolutionary 1960’s. This course will explore the impact of the 1950’s and the tension between the gritty realism inspired by the Actor’s Studio and the crushing blacklisting of suspected Communists in Hollywood. We will also examine the impact of Italian neo-realism and French New Wave cinema upon screenwriting. The semester ends with a study of how the counterculture movement of the 1960s and the collapse of the studio system affected the film industry.


SWR 650: Residency Workshop IV: Collaboration and Connection (3 hrs.)

The final intensive workshop of the program focuses on the business of a writing career. A variety of speakers will outline the avenues open to writers as they launch into the business. Agents, managers, development executives, television writers, screenwriters, web series writers, and producers will share insights about new opportunities offered writers in the age of digital film and the internet, as well as more traditional approaches. Students will also continue work on the original hour-long television series, taking notes on the outlines of scripts for episodes, and weaving together changes within stories as they ripple through the entire series.


SWR 655: Writing the Screenplay: First Draft and Revision (3 hrs.)

Students will revise and complete the screenplay they started in SWR 605, emphasizing story structure elements such as a gripping opening, a strong midpoint, and an emotionally fulfilling climax. Implementing notes and the mentor’s feedback will be important milestones, acting as practice in taking notes by studio development executives. By the end of the semester, the screenplay will be finished and ready for the market.


SWR 660 Writing the Thesis Project II (3 hrs.)

Students continue writing additional episodes of their original series, which is their thesis project, as well as mapping out future episodes. At semester’s end, they will pitch their show to a panel of three industry experts (via Skype).


SWR 665: History of Screenwriting IV (3 hrs.)

This course traces the history of screenwriting from the start of the 1970s, an era of great experimentation within the studio and independent cinema, producing eccentric and groundbreaking films such as Nashville, Five Easy Pieces, and the masterful Chinatown. We will examine the transition from personal filmmaking of the 70s to the commercial success of Star Wars in the 1980s, resulting in a stultifying commercialism within the studios, which continues through the present day. We will learn how this created opportunities for a vibrant independent film scene, examining writers such as Nora Ephron, John Sayles, and Miranda July. The course takes us into the 21st century when television drama moved into prominence as the home of deep and interesting storytelling. We will study contemporary television programs such as The Wire, The Sopranos, Transparent, and Mad Men, which have ushered in a new golden age of television writing.


Optional Course

SWR 592: Internship (1 hr.) (May be taken 3 times for credit)

The internship in TV & Screenwriting is designed to provide students with advanced instruction and professional experience deepening their understanding and knowledge of the television and film industry and/or the world of academia. Students may work with their adviser to seek out internship experiences that strengthen their professional writing skills and expose them to career opportunities within the industry.

SWR 670: Special Studies Summer Workshop (3 hr.) 

(Prerequisite: Permission from the Executive Director and chosen Mentor.  A separate tuition fee is charged.) An additional optional workshop class offers a 2nd year MFA candidate the opportunity of working on one more script with a chosen mentor above and beyond the 48 hours of credit required for graduation. This can include writing a script from scratch or undertaking a full rewrite of one previously written.

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