How to get Into USC Film School: An Interview With an SCA Admissions Committee Member

Why the USC School of Cinematic Arts?

In the end, what made you decide to attend USC over other film schools? Were there other film schools that you were considering?

Actually there were others. There were a couple of others that I was interested in. But it was always USC in the back of my mind. The thing about USC that made me go there was that, at least to my knowledge at the time, it was the most all-inclusive master's program. I'm a person who's very curious about everything. I don't want to just learn about one thing in life. I want to learn about everything that you see. In [USC’s] MFA program, I knew that there was an additional year than most other ones and that they made you learn sound, cinematography, editing, directing, writing– everything. And I didn't have any prior experience in film at all. I didn't know how to do any of that. And I wanted to learn it all.

I didn't want to just go there and leave knowing one or two things. So to me it made sense. I went there because I realized that at my job that I was working right before that, that even if I had somebody offer me my dream job directing, I probably wouldn't do a good job at it. I didn't know enough. I would screw it up. And so I wanted to expand my tools, expand my knowledge, so that if that day would ever come, I'd be able to kill it (so to speak).

In your opinion, why is USC worth attending?

Here's my honest answer on that. For some people, it really is worth attending. For others, it's not. We do our best in admissions to try to find people who it will bring value to.

I think all film schools in general are only worth attending for one reason: if you're really trying to improve on yourself and really trying to grow and absorb knowledge. If you're trying to go there and get connections, or because you want something on your resume, or to leave with a job or whatever– there are easier, more effective, cheaper ways to do all of that. But if you want a place just to saturate in film and knowledge and the creativity around you, then film school can be an incredible choice for you.

The reason I think USC is worth attending really is because of the students. I think, undeniably, we get an incredible group of students that come in every year and we take a lot of passion in choosing them. And that's where you're going to learn most of the knowledge. In fact, my greatest teachers (and I had a lot of incredible professors that I'm still very close with today) were the peers that made the films with me. And even after school, we're still moving up in the world together, teaching each other, helping each other, and improving our projects. And that's, I think, where the value really lies for us.

I mean, I don't know why it is. Maybe it’s because we're ranked number one or whatever, which in my opinion doesn't mean much. But we happen to attract a really great group of people and we usually get our pick, which is so lucky of us.

How do you think that USC compares with other film schools?

Of course it's hard to say because I haven't spent much time at others-- I've taught a little bit here and there at other places. Again, not to beat a horse– a dead horse, I guess is the saying– but it comes down to the students. It’s just that when you see them compared to a lot of the other places, and not that there aren’t great students elsewhere, but a lot of our students are just operating on another level. And it's so consistent. It's such a high caliber of talent and motivation and drive.

The other thing is this (and this is a big one and it's something that I think students have to understand): every film school has her own identity when it comes to how they want to prioritize their student's education. I know, for example (and I shouldn't comment too much on this), other schools prioritize the voice of it all, there are certain schools that prioritize the social message of it all, there are certain schools that prioritize the art, so to speak, of it all . . .

. . . While I think you can find all of those opportunities at USC, I think the thing that we prioritize the most is the process of filmmaking itself. Not only in terms of developing projects, but also executing them in a highly professional and safe manner. We won't let our students do it any other way. Sometimes the students hate that because they don't get to do everything that they want to do, or they feel like they're cuffed to certain ideas or whatever. But we really, really put an emphasis on doing things at a professional level. And we don't let them slack off in any way.

Could you give us a little more insight into the different programs offered at SCA?

Sure. I think they're all equally well known . . . There's the Peter Stark producing program. That one, I would say, is a mix between filmmaking as an art combined with, I believe, an MBA. So it's combined with business classes and it tends to be for people who want to go into the producing side of things. Hence the name Peter Stark Producing program. That's a two year program.

There's the production program. It’s both MFA and BFA. In the production program, you learn everything. And as a grad student, outside of doing a PhD, it's the longest program. It's three years typically, but people who choose to do a thesis project often end up taking longer than three years.

There’s a screenwriting program which is just screenwriting. You don’t go and make an actual film, but you spend it making your scripts. There’s an animation program, a gaming program, media studies . . .

So the programs that you just listed seem to primarily be MFA programs… for the undergraduate students: are the programs different?

No, all of them except for the Stark [Producing] Program are both. They have a master’s version and an undergrad version. In fact, it’s a pretty similar education and curriculum for both.

How do the Masters and Bachelors program compare in regards to rigor, workload, etc.?

I'd say they're both about the same intensity. In fact, sometimes the undergraduate program is a little more intense because they have all of their other [GE] classes as well. They go through pretty much the same stuff overall. Honestly, if you take one, there's not much of a reason to take the other, you know? I would say maybe the grads are privy to a few extra things than the undergraduates. Besides that, they have very similar values and sometimes you'll even have mixed classes between the two.
About author
Svaja Paka
Svaja is a content creator with an affinity for written content and video, and has been creating films and writing stories ever since she was in elementary school. Her passion for the two subjects led her to specialize in creative writing during college, where she quickly became infatuated by Creative Nonfiction. Shortly after graduation, she began to excel as a content writer and video editor in various professional settings. Although Svaja has been passionate about filmmaking since she was a child, she has recently begun to pursue it seriously and hopes to attend an MFA program in 2021.

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LOVE. so informative and enlightening
Such an excellent deep-dive interview on the process! I'm so glad I have this clarity now.
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