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My Education in Screenwriting – Part 1

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I never saw myself going back to school for a Masters degree. I thought about it and researched it, but the insane price tags and time commitments deterred me. I felt like I couldn’t afford to take time off to go back to school for a film degree. I already felt behind the curve because of my five years spent in the Navy. I had written and directed a few short films, but wasn’t confident about tackling a feature, which is what I came to Hollywood to do. This is the first of a two-part article that I will close when I complete my Masters of Fine Arts. This is my journey of getting an education in screenwriting.

I had been living in LA about a year when I learned about the Writers Guild Foundation’s Veterans Writing Program: a yearlong program for military veterans that is a crash course in screenwriting, taught by wonderful WGA members who donate their precious time to pass on their knowledge. The program introduced me to lifelong friends and gave me the confidence to call myself a screenwriter, even if my parents thought I was crazy. At the beginning I fancied my new writer friends and I sitting at cafes practicing pitches over cappuccinos or at dinner parties sharing big ideas fueled by the best California vintages. Now I know better. Writing is lonely! Well, feature writing at least. It’s just you and the page and overcoming the fear that everything that comes out of you is horrible. And I’ve learned it will be horrible at first, but then you pick up your pen (or laptop) and rewrite and rewrite and make it better. Every successful writer will tell you that the real work is the rewrite.

The Writers Guild program gave me the tools and confidence to shape my stories and put words onto the page, but by the end I craved more. I was officially addicted to screenwriting but I still had a full time job that I didn’t want to leave therefore it was extremely important to find something that would allow me to do both. When I learned about a new online/low-residency MFA in TV and Screenwriting, it was a no-brainer to apply. The program is through Stephens College. I just completed the first intensive workshop and have no doubt that I made the right choice to continue my education. Our cohort is filled with 17 women and 3 men, all amazing people and once again I am so lucky to have found such a supportive group of peers and lifelong friends. I heard from incredible writers like Winnie Holzman, Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith, and Nancy Miller. I’m learning about the pioneering women from the early days of film like Mary Pickford and Francis Marion. But more importantly I’m having fun and loving every minute of my journey.

As historian Cari Beauchamp told us during our workshop, “if you don’t write your own story, someone else will and they will kick you out of it.” I’m doing what I need to do to help myself achieve my goals. I’m writing my story, don’t be afraid to write yours. Maybe it doesn’t include a degree, but I urge you to create your own path and find what works for you. What is going to help you achieve your goals? Maybe it’s a structured program, maybe it’s a meetup group, or maybe just studying books on your craft. Whatever it is, I urge you to surround yourself with a strong support network. Writing may be lonely, but Hollywood is all about relationships. I hear it’s an ugly world out there, but I’m ready for the fight because if one of us succeeds, we all succeed. Find what works for you and keep up the #bitchydetermination.

photo:  Stephens College inaugural MFA in TV and Screenwriting class

Jackie Perez

About Jackie Perez

Jackie Perez is a military brat turned engineer turned filmmaker. After five years of Naval service she left active duty and started a new career in the industry where she currently works as an assistant at Perfect Storm Entertainment and writes and directs short films in her free time. She is on advisory board for of Veterans in Film and Television, a graduate of the WGA Foundation Veterans Writing program, the founder of CAA Vets, and a Lieutenant in the Navy Reserves. Starting fall 2015 she will be pursuing a MFA in TV and Screenwriting through Stephens College and can’t wait to make her first feature film. She loves horror movies, has an environmental engineering degree from MIT, tries to travel outside the country once a year, plays the banjo, and has the most adorable hedgehog named Pickle.