Screenwriting: From Ideation to Writing Your First Script

Earn a Certificate of Completion.

Are you an aspiring screenwriter ready to take the next step with your craft? Enroll in “Screenwriting: From Ideation to Writing Your First Script,” to learn from industry veteran and USC alum Gabe Sachs, a writer on many hit TV shows and movies, including Freaks & Geeks, Diary Of A Wimpy Kid, and many others. In this course, you’ll learn the fundamentals of storytelling as you get inspired to draft your own script for a short film.

April 15, 2024
April 29, 2024
May 6, 2024
May 20, 2024
June 3, 2024
June 17, 2024
July 1, 2024
July 15, 2024
July 29, 2024
August 5, 2024
August 19, 2024

Combined coursework of recorded lectures, readings, and assignments is approximately 20-25 -hours to be completed at the student’s own pace. Students are expected to complete the course in four-weeks but have 90-days of access if more time is needed.

Students must be at least 14 years old or older and enrolled in a high school or secondary program.

Recent high school graduates, students taking a gap year or time off from college and are older than 18 can request an exemption to apply by emailing and include a short paragraph (no more than 200 words) stating your interest and how this program will add value to your academic or career plans.

$1990 USD
$35 application fee


Coming up with an idea is something that writers struggle with all the time. But the truth is, ideas are all around you. Gabe Sachs has mastered the art of tapping into real life to bring authentic and captivating stories to the screen. As a writer on many TV shows and films, including Freaks & Geeks, Just Shoot Me, Diary Of A Wimpy Kid, and many others, will share his craft to help aspiring screenwriters bring their ideas to fruition.

Throughout this course, Gabe will offer insights and exercises from his own writing as well as his collaborators in the film industry. Students will practice generating ideas and developing those ideas into a story. Then, students will explore the fundamentals of storytelling, including: how to develop memorable characters, how to structure a story arc, how to write dialogue, how to tell a story visually, and how to bring all these parts together to create a fully realized screenplay.

In the process of earning a certificate, students will engage in creative writing exercises, hear from industry experts, and learn from clips and case studies of film and television. At the culmination of the course, students will have completed a script for a short film and will get tips on how to start pitching their work and get it out into the world.

Featured Topics

  • Story Ideas
  • Building Memorable Characters
  • Structuring Your Story
  • Telling Your Story Visually
  • Writing and Rewriting

Learning Outcomes
This course will guide students through the screenwriting process from the early stages of coming up with a winning idea to developing a script for a short film that is ready to be pitched. Students will learn tips, techniques, and tools of the trade used by veterans of the film industry in order to hone their own craft.

Following the completion of the course, students will be able to:

  • Generate story ideas and identify those with the most potential
  • Build memorable characters with emotional arcs
  • Create a roadmap for the beginning, middle, and end of a story
  • Write scenes with dialogue and non-dialogue
  • Tell a story through visual elements
  • Revise a story from synopsis to treatment to first draft
  • Pitch a story

Format and Course Length
The course consists of recorded lectures, clips and case studies from film and television, and industry connections. Each topic provides context for key elements of developing a script from start to finish. Students will engage with creative exercises to generate and revise work in order to complete the course with a screenplay for a short film.

Combined coursework of recorded lectures, readings, and assignments is approximately 20-25 -hours to be completed at the student’s own pace. Students are expected to complete the course in four-weeks but have 90-days of access if more time is needed.


Gabe Sachs
Gabe Sachs

Gabe Sachs is a writer and producer known for television projects that include Freaks & Geeks, Just Shoot Me, Undeclared, Life As We know it, 90210 and The Night Shift. He co-wrote the feature films Diary of A Wimpy Kid and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, which topped the U.S. box office its opening weekend. He was also an executive producer on the movie Magic Camp. Sachs is an avid and accomplished photographer, known for compelling portraits. He co-hosts the podcast I Dream of Cameras, which reviews the most talked about camera equipment and explores camera choice and collecting. He is also a judge for the James Beard Awards, which celebrates American food culture. Sachs is an alumnus of the USC School of Cinematic Arts. His creative partner is writer/director Jeff Judah with whom he co-owns Sachs/Judah Productions.


Admission decisions are made on a rolling basis. Applicants who submit a completed application can expect an admission decision within 3 – 5 business days.

  • Include basic contact information from you and your parent(s) or guardian.
  • Tell us why you want to take the course and a little about yourself through a short-answer essay.
  • Share a piece of writing, video or social media content that reveals something about yourself (optional).
  • Submit the $35 application fee.
  • Students must be at least 14 years old or older and enrolled in a high school or secondary program.


In addition to the requirements listed above, international applicants are expected to be proficient in English. International students who successfully complete an online course will receive a digital Certificate of Completion and by request a USC Pre-College Program transcript at no additional cost.


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Monday, April 15, 2024Wednesday, April 10, 2024
Monday, April 29, 2024Wednesday, April 24, 2024
Monday, May 6, 2024Wednesday, May 1, 2024
Monday, May 20, 2024Wednesday, May 15, 2024
Monday, June 3, 2024Wednesday, May 29, 2024
Monday, June 17, 2024Wednesday, June 12, 2024
Monday, July 1, 2024Wednesday, June 26, 2024
Monday, July 15, 2024Wednesday, July 10, 2024
Monday, July 29, 2024Wednesday, July 24, 2024
Monday, August 5, 2024Wednesday, July 31, 2024
Monday, August 19, 2024Wednesday, August 14, 2024


Application fees are nonrefundable. All course cancellations requests must be made in writing to Any tuition paid to the university will be refunded, not including fees, if requested no more than three (3) days past the course start date. Requests to drop the course more than three (3) days after the start date will not be eligible for a refund.

The university will not refund tuition for Pre-College Online Exploration courses for students who are removed from the program due to a violation of our Letter of Understanding for Online Participation and our Student Code of Conduct.


USC Pre-College Programs is proud to honor full scholarships for our Online Exploration Courses to students enrolled in the summer session of the USC Leslie and William Morrow Neighborhood Academic Initiative (USC NAI). Qualified and interested students who are enrolled in grades 9-12 can send an email for application and enrollment instructions to