Madiha Shafqat

Madiha Shafqat

MFA, Writing for Screen & Television '20

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What interests you the most about screenwriting? One of the most exciting things I find about screenwriting is that at its core, it is visual storytelling. One of the reasons I decided to pursue screenwriting is because I believe that images are powerful and have a huge impact on how we view the world. As a Muslim-American woman growing up in Connecticut, I never saw someone like me positively represented on the screen and this prompted me ask myself: What if I could write stories about people like me for the screen? Seeing yourself represented on screen is a powerful feeling and I want to create content that is entertaining, empowering and transformative for people that experience it. 

What originally led you to studying writing? As a kid, I was a major bookworm and I always remember wanting to be an author. I loved being transported into different worlds and there was nothing more fun to me than reading a book for hours on end.

But, as I grew older, I found that none of my peers wanted to pursue a career in the arts because it was not “practical” and so I suppressed my desire to write and went on to purse Political Science (which, to be honest, was not a “practical” path for a Pakistani-American either). While in undergrad at UConn, I took a creative writing class and realized that all I had to do to share my story with others was to have the courage to write it. And that is exactly what I did. Luckily, my op-ed got published in the Hartford Courant and I received an extremely positive response from my community. This was a major turning point in my life and I faced an important decision: I was either going to be brave enough to be myself and write or I was going to have to force myself to take the LSATs and go to law school to pursue a career that I was not passionate about. I chose to write and I am so grateful that my decision has led me to the screenwriting program at USC.

What advice do you have for prospective students looking to apply to SCA? The most important piece of advice I can give is one that was given to me, which is to be your most authentic self and write about what you are most passionate about. What is it that sparks a fire within you? Write about that. In your samples, write about something that excites you and is deeply meaningful to you. Write something that no one else can write but you. If you think that USC is looking for a certain “type” of student, they are not. USC is truly looking for people who have the courage to share their own authentic voices so be brave and take on the challenge!

How has this program prepared you so far in your career in entertainment? Before attending this program, I thought screenwriting was an unattainable career. By being in this program and studying the craft of screenwriting, from story structure to learning how to create compelling characters, I have gained so much confidence in my writing skills. Being a student in the John Wells Division of Writing for Screen and Television has provided me with an encouraging space to stretch my creative muscles and create projects that push my imagination to new heights.  I am so fortunate to be a Trojan and have this invaluable knowledge and training under my belt as well as access to an amazing alumni network of accomplished professionals working in the industry.

What have been your biggest challenges at USC? My biggest challenges at USC have been learning how to let my guard down and open myself up to the process of discovering stories that are within me. So much of writing is introspection and self-discovery and understanding why I believe what I believe. Being in this program has helped me find those stories and write about them. Another challenge I have learned to overcome is to let go of perfection and choose progress over perfection. When writing first drafts, it’s easy to get bogged down because you think your dialogue or action lines aren’t good enough. But, when taking on a feat as great as writing a feature or a pilot, perfection will always hinder you. By taking classes with professors that have spent years in the industry, I have learned to let go of my desire to be perfect. This advice has helped me finish drafts that I otherwise wouldn’t have pushed myself to finish and has helped me realize that you’ll always have an opportunity to rewrite your first drafts as long as you've completed them.

Are there any projects you’re working on right now? Where can people find out more about your work? I’m currently working on finishing up my sci-fi pilot and dramedy feature. I am also rewriting a rom-com feature that I wrote last semester. If anyone would like to know more about my work, please feel free to reach out. I’d love to hear from you!