Want to improve your television writing skills? In this Shonda Rhimes MasterClass review, we explain what you can learn and if it’s worth it.
Few people have the credentials of Shonda Rhimes when it comes to writing for television. She has created some of the best television shows, such as Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. In her MasterClass, she unpacks all her secrets and life lessons, making it a must if you’re in the filmmaking industry.
You’ll learn how Rhimes achieved this high level of success so you can use her advice to reach your career goals. Since I’m a fan of television writing, I decided to give her MasterClass a shot. It took almost 20 hours to complete, and below, I’ll share my thoughts with you.
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Who Is Shonda Rhimes and Why Should You Take Her MasterClass?
Shonda Rhimes is an American screenwriter, author, and producer born on January 13, 1970. You might know her as the creator, head writer, and executive producer of the hit television show Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. She went from being an unemployed scriptwriter in Hollywood in 1995 to one of the most famous filmmakers ever. This success makes her the perfect person to teach television writing.
Who Is This MasterClass For?
Rhimes’ MasterClass is over six hours long and tailored around writing for television, so it’s an invaluable resource for screenwriters, especially if you’re new to the industry. Rhimes starts by covering the fundamentals, like finding an idea and researching a story, and slowly progresses to more advanced topics, such as becoming a show-runner.
But Rhimes doesn’t just stick to writing advice. Her MasterClass is much more than that. Rhimes outlines how to get into the film industry, build connections, and climb the corporate ladder. This makes it a practical option for anyone working in film.
What Is Shonda Rhimes’ MasterClass Like?
The Shonda Rhimes MasterClass has 30 episodes of high-definition content spanning six hours. You’ll also find PDF worksheets for each case study alongside some of Rhimes’ original pitches for Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. These videos include:
- Introduction: 05:00
- Teach yourself writing: 11:16
- Finding an idea: 14:15
- Developing the concept: 12:21
- Researching your story: 16:15
- Creating memorable characters: Part 1: 18:07
- Creating memorable characters: Part 2: 16:43
- Pitching your show: 17:33
- Writing a script: Structure: 08:29
- Writing a script: Process: 09:16
- Writing a script: Effective habits: 11:52
- Writing a script: The plot: 12:21
- Writing authentic dialogue: 08:46
- Case study: Grey’s Anatomy Pilot – Part 1: 12:55
- Cast study: Grey’s Anatomy Pilot – Part 2: 14:29
- Case study: Scandal plot – Act one: 14:42
- Case study: Scandal plot – Act two: 10:03
- Case study: Scandal plot – Act three: 16:28
- Case study: Scandal plot – Act four: 16:44
- Case study: Scandal plot – Act five: 19:54
- Editing your script: 19:02
- Beyond the pilot: Writing a series: 13:27
- Scandal case study: “It’s handled:” 10:48
- Breaking into the industry: 13:06
- Working in a writer’s room: 11:35
- Working in TV production: 11:34
- Show-running: 16:43
- Life of a writer: 08:07
- Shonda’s journey: 12:38
- Conclusion: 01:27
Although this MasterClass is long, the chapters are broken down into bite-sized chunks, making the learning process manageable.
How Much Does Her Course Cost?
You might be wondering if this course is worth the money. If you want to learn from Rhimes, you’ll have to purchase an annual pass that costs $180. This gives you access to unlimited in-depth courses from several writers, including James Patterson, Werner Herzog, and David Baldacci.
What I Learned From The Shonda Rhimes MasterClass
It took me almost 20 hours to complete this MasterClass. During this time, I took notes, reviewed source material, and completed exercises that Rhimes prescribed. So here’s a summary of the most important lessons I learned.
1. Interview Industry Experts
Rhimes always starts by conducting basic research, like reading books and learning as much as possible about a specific topic. She’s a big fan of the library and says that if you read a handful of books on a particular subject, you’ll know almost everything needed to start writing.
This is where many writers stop. But what sets Rhimes apart is that she interviews hundreds of people before putting pen to paper. For example, when she wrote Grey’s Anatomy, she interviewed surgeons, nurses, physicians, and patients.
These interviews give her around seven seasons’ worth of storylines. It also allowed her and her team to create a medical show that was so detailed and accurate that it stood shoulders above the rest.
2. Build A Routine
You’ll find thousands of helpful writing tips online. But I noticed that this is causing problems for writers. They’ll try to implement all these small tips but lose sight of the big picture. This is why Rhimes says that the most important part of becoming a great television writer is building a routine; everything else is secondary.
I agree with this 100 percent. Once you’ve built a daily writing habit, everything else falls into place. You’ll gain writing practice, make a lot of mistakes, and learn from these mistakes, allowing you to grow.
3. Utilize Writing Programs
A few decades ago, the only way to land a job in Hollywood was to know somebody within the industry. Fortunately, it’s not like that anymore. Most networks are opening up filmmaking to everyone, so if you’re looking to get your foot in the door, Rhimes recommends applying for writing programs like:
- Women In Film
- CBS Writers Mentoring Program
- Sundance Institute
- Warner Brothers Writers’ Workshop
- ABC Writing Program
- NBC Universal Writers on the Verge Program
Four of the screenwriters that Rhimes is currently working with on Scandal came from these programs, and the best thing is that you don’t need a ton of experience.
4. Take the Job Over Film School
Although Rhimes did go to film school, she recommends that if you have to choose between a job and film school, choose the job. This is because college tuition is expensive and can take over 30 years to repay.
You’ll learn more as an intern on set, producing a movie, than you’ll ever learn in film school. Another benefit of getting a job is that you build lifelong connections because you’ll meet many people your age.
The friend you were an intern with might be the president of a network in 10 years time. As these people rise, they’ll take you with them and vice versa. With this powerful network of peers, you’ll find that you have bulletproof job security and can move up the industry faster.
5. Keep Your Pitch Short
If the executives you’re pitching to feel lost or bored, you’re doomed. So always keep your pitch short, preferably around five to 10 minutes. Rhimes suggests using this template to structure your pitch:
- Premise: Tell them what the pitch is about. For example, this is a show about a group of young surgeons.
- World: From here, expand upon what your fictional world is like and what challenges your characters must overcome.
- Characters: Next, introduce the characters, their special quirks, and how each character relates to another.
- Plot: Paint a picture about the plot and how you’re outlining the show. For instance, you could say that your show introduces each character from various backgrounds in the pilot. As the show progresses, we see what challenges these characters deal with daily.
- What makes it special: The last part communicates how funny, romantic, exciting, or dramatic your show will be.
It’s tempting to dive deeper and provide more detail. However, this is enough. Rhimes suggests having the executives ask you questions for most of the pitch instead of selling your idea to them.
6. Talk and Be Ready With Ideas
Once you’ve landed a job, you’ll find yourself in the writer’s room. This can seem intimidating as you’re working alongside some of the best writers in the world. Fortunately, Rhimes has two workarounds if you’re feeling anxious:
- Read the writer’s room notes the night before
- Have ideas ready and talk a lot
The biggest mistake Rhimes sees in the writer’s room is new employees not talking. This can cause people to forget that you’re in the room.
This lack of contribution often comes from not reviewing the writer’s notes. So you want to read the writer’s room notes the night before and jot down a few ideas, as you’ll always have something to contribute.
While watching the Shonda Rhimes MasterClass, I reviewed these criteria to see if it’s a helpful option for screenwriters and filmmakers.
Ease of learning: I first looked at how easy the lessons were to understand. It doesn’t matter how knowledgeable someone is; a seamless learning experience is necessary.
Knowledge: I also wrote down everything I learned in this Masterclass to see if the information provided was unique and helpful.
Real-world exercises: Good learning resources shouldn’t just show you what to do but also provide exercises that sharpen your skills.
Additional tips: The last factor I considered was any additional nuggets of information that Rhimes’ offered that can help you progress in your television writing career.
Why You Can Trust Me
I’ve been writing professionally for around five years now. Two years ago, I started using MasterClass to improve my writing skills, and I fell in love with the detailed classes. I’ve completed courses from various writers, including Judy Blume, James Patterson, David Baldacci, and Neil Gaiman. I used this knowledge to write this MasterClass review and help other writers learn if this course can benefit their professional life.
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The Bottom Line
Whether you’re a professional writer or write movies, books, articles, or ads, you can learn decades’ worth of information by watching this MasterClass. Rhimes makes everything easy to understand and packs all the lessons and tips she picked up in her career into a six-hour MasterClass.
Unlike other courses, she doesn’t just talk about writing better stories. Most of her MasterClass is about getting into the film industry, building connections, and teaching yourself television writing. Episodes 14 to 20 are all case study exercises, so you’ll get plenty of practice. Want to learn more? Read our Masterclass review.
You’ll learn how to break into the filmmaking industry
Rhimes talks about her creative process
You’ll find several real-life case studies based on Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal.
Her advice transfers well into other areas of writing
Rhimes shows you what it’s like to work in film
Her classes move fast, so you’ll have to pause and take notes
You can only watch this MasterClass if you have an all-access pass