MFA in Screenwriting

*UPDATE: In 2016-17, we will be accepting only 1-2 (domestic and international combined) applicants to our MFA Screenwriting Program.

Words that make a difference

The MFA in Screenwriting focuses on storytelling as the heart of the filmmaking process. As moving images proliferate across an ever wider range of platforms, the gifts of well-told, meaningful stories become even more necessary.

York's Graduate Screenwriting Program, the only one of its kind in Canada, offers in-depth instruction in the creation of original scripts for indie fiction, micro-budget features, hybrid and genre films, television pilots/series, and soon to be emerging transmedia platforms and web series.

photo of Jeff Watson

Jeff Watson (MFA Film) is an award winning artist, designer, and Assistant Professor of Interactive Media and Games at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. His work investigates how game design, pervasive computing, and social media can enable new forms of storytelling, participation, and learning. He is a Director at the Situation Lab, a design research laboratory cross-sited at USC and OCAD University, and is an associate faculty member at the USC Game Innovation Lab.

Recent MFA thesis feature screenplays include:

  • Caitlin Fryers: Eden Ridge (historical drama). In 1876, a young woman fleeing to Canada disguises herself as a boy (winner of last year’s Peter Ustinov award in L. A., the first Canadian to do so).
  • David Ridgen: Cicada (thriller). A young girl returns years later to confront her abductors. His new CBC radio show premiered in February, 2016.
  • Matthew Miller: Little Miracles (drama). A man unable yet desperate to have children gets lost in a world of anonymous sex and broken relationships only to discover that he is willing to make the greatest compromise of all. Matthew recently produced Operation Avalanche which screened at Sundance.
  • Julia Dillon-Davis, Aum, She Who Is Most Suspicious (comedy/drama). 17-year-old Elise struggles to free herself from her dysfunctional ashram-loving mother.
  • Alex McKinnon, God of Toil (fantasy). Retired warrior Rufus must confront the consequences of his youthful exploits.

Long celebrated as one of North America's oldest and most respected graduate MFA degrees in Screenwriting, the program has recently revitalized its celebrated curriculum to confront the challenges posed by the fast-changing worlds and new platforms of digital cinema. Each student creates an individually-tailored program from our dynamic screenwriting and studies courses and faculty, and from our diverse workshops, partnerships, internships, and research labs, which together aid the creation of an original thesis screenplay, expertly guided by a supervisory committee of screenwriting faculty.

photo of two young women sitting face to face across from each other

In fall, 2015, veteran screenwriter Karen Walton chaired a pitch jury for York's screenwriting program, giving notes and advice to aspiring MFA screenwriters. Walton is celebrated for her work on such TV series as Orphan Black, Queer as Folk and What's It Like Being Alone, and best known for her debut feature screenplay Ginger Snaps, a feminist werewolf comedy which won a Best Film Writing, Canadian Comedy Award.

Screenwriting Courses

York’s MFA screenwriting faculty are working screenwriters and playwrights, acclaimed nationally and internationally for their diverse works, which include The Monument (Wagner), Whole New Thing (Buchbinder), The Quarry (Rickard) and St. Urbain’s Horseman (Wiseman). They bring this hands-on experience to the classroom, providing impassioned instruction in the form and content of screenwriting possibilities.

Students commence their MFA with a fall-term Screenwriting homeroom, where they actively workshop thesis ideas in their cohort and in workshops with directors and actors. Courses in Feature Screenwriting, Writing for Television, Story Editing and Selected Topics in Screenwriting (thesis prep) are offered annually, while a rich range of related production/studies courses in such topics as Future Cinema and Hybrid Fiction compliment this core curriculum. Students are encouraged to take graduate courses both from our Production and Studies streams, and consider courses offered throughout the University (especially if they are related to the topic of your thesis). As well, we offer an annual intensive Summer Institute on a special theme.

photo of six men sitting and standing around an office desk

A group of York University alums are working together under the banner of Zapruder Films. Their work includes the feature films The Dirties and Operation Avalanche, both co-written/directed by Matt Johnson (BFA 2006, MFA 2016) and produced by Matthew Miller (BFA 2003, MFA 2016). Miller's thesis MFA screenplay Little Miracles concerns the struggle of an infertile man who desperately wants to father a child. Zapruder are currently in production on an untitled half-hour television program for the brand new VICELAND network. The show, set to premiere in late 2016, is the first dramatic show in the history of VICE and is staffed almost exclusively by graduates of York’s Film Department. In addition to Johnson & Miller, the team includes Jared Raab (co-DP, co-Executive Producer), Vicki Lean (Line Producer), Matt Greyson (Production Manager) and Josh Schonblum (Assistant Editor/ DMT).

Independent and Group Studies, Field Placements, GA-ships and TA-ships, Workshops

Students are encouraged to work with faculty to create specialized Independent Studies and Directed Readings on topics related to the creation of their thesis screenplays. Internships with a wide variety of Toronto film community companies and organizations are offered (including diverse festivals and production companies). GA-ships (research positions with faculty) and TA-ships (teaching undergraduate courses) provide hands-on learning and valuable experiences for future positions. Specialized workshops and master classes with visiting screenwriters have included recent guests such as Patricia Rozema (Into the Forest), Karen Walton (Orphan Black) and Mike Hoolboom (Fascination), and Răzvan Rădulescu (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu).

Facilities and Research Labs

Screenwriting MFAs are encouraged to collaborate with directors in the MFA production stream on the creation and/or story editing of short films and class assignments as well as longer works, shooting in our three production studios (from 800 s.f. to 2000 s.f.) and our new 8500 s.f. studio at Cinespace, Toronto's largest grouping of ten soundstages.

Students are also encouraged to get involved in York’s four cinema research labs: Future Cinema Lab specializes in creating new stories for new screens, testing the possibilities of new screen technologies; S3D@York is a workshop for artistic innovation in 3-D cinema; Augmented Reality Lab creates immersive installations, AR fiction for iPads and transmedia projects; and Future Doc Lab explores i-doc, VR and transmedia idioms. Partnerships with colleagues and students from other fine arts departments (dance, music, visual arts, theatre, computational arts) and disciplines (environmental studies, gender and womens studies, political science) are encouraged, especially in the exploration of new digital content.
photo of Caitlin Fryers

In 2014, Caitlin Fryers became the first Canadian to win the Sir Peter Ustinov Award from the International Emmys for her pilot script, Fealty. She is now represented by Meridian Artists and currently writes on the new Emily Andras SyFy series Wynonna Earp, premiering April 1, 2016 on Syfy and CHCH.

Thesis Projects and MFA Supervisory Committees

An MFA Screenwriting thesis is typically an original feature screenplay and a contextual support paper, to be completed and defended in the 5th or 6th term. Supervisory committees are collaboratively formed during the first term, consisting of a Screenwriting faculty member, and a reader drawn from our Screenwriting, Production and Studies areas, or in some cases another University department, based on the form and content of the proposed thesis screenplay. Each committee tailors its contributions to the needs of both the student and the project.

Intercut, Depth of Field & Downtown Partners

photo of typewriter with the word Intercut typewritten on a page

Intercut: A yearly event where eight scenes are selected by our own grad screenwriters from all upper level screenwriters (3rd year, 4th year, and grad). These scenes are workshopped with our Theatre actors and Film directors, and then presented to the public.

Intercut is the Screenwriting program's annual mini-festival of screenplay excerpts, performed by actors from the Theatre program in front of a live audience. In addition, we offer monthly downtown grad screenings and events at the Art Gallery of Ontario, TIFF, Cinecycle and other Toronto venues, encouraging exchange and collaboration with 2nd year MFAs, alumni, MA’s and PhD’s in our program. Regular screenings of thesis and alumni films, as well as live readings of screenplay excerpts, are animated by faculty and fellow students. In addition, special workshops, masters classes, free tickets and meetings with visiting filmmakers and screenwriters are offered in collaboration with our many Toronto festival partners, including Hot Docs, Images, TIFF, Inside Out, Regent Park Film Festival, the Canadian Film Centre and Planet in Focus. In addition, graduate students are eligible for a variety of in-kind, production, and cash grants from donors, and travel/research funding from the University.

Words that make a difference

Writers write to figure out what they know. At the heart of York's MFA in Screenwriting is this passion for discovery. We challenge our students to master not only the body of techniques that define our craft, but also the currents of their own inspiration and the ideas that give their work meaning.

Your five terms will be spent in an intense, immersive environment, sharing your skills, visions and passions with an intimate cohort of 3 other screenwriters, 12 filmmakers (working in fiction, documentary and alternative modes) and 10 studies MA students, each coming from wildly diverse backgrounds. Typically our applicants have been out in the world making work for at least five years beyond their undergraduate training. When they enter our MFA, they bring these diverse cinematic and life journeys with them to the table. York’s profound ties to Toronto’s independent film scene ensures that our MFAs become full members of this extraordinary community, going on to exciting careers in screenwriting, teaching, producing, creating—but even more, pursuing their voices and visions (and their words) with this new network of trusted collaborators.