Alexa Pellegrini for FilmSchool.org spoke with Priscilla Campos of Dodge College’s Admissions Department and Garrett Addison of Chapman's Admissions Department.
Priscilla Campos is the Associate Director of Admission at Dodge College. Priscilla oversees the undergraduate and graduate admissions review process, campus tours, faculty reviews, and outside interactions with the public including prospective students. Garrett Addison is the Assistant Director of Admission for Chapman University. Addison and his team are split into different divisions across the U.S. and worldwide. His office works closely with Campos to admit Dodge College students.
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Why should an aspiring filmmaker attend Dodge College?
In my personal opinion, and from interactions with current students, prospective students, and faculty, we're a very collaborative, close-knit community.
We have students who didn't even know that they wanted to get into film -- maybe they just love creative writing. We have students with zero filmmaking experience to the very standard, 'I picked up a camera when I was three years old, I shoot with my friends, and I submit to film festivals" kind of background. It's a nice mixture.
I also think it's great that we have a lot of interaction between our grads and our undergrads. That's not very common in college. Grads and undergrads are on each other’s sets -- they always want to make all of our films the best that they can. Dodge College is a nice place to be if you're an aspiring filmmaker trying to improve your skills while helping other filmmakers build up theirs.
Also, I find that for a lot of students who haven't found their group in high school or a sense of community, they come here and they’re like, 'Yes, these are my people! This is what I was looking for.' I love that.
The other piece to it is that when students come to study any area of film and media, they're also part of our main Chapman campus. Getting to collaborate with folks outside of the film school and learning from their perspectives are so valuable.
What are the top 3 misconceptions people have about Dodge College?
Garrett and I asked ourselves, ‘How does what we consider the biggest misconceptions to be about Dodge College compare to what our students think?’ So, we asked them what they thought about our film school before they applied and what they think now.
The most common misconception that came up is that film school is very cutthroat. You might be thinking, 'If I've never shot anything professionally or been on a professional set, there's no way I'm going to fit in -- I'm going to be so behind my peers.' That’s very untrue here.
As I said, we have students who have never picked up a camera and are interested in telling stories. Everyone starts on a level playing field in that first year. You don't have to be ready to go and have all this film knowledge.
The second one we heard is that our faculty and administrators don't have as many Hollywood connections because we're not located in Los Angeles. The misconception is that studying in Orange County, you're not going to have a bridge to working in LA. We always have visitors from Hollywood on campus, and we have students interning in LA. The city is just one train stop away.
Can you briefly outline each step of the application process?
The first part of the process is filling out the common application. It's the application required for all first-year students and transfer students. It’s used by at least 800 different schools nowadays. It’s common, hence the name.
There's a section at the end specific to the school you're applying to where you list your first-choice major, why you're interested in the school, what kind of impact you want to have on our community -- those types of elements. That's the first piece. After you submit the common application, then you gain access to what we call the creative supplement, which is where Priscilla comes in.
The creative supplement is your application to our film school. Both are required to apply and both are reviewed by the university. Admission to Chapman is a joint decision, so the general pieces of the common application and the pieces specific to Dodge College are equally important.
Tell us about the various programs offered by Dodge College and around how many students are in each cohort?
The first one is our Animation and Visual Effects program. You can pick either the animation track or the visual effects track, and it has anywhere between 25-30 students per cohort. All of our programs are relatively small, but it's one of our smaller ones.
Then there’s Broadcast Journalism and Documentary. Similarly, when you apply to the program, you can emphasize which track you want to study more and your curriculum will be based around that area. This program has between 30-35 students.
Next up is Creative Producing. Dodge College is one of the only film schools that offer this program at the undergraduate level, and it's one of our hidden gems. I think our Creative Producing students are by far the best leaders on campus. It has around 40-45 students per cohort. We know we need producers all the time, especially for our smaller projects, so we admit a larger number of these students.
We also have Film Studies. This is our smallest program, and it's more the study of film and film theory. It has between 15-20 students. For students interested in research and being film critics or film historians, it's excellent.
Our most popular program is, of course, Film Production. It's one of our stronger programs, if not the strongest, and has between 65-75 students. The reason it's so competitive is because of the limited number of spots that we have for both incoming and transfer students. And if you see our facilities, they're large lecture halls -- they’re very hands-on and specialized, and they draw tons of applicants.
Next, we have our Public Relations and Advertising program. You can pick an emphasis on either the PR side or the advertising side. Each cohort has 25-30 students. Chapman is the only [U.S.] university that offers this program in our film school, because everything you learn will help you become a compelling storyteller for businesses looking to connect with their audiences.
Then there's Screenwriting, our second-largest program. It has anywhere between 55-60 students. It's solely a writing program where you learn to write for features, short form, or anything else you're interested in. You can also take writing classes in both TV and film.
Last but not least, we have our TV Writing and Production program, which has 30-35 students. We're probably one of the only [U.S.] film schools that doesn’t have this program under Film Production. It's a great fit if you're solely interested in short-form storytelling. For example, we have a series class where you'll pitch a project, we'll shoot the pilot, and then we'll go into post-production.
Why do you think the Creative Producing program is particularly strong?
Creative Producing is one of those programs that I don't think a lot of students know to look for. I think the typical 16- or 17-year old doesn’t know that they want to be a producer. Most students think, 'I just want to make films and be on set.’ Many of our prospective applicants say that they don’t know as much about the role of a producer. We also have our Producing graduate program. At that point, more students are confident that producing is the right choice for them.
During the counseling process, we help clarify programs of interest by asking, 'What do you like about filmmaking?' A lot of students list Film Production as their first choice. But when we have these conversations with them about what they enjoy doing and we hear things like, 'I'm in theater and I love putting on our shows' or 'I love being in ASB and organizing our events,' we suggest producing.
I think it’s a fantastic program because these students put all of the pieces of filmmaking together here. They try to get everybody in the Dodge College community on the same team and approach making films like, 'How can we make them even better?'
I'll echo that Creative Producing is one of the few programs that we have to remind students about. We'll point out that everything they like about filmmaking falls under producing, and they’re like, 'Oh, yeah, that's exactly what I want to do, but I didn't realize that that's what it’s called!’
Did you receive more applications during the pandemic?
Overall, Chapman saw a large uptick in applications. We received a little over 15,000 total applications on the first-year side. The year prior, it was about 14,000.
I think a big part of it was that in the pandemic, students had to do a lot of their research, and more students just figured, 'You know, I can't visit any of these schools since everything's closed, but I'm going to at least put in an application because I'm interested.' We also went test-optional right before last year's admission cycle, so I think that triggered a bit of an uptick in applications as well.
What do you feel is the most important part of a student's application?
I think that the biggest thing for students to remember is that our admissions process is holistic. That feels like a word that kind of gets thrown around nowadays, but we really look at every piece of these applications. For the common application piece, we consider if you're going to be a good fit for our institution, and with the creative supplement piece, we look at if you're going to be a good fit for the school you're applying to. Honestly, I don't know if there's one piece that can make or break an application.
But I will say on the common application side that I read a lot into the personal statement. It can be very central to your application and how you represent yourself. It's a really big part of your journey and it gives me more context into who you are.
It's exactly like Garrett said. Take your time completing both pieces of the application, and make sure you know who you’re writing to. Like, if you say that you want to come to Chapman because we have a huge campus, that doesn’t make sense. Doing your research makes a difference!
This one isn't a make or break, but it's a drawback if a student sends in application materials labeled for another film school. Keep an Excel sheet and track where you're submitting. Paying attention to these little details shows Admissions that you care.
I mean, don't get me wrong -- we know that you're applying to a lot of different schools, right? You're probably not just applying to Chapman. But it makes a difference when you check everything twice, make sure everything is checked off, and address your application materials correctly.
How important is the interview portion? Is it required for acceptance?
The only interviews we conduct are called fellow interviews with our current students, usually juniors or seniors. They have a wide array of experiences across campus in different disciplines, clubs, organizations, and leadership positions.
It's an optional piece, but we strongly recommend it if you want to share something central to who you are, but there's no space on your application where it fits. It's also a nice way to connect with current students and talk about their experiences so you get a better idea of our community.
Can rejected students reapply the following term?
Students can reapply after they've been rejected. The only program that you can't apply for the spring term is Film Production. It only has a fall start.
We never review past applications. But I do tell students who reapply to please, please try to submit new materials. I mean, if you had an incredible personal statement, how much could have changed in the last year? At the same time, we want you to demonstrate what you've been working on in the past few months or years. Talk about new skills you've learned and any classes or workshops you've taken. Show us how you built up your storytelling abilities.
How much weight does the portfolio have?
We get films all the time that are spot-on or even better than our current student films. The cinematography is amazing, the editing is excellent, the coloring is perfect…but there's no substance. My preference is for prospective students to take risks and not worry about perfection. First and foremost, show us something that you're passionate about.
Think of it as showing us how Dodge can help you tell the stories that you want to tell. Don't show us something that you can shoot by Googling 'top film school application videos.' We've seen so many of those already! We’re more likely to remember the quirky ones, the funny ones, the dramatic ones where we get to know the filmmaker.
So, if you have excellent editing skills or any other skill that you want to show off, please do! We would absolutely love to see that. But if you're deciding between submitting something that's really well put together but not fitting our prompt, shoot something new. It may not be as beautiful or technically precise, but it matters more that you spend time crafting a strong story that reflects who you are.
What is the ideal background for a Dodge College student? Do you give precedence to students with professional experience or internships?
We've admitted students with zero filmmaking experience. I love when students submit a creative resume and it’s a short story, a poem, a narrative about how they were the captain of their football team, or that they were in ASB. You might talk about how you took some literature classes or did some volunteering as well.
All of those things combined are more important than listing multiple films you shot over the last year or awards you won at a film festival. Those things are great and make sure to list them. But these things should only be one entry on your resume. We want to see what else you're doing and how you're being collaborative.
Again, when you're at Dodge, you'll work with many students and faculty. Leadership roles and participating in your community are important. They really speak to who you are and what you can give back to the community here.
Do you have any other tips for polishing the resume portion?
I know from speaking to students that the resume can be a big hurdle. If an applicant is like, ‘I’ve never made a film – I just love writing, so how am I going to apply?’ I recommend listing everything you've done to build up your character and leadership abilities.
Tell us why your classes and activities have prepared you for film school. Creative writing, songwriting, painting, photography, even an AP English class where you wrote a short story that you love are good things to mention.
This is a good example of why we require our students to take a minor or a double major outside of film school. Because again, we want you to bring all those elements and experiences back to storytelling.
What common mistakes do people make on their applications?
One of the biggest mistakes that students make, especially on the common application portion, is trying to formulate the perfect response, whether it's in their personal statements or the Dodge-specific questions. Don't tell us what you think we want to hear!
I know that applying to school is a pretty pressurized area. I recognize that our prospective students are under a lot of stress and are eager to get into the school of their choice. I understand that they just want to make their application sound amazing! But I've been doing this for eight years, so I'm well-trained in picking up what sounds like an actual student and what sounds like something they thought would be impressive. Nine times out of 10, I'm going to recommend the student with more authenticity first.
The other mistake I see is that Chapman is fully integrated with all of our schools. A lot of first-year and transfer applicants put 90% of their efforts into the creative supplement and maybe 10% of their efforts into their common application. Remember, you're getting reviewed by both committees on both the Chapman side and Dodge. It's not great if I read your application and think, 'Wow, I didn't learn a thing about this student and what they like about Chapman.’
How important are the letters of recommendation, and does it matter who they come from?
For both our grads and undergrads, we only require one letter of recommendation at the minimum. The letter can come from either your high school counselor or an instructor who knows you well. We also encourage our applicants […] to get an additional letter from someone that can speak to their artistic and creative abilities a bit more. I think that that is especially helpful for the Dodge review portion. I suggest asking an art teacher, your ASB advisor, or maybe a leader from a creative organization where you volunteered.
What makes an impressive personal statement?
It doesn't have to be about a grandiose topic, like how your life has changed. But you can talk about a big moment in your life as long as it's meaningful to you. I think it's really important to be authentic to who you are, no matter what you focus on. Really show us either who you were and how you've changed, or who you are and who you want to become. We're looking for a personal statement written authentically in your voice.
Every year, I get the same question: 'Are there any topics that are overdone that I shouldn't write about?' The answer is no. Sure, we read about a lot of students who are on some type of athletic team and got an injury or made varsity, or students who traveled abroad and learned a lot about themselves. Those are common application essays. But every student writes about broad topics differently and from their unique perspective.
Is there one particular application that stands out in your memory? And if so, what made it so memorable?
There's one essay that we always remember, by a student applying for our Screenwriting program. The story was very out there – it was something along the lines of the dad being corn on the cob, and the mom being a hot dog. I'm not joking!
The entire Admissions committee and I still talk about that essay. It was so unique that combined with the personal statement, I knew exactly who the student was as a storyteller. If somebody else had read the essay or given him advice, I’m sure they would have been like, 'Um, you should rethink submitting this.’ But this student stayed true to himself and it was so perfect. It was awkward and genuine and authentic and spoke to how he loves telling quirky stories.
The video that we all remember -- I'm pretty sure it's everywhere on YouTube -- is about a pizza delivery boy. For anyone who doesn't know our prompt, we ask you to tell us a story about a character making a decision using no dialogue in under two minutes. It's open enough for you to tell us who you are as a filmmaker, but we're also giving you parameters where you can't blow us away with all your skills.
The pizza delivery boy drops off a pizza and ends up finding himself in a murder scene. He picks up the knife and he's like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm gonna get caught!' And so he takes off. It was so fun and out there -- it ends by being a set-up for free pizza! Garrett and I always look back on these two applications because their creators stayed true to who they are, and we like that they took on the challenge of showing us something different.
But I suggest that you don't try to copy our top films. We’ve seen a few people recreate the pizza delivery one, and our committee picks up on that.
Many aspiring Dodge College students hope to define or find their voice as a filmmaker by attending. How much of their application should be devoted to discussing their style and how they think it may evolve?
If you know what kind of storyteller you are or at least think you know, tell us! I think that's a really strong attribute to have, even as a person. But many students don't know that about themselves yet, and that's okay, too. I would spin this as, 'What do you think you like about filmmaking and what stories do you think you enjoy telling? How can Dodge help you tell them?'
I think that's a better angle that keeps you from worrying about what kind of storyteller you are, or if you haven't actually filmed the stories you want to tell. Don't put too much pressure on yourself.
How do Dodge College and Chapman ensure that there is sufficient diversity and inclusion among staff, students, and administrators?
I'll start things off by saying diversity is a huge priority at Dodge. There are a lot of different things we take into consideration during the admissions process: your background, life experiences, the stories that you'd like to tell, how you grew up, what school you attended, and all of those things that informed your identity as important to us.
As far as our curriculum goes, we have courses in Black cinema, Korean cinema, gender and sexuality in film, Italian cinema, Latinx cinema, Australian cinema, Asian cinema, horror films, and musicals. We have it all!
I think offering so many types of courses is hugely important in adding diversity. Because again, filmmaking is so unique. Each student will have interests influenced by their background and identity. We also take into consideration the diverse experiences and perspectives you can add to our community while you're here.
The Film Studies program is great for observing how film has helped tell stories of the past since the entire curriculum takes a look back at film history. It helps our students learn from them and understand why things were shot and written the way they were before.
Finally, we also make sure our faculty and guest lecturers are diverse. We want our students to see themselves in not just their mentors and classes, but Dodge and the entire Chapman community.
The piece that I want to highlight is that we value the diversity of experiences. No two students, even if they have the same background, are going to have the same perspective. Like Priscilla said, you're learning from the faculty, who are fantastic, but you're also learning from each other.
I'm from the Orange County area -- I was born and raised in this bubble, you know? In my first year at Chapman, I took a class where we got to just talk about our different experiences. I met a student that was coming from Delaware, and at the time I had never even connected with a person from the East coast. Everybody here has something to bring to the table.
Would you consider your Summer Film Academy a good foothold for getting into dodge at the collegiate level?
My team also oversees the Summer Film Academy, and it’s one of my favorite projects. We have so many students who come in and think, 'Oh, I love film, and I know that this is what I want to do!' We also have students that have no clue if filmmaking is the career for them, and whose parents just encouraged them to attend.
But I love that students leave that program two ways: obsessed with Chapman and Dodge, with maybe 90% of them saying we jumped to the top of their list [for college], or that 10% who leave saying, 'Film school isn't for me.'
These summer film programs are excellent for students who are trying to figure out the next steps. For example, we’ve seen students come in thinking that they want to major in Film Production, and they've actually left the Film Academy deciding to apply to Public Relations and Advertising.
As far as using the Film Academy as a way to get into Dodge? Yes! Students should include our summer program (and others) in their film school applications. But the materials they create during the summer program aren't the same as our application, so you can’t use those.
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