How I chose between NYU Dramatic Writing and AFI Screenwriting.
I anguished over the thought of turning down either school. As a true cinephile, how could I consider living outside of LA? That’s where the industry is. I had to attend AFI. But what about the legends born out of New York, like Tisch’s own Donald Glover, Kenneth Lonnergan, or Tony Kushner? New York's cultural scene is fertile ground, and for that NYU appealed to me so much more.
After painful weeks of indecision and desperate pleas with admissions for more time, I made my bed. I spoke with 8 people from AFI: 1 screenwriting drop-out, a recent screenwriting admit, a first-year screenwriting fellow, a first-year DP fellow, a director alum, and two screenwriting alums. For Tisch, I interviewed 9 people: 2 recent dramatic writing admits, 1 current first-year, 3 dramatic writing alums, and 3 production alum.
Below are the elements I considered:
Portfolio of works
At AFI, screenwriters finish two specs and a feature the first year. In year two, they finish three features or two features and a pilot. In total, four original works and two specs.
At NYU, the curriculum is not as straightforward. Putting it shortly, you write more than AFI. Reason being, you do not have to participate in nearly as much production as the kids at AFI.
If you value a bigger portfolio, NYU is the better option. If you value a thorough production education, AFI is the way to go. NYU DDW parallels UCLA and USC Screenwriting in this regard.
Job Prospects / Networking
AFI does a better job. They promote their writers in an annual event where agents and producers listen to the writer’s pitch their work. They pair up their writers with alumni mentors. They give prizes to the best work (i.e. Writer Room Ready prize).
At NYU, students have to hustle for work. There is a well-staffed career office at Tisch that anyone is welcome to use, but job finding is not a part of the curriculum. Feature-writing students who have great scripts are rewarded with a trip to Los Angeles. They might get notes from studio executives. The playwright students have many opportunities in terms of readings and competitions, which can attract jobs, but not for TV and feature students.
After speaking with several students from both programs, they all say the same thing: 3-5 “lucky” kids come out with jobs as writer’s assistants or as junior writers while the rest work in other parts of the industry until they land their big break. This leads me to believe that the impact of AFI’s efforts to assist with jobs is marginal.
Both schools are workshop-based.
At AFI, students spend a lot of time working on short films the first year. They write many treatments. They spend time watching and giving notes for dozens of (earnest but badly made) shorts. If they are not working on cycle films, they are in workshop. Year two, they are almost entirely in workshop. They might also work with a team on a thesis film. Classes do not vary much; there are a few comedy electives, but the roster of classes is tiny.
At NYU, students write in all three major dramatic mediums: theater, TV, and film. NYU believes this kind of cross-training will make for a stronger writer. (I think there is an incomparable advantage as a screenwriter when you know how to write plays.) There is a huge selection of electives one can take, like Sketch Comedy, Late-Night Comedy, Animation Writing, and Low-Budget Features. In addition, a student can take almost any course available at the university. Courses in history or psychology, for example, though not directly related to writing, can help inform a student’s work.
Theory, Analysis & Survey Courses
At AFI, there are 12 credits of class dedicated to theory, analysis, strategy, and survey. At NYU, a minimum of 10 credits are required, but students can take up to 18 if desired. There’s more choice. From what I’ve learned, famous guests are more often found doing one-off lectures at AFI than at NYU.
INTERESTING FACT #1
Class is in session for 20 months over the 2.5-year program at AFI. At NYU, class is in session 14 months over the course of 2 years. For essentially the same amount of money, you get 6 months less class time at NYU, which can feel like a bad deal. There’s another way to look at this. There is such a thing as over-workshopping one's work and if a writer is constantly in class, there is no time for the work to breathe. I personally see the breaks as an essential opportunity to go inward with one’s work.
INTERESTING FACT #2
Everyone at AFI agrees that the institution favors DPs and Directors, and the other disciplines are there to serve them. If a screenwriter and director disagree on an approach for a cycle film, the faculty will back the director. While I understand this is the real-world approach, I don’t want a place of learning to adopt such a dynamic. Like at UCLA and USC, NYU treats their screenwriters as masters of their department and not as supporting characters.
Both AFI and NYU are top-3 film schools.
There is award-winning staff in both programs. I added the IMDB credits from the faculty that teaches first-year students at both schools. AFI’s first-year writing faculty totaled 13 IMDB credits; NYU’s totaled 10. It should be noted, though, that produced playwrights do not receive IMDB credits, so there is a proportion of the NYU faculty that doesn't fall under this credit metric despite being enormously successful (i.e. Lucas Hnath, Suzy Lori Parks, etc.).
Finally, if you add up all of the IMDB credits of the faculty advertised on each school’s website, NYU has more.
NYU network is inarguably more expansive, whereas AFI’s is more rarefied.
AFI workshops range from 8-10 students per class. NYU has 12 usually (which seems unusually large compared to what I’ve heard from other schools).
I’ve lived in LA and NYC. Based on my personal experience, this is how much I believe I will need to live for two years based on both schools:
|Tuition||$ 55,965||$ 60,768|
|Production Material & fees||$ 3,383||$ 2,676|
|Sub total||$ 59,348||$ 63,444|
|Room & Board Allow.||$ 20,400||$ 24,000|
|Supplies Allow.||$ 824||$ 824|
|Transportation||$ 7,200||$ 1,440|
|Insurance||$ 3,484||$ 3,484|
|Misc/ Personal / Loan||$ 3,894||$ 3,894|
|Sub total||$ 35,802||$ 33,642|
|Total Costs||$ 95,150||$ 97,086|
|Total Costs (2yrs)||$ 192,300||$ 194,172|
The cost without any sort of scholarship is nearly identical.
Since you meet with directors, editors, DPs, and set designers at AFI, the school is clearly way better for potential lifelong collaborations. Collaboration is not built into the curriculum at NYU, so you can graduate without ever working with filmmakers specializing in other disciplines. If you are outgoing, then you can likely collaborate with director grad students, but it is not common.
AFI wins: 2; NYU wins: 3; Equal: 4;
Ultimately, I felt a personal connection to the faculty at NYU, so I chose to enroll in their program. They also gave me money. If you have questions about the programs, please do not hesitate to DM me.