Skip to main content

Directors’ Welcome

What does it mean to be “at the center of writing”? It means defining yourself not as a playwright, screenwriter, or television writer, but as an artist who seeks to tell the best story possible, to fit that story to the most appropriate form, and to pursue writing opportunities wherever they present themselves. Today more than ever, an ability to demonstrate versatility in all mediums is invaluable, as now screenplays are written by playwrights, TV shows are developed by screenwriters, and theatre is created by TV writers.

Being at the center means being associated with Northwestern University: From indie films to hit sitcoms and dramas to Tony Award winners and Oscar nominees, from John Logan (The Aviator) to Greg Berlanti (The Flash) to Zach Braff (Garden State) to Janae Bakken (Scrubs), Northwestern entertainment alumnae, faculty, and visiting artists are at the forefront of stage, film, and television. This is a particularly exciting time to become part of the NU community, as we’re in the middle of an interdisciplinary renaissance. With programs like this MFA in Writing for the Screen and Stage, as well as the undergraduate Creative Writing for the Media Program, the PhD in Screen Cultures, the Minor in Sound Design, and the American Music Theatre Project, NU offers a deep commitment to breaking down boundaries and allowing students to explore subjects from all directions.

Being at the center of writing also means being in a city devoted to the art of writing: our Chicago location offers a unique melting pot of activity, connected to but somehow different from Los Angeles or New York, with opportunities to experience not only film and TV, but theatre, improv, cutting edge installations, experimental performances, and every form in between.

We’ve designed our MFA Program around six core courses, which introduce you to a set of “transportable” media writing concepts, as well as specific idioms/genres. You’ll build a significant portfolio — at least a short screenplay, play, TV episode, and full-length thesis project of your choosing. You’ll understand not just the art and craft of media writing, but also the business of media writing as we’ll practice pitching, taking meetings, writing query letters, and understanding contracts. You’ll choose from a range of topics courses, such as developing the pilot, writing the teen film, experimental adaptation, and interactive narrative. Along the way, you’ll meet artists and executives from TV, stage, film, and new media.

We’ve also included amazing production opportunities, from Radio-TV-Film mediamaking courses to a $5000 grant to help you bring to life your play, screenplay, or teleplay. You’ll have access to our first-class facilities including cameras, lighting, sound, and computer labs, as well as a blackbox studio that can be used for filming or staging works. All of you will have an opportunity to work with professional actors and directors, as they perform a directed reading of one of your pieces. And all of you will get the chance to apply for internships earmarked to writing in LA, NY, or Chicago, to get a firsthand look at the “real world” by participating in an internship at a film, stage, or TV production company.

Finally, each of you will TA a writing course, as we believe teaching others helps you to better understand your own work.

And when you finish, whether you pursue writing for Film, Stage, TV, or some emerging form that you help define, you’ll be eligible to join the Northwestern University Entertainment Alliance, an organization devoted to promoting the careers of recent grads. It’s becoming well known throughout the country: Northwestern fosters a profound sense of artistic community and professional camaraderie.

It’s no surprise our recent graduates have been staffed as writers on television shows such as Heroes Reborn, Late Night with Stephen Colbert, The Late Show with Seth Meyers, Major Crimes, and Murder in the First. They’ve also had plays produced at major venues such as The Second City, Victory Gardens Theatre, Steppenwolf, the Flea Theatre, and the National Playwrights Conference at The O’Neill Center and received honors and grants like the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Work, the Princess Grace Award, and the Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival Award. In addition, their plays have been published by Dramatic Publishing and Samuel French, their films have been accepted to festivals like Newfest: New York LGBT Film Festival, the Ashland Independent Film Festival, and the Rhode Island Film Festival, and they’ve been hired as professors at major universities such as Kenyon College, The University of Wisconsin, and the University of Mississippi.

We’re excited to receive your application. In the meantime, get to know the program via this web site. Whether you’re looking for an MFA in screenwriting or an MFA in playwriting, we think you’ll find that our program combines the best of both worlds. If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.


Zayd Dohrn & Dave Tolchinsky
Co-Directors, MFA in Writing for the Screen and Stage