Earlier this year, I tried the FutureLearn Introduction to Screenwriting Course run by the University of East Anglia. Here are my thoughts on it. Please note that I tried the free option and that the students who opted for the certified stream might have had a different experience.
This two week course began with an introduction to the subject and meeting your virtual classmates. They proved to a be a mixed bag, from students wanting a refresher course on the basics of screenplay writing like myself, to the idealistic younger students, and a few novelists (like myself:-)) looking for a way to learn how to convert a story into a screenplay.
Our first task was choosing two screenplays to read. Our second was to read it. I didn’t fully complete the read, having chosen ‘Into The Woods’ and another. I couldn’t find the time to read through the whole screenplay, much less two, and would have preferred if these tasks (choosing screenplays and reading through them) were assigned as pre-course work.
The videos of the four lecturers discussing ways and means, and the whyfores of screenwriting made for interesting viewing and some interesting questions. However, while we were encouraged to discuss points in the comments, there didn’t seem to be any moderators involved at all. Most students appeared to have their questions answered by other students.
Interaction with other students was interesting, but not as rewarding, for myself personally, as the Start Writing Fiction course had been.
The most valuable lesson from Week One was learning what the Five-Fingered Pitch was, and practising it.
This was fun and very useful for my fiction writing pitches as well. We were encouraged to share these pitches in the comments and on a special board. While this was a good assignment, there wasn’t much feedback, just one or two likes. I much preferred the fiction writing course for gaining valuable feedback and peer evaluation.
Week Two covered the basics of screenwriting formats, discussions on how to get started, character, making a list of plot-points, and the Ten-Fingered Pitch which basically gives you your full plot summary. This was also very useful, and something which can aid me in my fiction writing as well.
Then it was a matter of writing your screenplay. We were encouraged to write a short scene for practice, and submit it in the comments. This was useful, but again, there was no real feedback. I also found it a little unreasonable that we were also encouraged to share our experience in writing an entire screenplay at the end of this two week course.
Overall, there was a lot of useful information and one or two helpful exercises in this course.
The most valuable insights I gained were the actual differences in writing modern screenplays (as opposed to the now dated ways I’d studied), and that converting a novel into a movie is far more complicated than just transcribing and formatting dialogue.
The most valuable skills I gained from these two weeks were on refining pitches and plot summaries.
I would have preferred if this course was spread over a three week period, with pre-course reading assigned, and more formal feedback assignments as in the two other FutureLearn courses I’d taken. This course also takes more time than the course information suggested, hence my preference it be spread over a three week period.
I recommend this course to students looking to get a taste of how to begin screenwriting and to those wishing to refresh their knowledge of modern screenwriting, but not to those looking to get out a screenplay over the course of the two weeks, nor for those looking for feedback on their work.