Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting

Nambi Kelley
Join our next cohort, beginning August 2021 — Accelerated, Low-Residency Screenwriting MFA
Earn a terminal degree in screenwriting in less than two years with our accelerated, low-residency MFA program. Students can study anywhere in the world, joining faculty, guest screenwriters and filmmakers, and peers at three annual Texas-based writers retreats. (Read more…)

Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting

The Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting is a 48-credit-hour terminal degree. The workshop-driven program provides a rigorous creative environment to prepare students to craft compelling scripts for film, television, video games, and emerging digital mediums. A parallel MFA in Creative Writing is also available.

The MFA utilizes an accelerated, low-residency model designed to meet the needs of today’s students, while emphasizing a strong commitment to excellence in craft, analysis, and creativity. Three times per year, students and faculty gather either at HBU’s campus or for a writers’ retreat in cities like Galveston or Austin. Each residency features workshops and extensive interaction with professional writers and filmmakers serving as guest instructors, as well as ongoing mentorship from HBU’s exceptional full-time faculty.

Between residencies, students work from home, maintaining connections with their cohort through online workshops and ongoing coursework. These long-distance classes preserve HBU’s apprenticeship model, providing frequent feedback and personalized direction from each student’s writing mentors and peers. While the low-residency model allows writers to continue to live and work in their home cities, students should expect to commit considerable time every week to practicing their craft in order to successfully develop and hone their creative skills.

The  accelerated schedule allows students to complete the MFA degree in less than two years. For professional screenwriters, the Master of Fine Arts serves as a terminally qualifying degree, allowing successful graduates to teach at the university level. However, the program’s primary goal is to nurture students’ creative potential, ensuring that their artistic craft is sharpened and developed.

Most importantly, the core of this degree remains HBU’s steadfast commitment to providing a learning experience that instills in students a passion for academic, spiritual and professional excellence as a result of our Christian convictions. Students learn how this faith has guided storytellers, filmmakers, and artists throughout history and will be inspired by this rich heritage as together we seek to craft new cinematic works reflecting our Creator’s goodness, truth, and beauty.

Applications for our next cohort (beginning August 2021) are now open.
A writing portfolio is required for admission.

Apply Now

Program Highlights

  • Workshop-Based Mentoring

    The MFA in Screenwriting places a strong emphasis on practice and feedback, using rigorous faculty-led workshops throughout the program. Students will work closely with a writing mentor and receive valuable critiques from their cohort of peers.

  • Study from Anywhere

    The MFA in Screenwriting is offered as a low-residency program, requiring approximately five weeks of Texas-based instruction across six writers retreats, supplemented by year-round online workshops that can be completed from anywhere in the world. (Learn more…)

  • Accelerated Program

    With intense, focused classroom instruction during four Texas-based residencies and year-round online workshops, students earn the 48-credit-hour terminal degree in Screenwriting in less than two years. (Learn more…)

  • Terminal MFA Degree

    The Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting is a terminal degree. When coupled with professional work in the field, the MFA qualifies graduates to teach Screenwriting at the university-level.

  • Learn from the Best

    Each residency features professional filmmakers and writers from a variety of disciplines. The focused retreat structure means students have extensive face-to-face interaction with visiting screenwriters, authors, and poets, while year-round online workshops also facilitate feedback from HBU’s exceptional faculty and distinguished adjunct instructors. (Learn more…)

  • Strong Christian Foundation

    HBU is committed to providing a learning experience that instills a passion for academic, spiritual and professional excellence as a result of our Christian convictions. MFA students explore the rich heritage of our faith, which has guided storytellers, filmmakers, and artists throughout history.

Cinema & New Media Arts at HBU

Since 2013, HBU has offered a wide array of dynamic degrees in Cinema & New Media Arts (CNMA), including undergraduate degrees in Cinematic Arts, Mass Media, Interactive Media, and Graphic Design. Graduates of these programs are creating compelling content in a variety of fields, from award-winning independent films to video games, health care, education, and faith-based ministries. At the heart of the CNMA program’s success is the School of Fine Art’s commitment to mentor and educate students towards excellence in artistic creation for the glory of God. We prioritize hands-on field experience, apprenticeship and mentorship, strong understanding of tradition and theory, a clear focus on emerging opportunities, and an essential spiritual foundation for every student.

The Cinema & New Media Arts program frequently hosts industry professionals as guest speakers and adjunct instructors, including:

  • Whit Stillman (Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Metropolitan, Last Days of Disco, Love & Friendship)

    Whit Stillman
    Oscar-nominated screenwriter Whit Stillman meeting with a class of Cinema & New Media Arts students
  • Walter Murch (Oscar-winning editor, sound designer of The Godfather, Apocalypse Now; screenwriter of THX-1138, The Black Stallion, and Return to Oz)
  • A.J. Edwards (screenwriter/director of The Better Angels, Age Out; editor of The Tree of Life)
  • Doug TenNapel (award-winning video game designer, comic book artist, screenwriter; Earthworm Jim, VeggieTales, Creature Tech)
  • Patrick Fabian (actor from Better Call Saul, Agents of SHIELD, Veronica Mars)
  • Matthew Aughtry (filmmaker of Mothers of the Desert)
  • Mark Stolaroff (producer of DriverX, Pig, Following)
  • J.A.C. Redford (music orchestrator of Avatar, Wall•E, Newsies)
  • Dan Trezise (visual effects artist from Spider-Man: Homecoming, Life of Pi, Man of Steel)
  • Jeffrey Overstreet (film critic and novelist, Through a Screen Darkly, Auralia’s Colors)

Apply Now

Nambi KelleyAugust Featured Guest:
Nambi E. Kelley, Award-Winning Screenwriter, Playwright, & Actress

HBU was pleased to host the multi-talented Nambi E. Kelley, a screenwriter for Showtime’s The Chi and an accomplished playwright and actress. Kelley has penned plays for Steppenwolf and Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Lincoln Center in New York, and internationally. Her adaptation of Sam French’s Native Son has enjoyed productions across the country, from Yale Repertory Theatre to New York City.

As an actress, Kelley has performed on regional stages across the country, internationally, including many shows at the Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, and has been seen on several television shows, including Elementary, Person of Interest, Madam Secretary, Chicago PD, and most recently NBC’s Chicago Justice.

As the featured speaker during the MFA’s recent August 2020 residency, Kelley shared her thoughts on the craft of writing, filmmaking, and acting while working closely with our screenwriting students. In her passion for students, excellence as a storyteller, and dynamic artistic career, Kelley embodies the ideals at the heart of HBU’s School of Fine Arts and we were honored to have her as a featured guest to teach, mentor, and encourage our MFA students.

At our January 2021 writing retreat, we are also honored to host acclaimed poet and teacher Scott Cairns, author of The End of Suffering, Idiot Psalms, and Short Trip to the Edge. Cairns brings an incisive and thoughtful perspective to writing, art, and theology; in an interview, he said, “I’ve come to think of beauty as how God woos us to himself. One doesn’t so much create it or illuminate it as partake of it. Thereafter, one participates, collaborates, in its endless development.”

Walter MurchRecent Guest: Oscar-Winning Editor Walter Murch

This May, our screenwriting students had the chance to chat with legendary editor and sound designer Walter Murch (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, THX-1138) about creativity, cinema, and storytelling. In a virtual video chat from London, Murch shared wisdom about how to encourage your creative impulses, insights into film pacing and structure, and first-hand stories of working with filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas.

Author Bret LottRecent Guests: Oscar-Nominated Whit Stillman, Best-Selling Novelist Bret Lott,
and Award-Winning Poet Kimberly Povloski

HBU was pleased to host Oscar-nominated screenwriter and director Whit Stillman and acclaimed storyteller Bret Lott as the featured speakers at the first writers retreat for the new Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Screenwriting. As a screenwriter and director, Stillman is known for The Last Days of Disco (1998), Damsels in Distress (2011), Love & Friendship (2016), and other fantastic films. His directorial debut, Metropolitan, premiered at Sundance in 1990 and earned him an Academy Award nod for Best Original Screenplay. His most recent film, Love & Friendship, returned him to Sundance before being distributed by Amazon Studios. Stillman is one of the most consistently sharp and delightful voices in contemporary cinema, bringing a brilliant wit and incisive perspective to his work.

Bret Lott is the New York Times best-selling author of more than a dozen books, including Letters & Life: On Being a Writer, on Being a Christian and Jewel, an Oprah Book Club novel adapted into the 2001 feature film starring Farrah Fawcett. Currently, Lott teaches creative writing at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. He has also been named a Fulbright Senior American Scholar and served as a member of the National Council on the Arts.

Kimberly PovloskiLott and Stillman were joined by Kimberly Povloski—a poet, educator, and editor from Houston, Texas. She received her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Eastern Washington University and has spoken on such topics as image and (negative) space at Selkirk College’s A Stone’s Throw Writing Symposium and Houston Baptist University’s Writer’s Conference. She is a former poetry editor of Willow Springs. She currently teaches at the University of Houston and is proud to work with Writers in the Schools.

HBU’s cross-disciplinary writing MFAs bring together screenwriters, novelists, and poets at multiple retreats throughout the year, providing unique opportunities for experienced writers to inspire and challenge a new generation of storytellers.

Apply Now

Accelerated, Low-Residency Model

Our unique model is tailored to fit the active schedules of today’s writers, allowing students to study from anywhere in the world through online workshops, while not sacrificing invaluable face-to-face instruction with faculty, guest instructors, and peers facilitated through biannual Texas-based writers retreats.

With our accelerated, low-residency model, students earn a 48-credit-hour terminal degree in screenwriting in less than two years. Across six residencies, students will gain 30 credit hours of intensive residential classes, providing essential foundations for the 18 credit hours of online courses that supplement the in-person instruction (learn more about the courses offered).

MFA in Screenwriting — Sample Schedule
[table id=MFA-CNMA_sched /]

What to expect at the residencies…
Each writing residency is carefully planned to provide an ideal, concentrated creative environment for learning and lasting growth. Bond with peers in small, focused workshops and learn directly from seasoned professional writers and filmmakers through extended conversations in-class and over meals.

The residencies also provide an opportunity to be inspired and challenged by a wide variety of writers, as we bring together poets, fiction authors, creative non-fiction writers, screenwriters, and playwrights in cross-disciplinary discussions.

August On-Campus Residency
For six days in early August, students gather on HBU’s campus for classes and workshops. With special visiting instructors, the first August residency explores how students can build upon a great tradition of filmmaking and storytelling, while developing  unique voices of their own.

January Destination Retreat
For seven days in early January, students travel to a Texas-based retreat location in cities like Galveston, San Antonio, or Austin. Be inspired by a fresh locale and the beauty of God’s natural world, as we take a break from our busy lives and gather together to focus on artistry and creativity. This retreat focuses on the craft of writing for the screen and explores how artists of faith can create in ways that reflect the goodness, truth, and beauty of our Creator.

Spring Writers Conference
For three days in late April, students gather on HBU’s campus for the annual HBU Writers Conference, featuring additional guest speakers and an opportunity to connect with screenwriters, filmmakers, and writers from other disciplines.

Meals and lodging for the six residencies are included in tuition. Students are responsible for their own travel arrangements.

COVID-19 Residency Plans: The January 2021 residency is currently being planned for a hybrid format, allowing students, faculty, and guests to participate in-person at HBU’s campus or remotely from home. On campus events will follow all local health advisories and institutional policies, including distancing and masking. HBU is continually monitoring the situation and may adapt plans as needed. The format for other 2021 residency events may also need to change based on developing  conditions.

Courses Offered

The MFA in Screenwriting is a 48-credit-hour terminal degree. 30 hours of the degree are completed at six different residencies, while the remaining 18 hours are facilitated through online workshops throughout the accelerated program, which can be completed in less than two years.

For additional information on MFA courses and for the current official degree plan, see the HBU Course Catalog or select any course below for more details...

  • CNMA 6310 Faith, Culture, and the Arts I & II (6 hrs)

    This course explores the role of the Christian artist in culture. Students will study how great Christian thinkers have thought about culture and art throughout church history and be challenged to understand their vocation as artists and media creators from a biblical perspective. Students will also develop an understanding of how to live out their faith through their work as they seek to affect the culture around them.

  • CNMA 6320 Topics & Genres: Filmmakers on Cinema I & II (6 hrs)

    Study with a working filmmaker or writer, exploring the artists and stories that have inspired or shaped their work. Topics will vary at each residency depending on the instructor and may also take into account the genres and mediums of interest to the current cohort of students. Cross-disciplinary courses in fiction and poetry will also be offered.

  • CNMA 6321 Cinematic Core Principles (3 hrs)

    An overview and survey of the cinematic medium and its various forms, with an emphasis on historical foundations and developing opportunities. Includes an in-depth look at the fundamental components of the medium—writing, directing, acting, cinematography, and editing—and synthesizes these various roles so that students can experience how these components work together to create the end product and better understand how their work as screenwriters draft the blueprint for compelling cinematic stories.

  • CNMA 6322 Art of Storytelling (3 hrs)

    An overview and survey of storytelling across multiple mediums, from ancient oral tradition to modern media. This class will explore the role storytelling plays in culture and help prepare students in the development, presentation, and pitching of stories.

  • CNMA 6323 Media Industry & Business (3 hrs)

    An overview of the business and legal elements that will affect students’ work, whether as independent filmmakers or in industry careers. This class also examines the changing dynamics in the digital economy and trains students in the art of pitching and presentation.

  • CNMA 6331–6334 Screenwriting Workshops I–IV (12 hrs)

    Writing workshops in which students will create and revise original screenplays (or select scenes, treatments, and pitch documents). Over the course of the semester students will learn to critically assess their own work as well as the work of their peers. Workshops I–III are facilitated online over the course of one year, while Workshop IV is completed in-person at the second January retreat.

  • CNMA 6385 Internship (3 hrs)

    Credit is awarded for approved professional internships in media-related work in a variety of regions, including Houston, Austin, Hollywood, and in students’ home cities. If an internship is not available due to local availability or other factors, this course may be substituted for a variety of other MFA classes.

  • 6 hrs of CNMA Electives

    Students may take any two graduate-level CNMA courses or, with permission of the director of the corresponding program, students may take appropriate courses from other graduate programs, such as the Creative Writing MFA, the Studio Art MFA, the MA in Christian Apologetics, or the Master of Liberal Arts.

    Special Topics (CNMA 6380) may also be offered based on student interest and need, faculty availability, and subject matter that would be supportive of the MFA curriculum. This could include a course on acting, directing, writing for video games, or a topic suggested by the current cohort of students.

  • CNMA 6391–6392 Thesis Project I & II (6 hrs)

    Under the direction of a faculty mentor, students will write or produce a faculty-approved cinematic thesis.

Admissions Requirements

  • Personal Statement – Please submit a personal statement, between 300 and 500 words, sharing your desire to attend the HBU Graduate School and how you feel a degree from HBU will assist you in your academic and professional careers.
  • Résumé – Email a current résumé to the Graduate School at
  • Writing Portfolio – Please submit a portfolio containing examples of your writing to The Graduate School. Your writing sample must be at least 30-50 pages in length and may contain multiple short scripts or excerpts. Additional work from other genres may be included as well.

Also Available

Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing

Cinema & New Media Arts at HBU

HBU | School of Fine Arts

Creative Writing at HBU