Jul 22, 2024  
USC Catalogue 2020-2021 
USC Catalogue 2020-2021 [ARCHIVED CATALOGUE]

Writing for Screen and Television (MFA)

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The Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing for Screen and Television, is an intensive two-year degree program that concentrates on writing for narrative film and television. During the course of their studies, students benefit from a wide array of internship and mentorship opportunities available as a result of the university’s close links to the Los Angeles film industry’s top screenwriters, directors, production companies and studios.

Course work includes practical instruction in everything a working writer needs to learn about the filmmaker’s art and craft. Writing is taught in small workshop-style classes. The approach focuses on the visual tools of storytelling, developing stories from characters and then on an Aristotelian three act structure. Fractured narratives, ensemble stories, experiments with time and points of view, as well as other idiosyncratic styles of storytelling, are also addressed. The curriculum covers other professional concerns, including legal issues, agents and the Writer’s Guild, as well as the history and analysis of cinema and television. Classes are taught by working writers with a wide variety of skills, experience and approaches.

Each fall 32 students are selected to begin the Graduate Writing for Screen and Television Program; there are no spring admissions. Applicants must submit a supplemental application and materials to the Graduate Writing for Screen and Television Program. For specific instructions, contact the Cinematic Arts Office of Admission, University Park, Los Angeles, CA 90089-2211, (213) 740-8358 or online at cinema.usc.edu.

A total of 44 units is required. A minimum of 30 units must be 500-level or above.

Required Courses (34 units)

Total units: 9

Total units: 9

Total units: 6

Total units: 4


A minimum of 2 units of course work with a production component is required.


A minimum of 4 units of cinema and media studies course work is required.

Electives (10 units)

Students may choose from the following electives to complete their degree. Additional courses beyond the required 4 units of CTCS course work, from the cinema and media studies list of courses, may be taken as electives, as can additional courses from the list of courses with a production component. Electives outside of cinematic arts are available with departmental approval.


Courses listed as writing intensive electives are considered heavy writing classes; students may take a maximum of three courses and 10 units of writing intensive courses per semester, required and/or elective.

Additional Requirements

Grade Point Average Requirement

An overall grade point average of 3.0 (A = 4.0) must be maintained in all courses. In addition, an overall grade point average of 3.0 in all units attempted is required to qualify for registration in CTWR 515a , CTWR 515b , CTWR 517a , CTWR 517b  or CTWR 519a , CTWR 519b . Courses in which a grade of C- (1.7) or lower is earned will not apply toward a graduate degree.

In lieu of a thesis the student is required to either complete a full-length screenplay, which will be developed in CTWR 515a , CTWR 515b ; or a pilot script and a series bible for a half-hour television comedy, which will be developed in CTWR 517a , CTWR 517b ; or an original one-hour drama television pilot, mid-season episode and series bible, which will be developed in CTWR 519a , CTWR 519b ; this final work must be accepted by the Division of Writing Graduation Committee.

Time Limit

Students must maintain satisfactory progress toward their master’s degrees at all times. The time limit to complete all requirements is three years from the first course at USC applied toward the Master of Fine Arts degree. Course work more than seven years old is automatically invalidated and may not be applied toward the degree.

Writing for Screen and Television Certificate

The Writing for Screen and Television Certificate is awarded for one year of study.

Applicants must be recognized writers outside of the field of screenwriting.

The course of study is no less than 16 units total, over two semesters. Writers, both U.S. and international, should appeal directly to the chair for admission in the fall semester.

Admission is granted to only one or two scholars a year, and is of the highest selectivity. Applicants must have earned an undergraduate degree with at least a 3.0 GPA. Additionally, candidates must show compelling reason for not applying to a formal degree program.

The general course of study is as follows:

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