Scriptwriting programme information

Get an inside look into the MA in Creative Writing (Scriptwriting). Find out what's involved in the programme, how you'll study and be assessed.

About the course

Classes run throughout the first two trimesters—from late February to mid-October—and total five hours per week. All sessions are conducted by me and are held in the Workshop Room at the International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML), 16 Waiteata Rd on the Kelburn campus of Victoria University of Wellington.

There are usually 48 classes during the year. You are expected to attend all classes. If you cannot attend a class due to illness or exceptional circumstances, you will need to contact me or our administrators as soon as possible.

Meeting times

Tuesday—Workshop: 10am–1pm

At the Tuesday Workshop a range of exercise work is undertaken and the results presented and discussed. This is also where class members present their major project work-in-progress. Until Easter, workshops will concentrate on weekly exercises.

Throughout the second trimester, feedback on Draft 1 (or 2) of your major project will take place in this session as well as exercise work focusing on your project.

Wednesday—Workshop: 10am–12 noon

The Wednesday Workshop is an opportunity for class discussion and practical exercises and also provides a forum for guest visits by writers and industry professionals. Storylining for the TV drama series outline exercise (see below) also takes place in this session.


You will discuss the progress of your portfolio work at workshop meetings.

You will also be assigned a portfolio supervisor, with whom you will have regular meetings (these should average out at one hour per fortnight across the teaching year). As against the diversity of views you are likely to meet in workshops, your supervisor provides the response of a single, continuing reader.

Your supervisor will respond to your work as you write it and act as final reader at the point when the folio is to be submitted.

Ken Duncum usually acts as supervisor for seven out of the ten writers in the class. The three remaining writers are assigned an external supervisor each, usually an established professional scriptwriter.

Who these supervisors are and which writers they are matched with is worked out by me during the first half of the year.

Feedback philosophy

'No one treated the play as an invalid needing radical surgery; no one insisted on forcing the play toward production before it was ready. What was provided instead was a patient set of mirrors that reflected and revealed the play to me so that I could better understand what I really wanted to say and figure out how to say it.' (Michael Wright)

The intention is to provide a safe environment for writers to receive honest, forthright and supportive feedback on their work.

As much as possible the Director will ensure that everyone checks their ego at the door and concentrates on being the 'patient set of mirrors' in the above quote.

Reading list

You are required to read and/or view extensively in areas related to your major writing project and to the craft of scriptwriting in general.

To do this, you follow an individually designed programme (agreed upon with me) of film/video titles, theatre productions, scripts, books on scriptwriting and research material relevant to your project.

You report on your reading/viewing by keeping a regular Reading Journal where you note your responses to your list of agreed films, videos, scripts or books.

You should have completed your reading/viewing list and submitted your Reading Journal (minimum length 6,000 words) by the end of September.

List template

Your reading list should be made up of about twenty items divided into four categories:

  1. Books on scriptwriting (six)
  2. Scripts chosen because you think you can learn something from them in relation to your main project (five)
  3. Films/play productions/TV dramas chosen for the same reasons (five)
  4. Any research you may need to do (four)

Portfolio (Major project)

It is expected that you will complete three drafts of a full-length work as your portfolio project, with first, second and third drafts due on specific dates during the year.

In terms of timing, a feature film script would be expected to be of a duration not less than 80 minutes.

The duration of a full-length playscript similarly should be not less than 80 minutes. The duration of TV scripts should conform to the commercial half-hour or hour.

Students undertaking a TV project as their portfolio should discuss with me the amount and type of work that should be delivered throughout the year and for final assessment.

Portfolio development

During the first part of the year writers pitch and discuss ideas for their major projects.

Once projects have been decided and some pre-planning done, first drafts are written over six-eight weeks and are due in at the halfway point of the year.

The focus in Draft 1 is on exploration, Draft 2 concentrates on building structure, characters and character arcs, while Draft 3 refines and distills the script, focusing on editing and trimming scenes, action and dialogue.

Ideally, the different nature of the work on each draft results in significant growth and transformation of the story through the year, arriving at a strong and streamlined version of the script which will provide a solid basis for interesting producers in both project and writer.

Major exercises

Apart from your main project there are two major writing exercises during the year. These are:

15 minute theatre script

This exercise is written during the early part of the year and is usually delivered at the end of March or in early April. The delivered script will provide a basis for further exercise work through the year, and will be the source of a ten minute reading performed by actors in a city venue as part of the Writers On Mondays series, usually in September.

TV series outline

Written during the middle of the year. This is an outline (including concept, character breakdowns and one-page story outlines) for a 7 x 1-hour drama series for television. During the first half of the year you will have an in-class storylining session on your series.

Readers' reports

In addition to verbal feedback given in class, you will be expected to write a more detailed Reader's Report during the year. This will be on a fellow class member's first draft.

Industry placements

You are expected to complete about 40 hours of industry placement.

Arrangements will be negotiated during the first half of the academic year.

Dates for placements are dependent on the schedules of production companies and other host organisations, but every effort will be made to arrange placements to coincide with the June/July mid-year break.


Assessment is based entirely on the portfolio script you submit at the end of the year. At present there is provision for the MA degree to be awarded with a grade of pass, merit or distinction.

Two examiners—an external reader from the scriptwriting community, and an industry representative—will read each portfolio and make their recommendations. Copies of their written reports will be returned to you.