Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Questions and Answers (Back to School) pt.2

I've been getting some great responses to my "Back to School" entry and due to the sudden spike in unique visitors I have been busy as hell maintaining the work load. Also because of this website, I have also been receiving requests for my screenplays. Which makes me even more excited about my future in this career. Look into Social Networking everyone, it works! Big things coming soon! Stay tuned.

So here's another Q&A regarding the admission process for certain graduate film schools located here in Los Angeles. If you are interested in becoming a filmmaker, I suggest you read this post and this one here.


Dear Mr. Darko,

Thank you so much for writing your inspirational blog post about film schools, and for describing the dark/light sides of Hollywood. As a rising sophomore who aspires to be a professional screenwriter in either film or television, it’s hard for me to understand just how tough breaching into the industry truly is. It also doesn’t help that I live in Fredericksburg, VA, about as far away from Hollywood as you can get. But after reading your post, I find it easier to put things into perspective, in terms of the amount of money I should be prepared to dish out (and borrow), and the sacrifices I’m going to have to make in order to make my dreams a reality.

With that said, though, I have a couple questions. The school I go to is University of Mary Washington, which is a small school (about 4,000 students) that is considered a relatively prestigious liberal arts institution. I’m majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing, and have been pleased with the education I’ve been receiving thus far. However, based on your knowledge and experience, I was wondering whether a degree in English/ Creative writing would be enough to get into a graduate program at one of the schools you listed.

The reason I ask this question is to find out if you know whether graduate schools expect you to major in film studies in the undergraduate level before you even consider applying to them? Would you recommend me transferring from my institution and applying to another one nearby that does offer film studies? Keep in mind that I want to be a screenwriter, which from what I’ve learned from many of the books I’ve been reading on the topic (Lew Hunter 434, Screenwriting Bible), seem to focus more on the craft of writing, and has very little to do with technical stuff, if at all.

The only school I’ve personally researched is UCLA’s Film, television, and theatre branch, and it’s probably the one I’d be most interested in getting accepted into, although it’s still too early to tell. My intuition tells me that I’m where I should be, but then I read figures like this: “(UCLA Film department’s) total enrollment, in 2003, consisted of 310 students out of 3,688 applicants (8.4%)” *sigh*

Missak Artinian


Hello Missak,

Don't let the statistics scare you. So far, it sounds like you are off to an amazing start. In my earlier years, I was not even half as productive as you are now. This is a compliment. My advice would be to switch over to a solid B.F.A. program. Speak to your counselor and let them know that you are interested in writing for the screen.

A Bachelors in Fine Arts degree will often require an area of specialty such as: acting, musical theatre, ceramics, computer animation, creative writing, dance, dramatic writing, drawing, fiber, film production, visual effects, animation, graphic design, illustration, industrial design, interior design, metalworking, music, new media, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, or television production.

Most of this is irrelevant to your desired goals, except for the creative writing and film production courses. So the transition might not be as difficult as you think. There are also undergrad courses at USC and UCLA that you might want to look into as well.

There is a terrific article on the requirements of the M.F.A. program at USC. The acting chair of the programs Howard A. Rodman comments...

Howard Rodman: I read many, many applications. [We just this week finished selecting this fall's incoming class.] Here's what we're looking for:
  1. Writing. Good writing. Not necessarily in screenplay format. We're less interested, at this point, in whether you know what we're here to teach you, than in whether you can put together a sentence. Tell a story. Create a dimensional character. In short: do you have your very own voice? [P.S. - We know the difference between "its" and "it's," and we actually care.]

  2. Grades, good enough to pass muster with the larger USC admissions apparatus, and good enough to give us the confidence you'll be able to execute a demanding program. Four point something GPAs and 1600 SATs (or GREs) are truly lovely, but are not in and of themselves guarantors of anything. We're looking for writers [see #1 above], but we do need to know you can handle the load.

  3. Diversity. Folks with life experience. Folks from strange and wonderful places. Folks who've had interesting 'first' careers before turning to writing. Not just your typical work/study/get ahead/kill types. The New York Times says that a cinema MFA may be the new MBA; but I'm not sure we'd view it that way.

  4. A good mix. Not all Hummers, not all Priuses.

This was discovered on http://johnaugust.com/archives/2005/how-to-get-into-film-school

John August as you may know, is a wonderful screenwriter who penned some fantastic films like "Big Fish", "Corpse Bride", "Go" and my favorite "The Nines" which he also directed. For aspiring screenwriters, his blog site is as informative as they come in regards to the craft and art of screenwriting. In addition he is an amazingly down to earth guy.

So Missak, inquire about your school's Fine Arts program, this will put you in the right direction when it comes to pursing a career as a screenwriter - OR - you can just write an amazing script and come out to Hollywood, roll the dice if you will. It worked for Matt Damon. He was attending Harvard at the time, wrote a story similar to Good Will Hunting, took the dive and well...the rest is history.

I am an engine of hope my friend, so I'm going to say to you, what I say to everybody who aspires to be something great. Never give up and ignore all of the negative factors. There is nothing more powerful then the human spirit. Keep up the good work and look me up when you to get to Hollywood. I'm always telling myself that I'm going to make it someday, it's just a matter of when and how.


John Darko

Here are some great books about the art of screenwriting. Anything by Syd Field (he is the Hollywood guru of screenwriting) Save The Cat and The Hollywood Standard (a must have companion to proper screenplay formatting, this is important). I read them all but these are golden nuggets in my library.

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Martin Miller-Yianni said...

Not really inot this genre but enjoyed it anyway. There you are, evidence it is good then! :)

Radio said...

i got really interested into this topic. me and my bro love to watch movies, but just lately we noticed that we have a knack of observing the screenplay of a movie.

i find this blog like a window to the world of film making. thanks John. really enjoyed this blog.

it's me radio from blogcatalog

John Darko said...

your welcome radio. feel free to contact me anytime : )

Missak said...

Hey John, thanks for posting my email and your response for everyone to see. I just wanted to recommend an excellent screenwriting tool/software for all beginning screenwriters who do not have the money to download the more expensive software (Final Draft 7). The software is called Celtx (Google it), and from my experience with it, it's a vital and user-friendly tool for any writer (for the screen, theatre, novel, etc.). The best thing about it is that it's open source and free. Enjoy!

--Missak Artinian

rbucks said...

Hey guys, another good resource for students on a budget is Scripped.com (http://www.scripped.com). We're run by grad students from USC and UCLA and just started to work with the chair of the UCLA Screenwriting Dept on some new features.

Lots of students use Scripped to write, store, and (soon) share their material with profs and friends. We also just partnered with Movie Magic Screenwriter - so big things are coming.

Just thought I'd share -

Co-founder, Scripped.com