It's nearly the end of March and for the second year in a row, I have not received any acceptances for the MFA screenwriting programs I applied to. Of the 4 programs, currently I have two denials, one interview, and one I have not heard anything from. So now what?
First, I admit to myself that I'm taking a second round of rejections a lot harder than the first. It hurts. I'd be a liar to say otherwise. It filled me with self doubt. Why not me? What am I missing? What did I mess up? Where did I go wrong?
And after a few days of tears and frustration, I snapped out of it. I've been working in film for 7 years and writing my entire life. Acceptance or denial to film school doesn't affect my ability to create. So I completely throw myself into prepping a short film I've been talking about shooting since the fall.
When I attended the University of Michigan for my undergrad in screen studies, I directed all my own projects. It was a requirement of the program and by my professors. But since my big senior project in the spring of 2011, I haven't directed anything. My entire academic and professional career I spurred any notion that I might want to direct. I focused on producing (even formulating my own independent study in producing) and screenwriting. I would say directing didn't appeal to me. I was lying to myself. Everyone in film has a fantasy of directing their own projects. I finally indulged mine and I loved it. I consider myself a first time director. It has changed everything.
It took roughly a month to prep the 2 day shoot for a 10 page script. I produced the entire project in prep by myself. I researched the camera I was loaned, how much data I would create, scouted locations, announced and held casting calls, arranged travel for actors, organized all my own paperwork, schedule, budgets... All while preparing my students at U of M for their 48 hour film projects. In fact, I was only able to shoot my own project because I had to re-work my schedule to be available for my students during their 48 hour weekend. My dates were chosen out of necessity and availability of crew - deadlines motivate me so I obsessively worked on producing my short right up to the last minute.
(If anyone is interested in a more detailed blog post about how I produced my own short, leave a comment and I'll follow-up with one!)
On Wednesday March 15th around 9pm, shooting wrapped on my project. I could not be happier. The challenges of producing my own project and pushing myself to direct the short reminded me why I applied for my MFA and why I don't need to get admitted for an MFA to achieve my goals. For me, an MFA in screenwriting is self-indulgent; I want to be able to dedicate 2 years of my life to focus on only on writing without the distractions of working as a PA or an AD. An MFA would also enable me to teach one day because education is my other passion. But my short reminded me that I do not have to get my MFA now. What I have to do, is write, create, repeat. That is what matters. And I can write and create without an MFA. It's harder to fit into my schedule, harder to afford, harder to focus, but if my years of balancing school and work has taught me anything it's that there if there is no other way, then I'll stick with my passion because eventually it pays off.
So what's next? I'll try to be patient while I wait to hear back from UCLA and Northwestern. Maybe it'll wind up being good news, maybe the cat won't be dead inside the box. I can't know until the box is opened and unfortunately the box is out of my hands. For now, I've got post-production and a crowd-funding campaign to start. I entered my pilot Somnia in more film festivals and competitions too. In between all of that I will starting to write a new pilot in April. If no acceptances come, I'll have some hard decisions to make. My job is fantastic and it would be hard to leave (especially the great insurance), but I'm far overdue to move to LA and if I do, I'll be attending the UCLA Professional Program for TV Writing.
The great thing about writing is I can always write and will always write. I can always shoot a short for a couple grand or less by putting it on my credit card. I can always create regardless of getting any recognition, funding, acceptances into grad school or film festivals. I don't write to win awards or impress anyone, I do it because it's part of who I am and how I express myself. I don't write to make money, although some money would be nice. As long as I get the chance for one singular person to feel a little less alone when they read or watch something I made, then I've done everything I've ever wanted to do. Basically you can consider the conclusion to this blog post the interview given by Jeff Bebe during Almost Famous. He's right. All the benefits of having a career in something you're passionate about are great. It makes life a lot easier, but at the end of the day, it's not why we do it... even when it is why we do it.
So you've been denied to grad school, now what?
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