Note: This article was originally published on Medium - How I Got into Chapman University’s Dodge College as an International Student
I still clearly remember the morning I received my acceptance letter from Chapman. With my eyes half-closed, I checked my email, and as soon as I read the word, “Congratulations!”, I rushed to my mom and screamed, “I GOT IN!”
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Chapman University’s Dodge College has risen to the 4th in the list of top film schools in America, which I’m really proud of. As an international student who uses English as a second language, the process of applying to film schools was tough. I know there would be some of you around the world who are willing to go to film school or break into the LA film industry. Here’s my tips on how I got into Dodge College.
There are three main documents you have to submit: Statement of Intent, Script Prompt, an excerpt of your feature script, and Transformational Moment Essay. Let‘s start from the Statement of Intent.
1. Be YourselfIn order to stand out among hundreds of applicants, it is important to “be yourself”. What do you have that makes you special apart from other applicants? What special experience do you have that others don’t? Why is film so important to you that you are willing to throw yourself into student loans?
Let me give you my example. As a prospective screenwriter from Korea, I had experience working in Korea and in the U.S., which allowed me to experience different cultural aspects in terms of workspace and films. Also, I preferred writing in English more than in Korean, which is unique because most people prefer writing in their first language. So I decided to emphasize these parts of me, and show what I had that others don’t.
In order to stand out, you must have a strong hook that grasps the reader. And how do you write a strong hook? Be yourself! What is the strongest sentence that describes you the best? What is the log line of your life? In less than 10 words summarize what kind of person you are. The essence of film is how you can captivate others in the shortest time possible, and this is a task to see if you can jump that hurdle or not. For your reference, my hook was “Bold or reckless” (because I’m a Korean bold or reckless enough to write scripts in English and attempt to sell them).
2. Be as Terse as PossibleOne common mistake that most prospective students (including myself) make is that they tend to be unnecessarily detailed or repetitive. The readers get your point! Move on! The readers are not as patient as you think. Be as terse as possible, just like you do when writing a screenplay. Don’t overstate your opinion or what you believe in. Believe it or not, the readers don’t really care about what you think; they care about the facts.
When I wrote my first draft of Statement of Intent, I wrote up to 10 pages. I just had too many things to talk about! But I had to face it. You have to summarize 20+years of your life into 3 pages. I know it is tough.
My suggestion is, read your draft as many times as possible and cross out all the unnecessary adjectives, opinions, sentences that don’t really help building your story. It helps to ask someone else to read it and cross it out for you. I know it’s hard when you have to cross out your baby, and it might seem impossible to shorten from 10 pages to 3, but turns out, it’s possible.
3. Make Sure You’re Telling a Proper StoryThis applies to your script samples and script prompts. Every year, Chapman gives out new script prompts for application. The prompt I was given was “Two people, who are close, experience a sudden calamity in their relationship” which was an interesting challenge for me.
You’d be wondering, “what is a proper story?” There are 5 elements you have to consider to write a good short script as follows.
- Story Arc: Even if it’s a short, make sure it has a beginning, middle, and an end, and also a midpoint. Make sure the stakes are high enough to help create the arc of the story.
- Characters: What does each of your characters want? What are their needs? What flaws do they have? What emotional change do they go through throughout the story?
- Visuals: Pay attention to the props or the environment around the characters. Why do they have to be in that certain location? Why do they have to look like that (obese, blonde, nationality, etc)? Make sure all the visuals that you describe correspond to the theme of your story.
- Theme/message: What is it that you want to deliver through this story? Why is it so important to you to tell this story to the audience?
- Ending: Many prospective writers tend to leave their shorts open-ended, but PLEASE DON’T. Making it open-ended is just a cop-out for those who are afraid to write a good ending. Every story has its ending, and a good script, whether it is long or short, has to have an ending. To come up with a good ending, think about what the characters learn or how they change throughout the story.
4. Your Lifetime GoalThis applies to the Transformational Moment Essay. So leave “film” out for now and think, “what values do you live up to?” This can be general, for example, one could want to be a person who treats others kindly, or one could want to prioritize oneself over others to raise confidence. Or someone would want to live their life as yolo (You Only Live Once). There are so many different ways to live your life. Mine is “to be grateful at all times.” Come up with one if you haven’t.
The next step is to think how you earned that idea/value. There’s got to be an inciting incident where that idea/value struck you. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a life-and-death moment, but a significant incident has to have rung your bell. Start with your inciting incident, stakes, midpoint, and at the end conclude it with the values you’ve earned and how you want to apply it to your filmmaking. Don’t forget to be terse. And there you have it. Your transformational moment essay.
5. ConclusionThere is no cookie-cutter way or an ideal answer to how to go to film school, but it is always good to refer to someone who has already been in your shoes and jumped the hurdle.
Again, don’t forget to be terse, be personal and structure-based. Show them the spark that you have that others don’t. I thought I never had one, but believe me, everyone has something. So do you.