Regent's University London can help young screenwriters to get ahead

There's no typical writer, and there's no typical student who chooses to learn the craft of writing for stage and screen at Regent's University London. "We've had students aged between 20 and 70; lawyers, bus drivers, novelists, ex-military and a poet," says David Hanson, an experienced screenwriter who teaches the university's part-time MA Writing for Screen & Stage.

"You don't need a degree but you need to have some experience of life and be able to tell a story," he says. Hanson meets all applicants to ensure the mix of students is right – and it's always international, with students coming from North America, Europe, India and New Zealand. He'll ask to see a piece of writing, but applicants don't need to bring a script; though they might end up graduating with a project in hand. "Writing is something people get better at with time. This is an intimate group and students develop a rapport – and that's how they learn."

Few other courses in the UK offer the combination of screen and stage craft, but this is a logical mix, says Hanson – actors and directors move between theatre, film and television, so why not writers? Created in 2010, the course has already produced successes – graduates have seen their work produced for stage, and some are currently developing film and television scripts. "Everyone I keep in touch with is busy writing," says Hanson.

Since graduating from the masters, D.D. Armstrong has begun freelancing at the BBC's writersroom – which looks for emerging talent – consulted on a feature film, and seen his own play staged. He began the course after being made redundant and worked part-time as a security guard to make ends meet during his studies. He continues to write his own material and volunteers on creative writing workshops for young people at risk.

"The world of writing is never easy, but this course equips you with the tools and understanding of how to progress," he says. "You are getting professional feedback as you study – take confidence and get your work out there while you are on the course."

Over the two years of this part-time course, students attend five intensive weeks at the university's central London campus in Regent's Park, learning the nuts and bolts. Why was the 2010 film The King's Speech such a success? How can a playwright sustain suspense? What's the best way to pitch to time-poor TV executives? "Learning to pitch was my biggest challenge," says Armstrong. "It gives insight into how well you know your story and what elements captivate potential investors."

And that's one of the most valuable elements of the course, says Hanson. "When students graduate, they can hold their own in any production meeting – they are viable writers." He and other course tutors have career pedigree – Hanson began in comedy writing in the 1980s on the likes of Not the Nine O'Clock News, followed by a screenwriting career in New York and Hollywood – he's also the co-creator of television character Max Headroom.

In between attendance weeks, students generally put in between four and six hours' work a week and receive regular one-to-one online tutorials to support their writing projects. During weeks on campus, they work days and evenings, on a mix of theatre visits, film screenings, workshops and seminars. Writers can also use the university's facilities to shoot and edit their own films. Every October, the university hosts a screenwriting festival, giving students the opportunity to hone their pitching skills and mingle with professionals. Students also have the chance to direct their work because actors are engaged in three attendance weeks. "Hearing your work spoken rather than reading it can be transformative," says Hanson.

And students never seem to suffer a lack of ideas, he says. "We help them select suitable themes and explore their own life experiences. Don't write about Glasgow gangs if you've never been there, for example. But inspiration is never a problem."

(Source: TheGuardian)


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