By Leigh-Michil George

Who is the hottest new screenwriter in Hollywood right now? Opinions will vary, but 29-year-old Chicago native Diablo Cody would be an obvious contender. Who is Diablo Cody, you might be wondering? It’s the nom de plume of Brook Busey-Hunt, a former stripper, who wrote her memoir Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper at age 24. Ms. Cody wrote the upcoming release Juno, directed by Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking). The comedy is already receiving great reviews and the buzz is that the film will garner several nominations this awards’ season. Ms. Cody has other projects in the works, including the horror comedy Jennifer’s Body, set up at Fox Atomic before the Writers Strike began, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Ms. Cody’s “swift” rise to screenwriting success may leave some fellow writers downright jealous, while others may be inspired by her journey from struggling pole dancer to memoirist to Hollywood’s new screenwriting “It” girl. But the key lesson every aspiring writer should take from this success story is the simple principle that there is no one way to break into Hollywood. And yet, many beginning writers hope there is one exact path to writing success that they can follow. For example, many students enroll in MFA programs in screenwriting believing that fame, riches, and glory are right around the corner after receiving their degrees. Of course, for the majority of students success does not occur overnight, and the debt associated with a MFA degree can be daunting.

If you are looking to gain the knowledge and experience that an MFA degree provides without piling up $40,000 in student loans, you just may have stumbled on Hollywood’s best kept secret: The UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. The trick to getting the full value of the Writers’ Program is coming up with a game plan for your studies. Here are a few tips:

In the beginning of your studies, focus on core classes, like Introduction to Screenwriting I, Introduction to Screenwriting II, and Introduction to Screenwriting III, (for students with previous screenwriting experience, Intermediate Feature Film I and Intermediate Feature Film II are recommended). These classes expose you to fundamental screenwriting principles and prepare you to tackle more ambitious projects.

As you advance, more time should be devoted to specific areas, like story analysis, scene study, dialogue, character study, or genre study. For example, Write What You Know: Personal Storytelling for Screenwriters with instructor Vince McKewin is an excellent offering for students whose stories are more independent than mainstream.

Every good screenwriting program should prepare students for the realities of the business. We offer several courses in this area in winter 2008: Building a Career as a Hollywood Screenwriter: A Seminar in Unconventional Approaches and Practical Wisdom with award-winning screenwriter Antwone Fisher, Developing Your Idea into a Studio-Worthy Pitch or Treatment with instructors Cindy Davis Hewitt and Donald H. Hewitt, and After the Sale: The Writer’s Role in the Production Process with instructor Michael Barlow.

Remember, every writer’s path to success is unique. That’s why everyone has a different story to tell.

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