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Critique My Application Material (And Share Yours Too, If Willing)

Discussion in 'Graduate Film School Discussions' started by Septopus7, Mar 7, 2018.

  1. Septopus7

    Septopus7 Writer

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    Hello everyone,

    Decided to make this a separate thread, rather than clog up the one I usually post in. As those who follow that forum might know, however, I am a two-time applier to USC's MFA in Screenwriting program -- last year I didn't get in and, though the jury is still somewhat out this year, my odds do not look all that strong for a few reasons. In any case, I completely plan to apply once more to USC next year, in addition to finally expanding my options to some of the other big schools (AFI, UCLA, LMU, etc.)

    But two applications in, I have to believe that my work could use some polishing. I certainly know that my material is not perfect and, though I doubt I could ever make it that, I want to go into the next season of applying in as strong a position as possible. And, to do that, I always believe in the power of outside help. And with this being a forum of great writers and filmmakers, I figured what's a better place to ask for help?

    So I'm sharing my writing samples for last year's cycle of application. If you fine people would take the time to read it and provide ANY feedback you can, I would be eternally grateful. While I don't plan on reusing any of these (I tend to go in fresh every year), knowing exactly where my instincts could use some improvement would be extremely valuable. And if the rest of you are willing to share any of your material (even work in progress stuff), I think we could all have a valuable exchange of feedback going on here.

    I know some of you might be gun-shy about sharing your work, and I completely get that: it's nerve-wracking, for a variety of reasons. And, at the end of the day, you got to do what's comfortable for you. But, as a writer (ESPECIALLY for film) I believe sharing your material with the world and seeing how it reacts (both positive and negative) is an essential part of the process. And, from experience taking a grad-school level screenwriting course...most of what goes into it is simply workshopping everyone's material, so it doesn't hurt to get into practice with it here! Anywho, I've rattled on too long. Attached is my three USC writing samples from this year: the ten page sample, the first five page creative scenario (the elevator story), and the second five page creative scenario (the two-hander.) The only thing I changed about them is the title page, in which I took out my personal info.
     

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  2. Septopus7

    Septopus7 Writer

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    P.S. As I said previously, I know one of my big problems this year with my application was rushing it at the last second. I was literally under the wire when submitting, finishing the last page of my 10 pager two minutes before the deadline. For this reason, I didn't even get to edit my sample once, let alone to my liking. For this reason, it has a good deal of typos...although, I will say, after reviewing it for the first time since that night, it's a lot more coherent than I thought. However, rather than waste time stating the obvious, here are those typos:

    • Incorrect question mark on Pg. 3 of Me 2
    • Page 2 "of" should be "or" in Death Wants To Tap Dance
    • Missed a V.O on "Pg. 4" of DWTTD
    • Should be "every DAY" on Pg. 6, not just "every" DWTTD
    • "Was" should be "were" on Pg. 8" DWTTD
    • "Drank" should be "drink" on Pg. 9 DWTTD
    • Question mark on "work" on Pg. 9 DWTTD
    • Accidental ">" after "Back to Apartment" heading DWTTD
    Ultimately it would be nice to think ONLY these typos preventing my acceptance, but that's probably way too simple. Let me know what you guys think, though.
     
  3. Septopus7

    Septopus7 Writer

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    FINAL P.P.S: Posting these documents on a public site like this shares a fair share of potential issues, so I'm trusting you guys not to share the samples with anyone outside of these forums. And if anyone else joins in, I would expect the same treatment given to them. Thanks in advance!
     
  4. Chris W

    Chris W Get Busy Living Staff Member

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    If you want you can put the actual docs in the private member forum so that only site members can read them?

    https://www.filmschool.org/forums/private-member-only-forum.103/

    I'd leave a post here though too as a lot of users head to this individual forum without checking out the others. I've tried many different ways to alleviate that problem but it seems to persist.
     
  5. cjpsmith

    cjpsmith Member

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    Thanks for starting this thread!

    I'd like to share my material too, once I put it all together.

    Reactions to your pieces:

    ME 2- I think the concept is great. You captured the sense of self-confrontation well; I could feel that this was a conversation that had been waiting to happen for your characters. I was left wanting two things: 1. The specifics of what caused the downward spiral and 2. A sense that this conversation left the characters changed. It felt like this person was trying to deal with a significant trauma, but we don't quite see them get to the core of the issue.

    PUPPY DOG EYES - It's impossible to not immediately love Charlie the beagle, so great choice opening on him : ) He's also very effective in persuading Kristen, but you also do a great job of showing Kristen torn between these two things (her date and her dog) that are both important to her. The ending is also very sweet and fun and funny. If anything, I might have wanted just a tinge of something sad to bolster the mostly feel-good nature of the story. Perhaps raising the stakes of the date a bit more; maybe this was a date Kristen had wanted for a long, long time? Or she's still recovering from the pain of a past relationship? Again, that's a small idea, as the piece works very nicely as it is.

    DEATH
    - "This is a soul... It goes into the disc tray." :D:D
    - “SOUL CONFIRMED!” also great
    -Pacing on the homicide montage is great.
    - I love the idea of death being part of some faceless corporate machinery. But Newton's relationship with Emma made me wonder about the rules of the world. He apparently lies to her and says he's in insurance? So do only the people who work for Death Co. know about how death "really" works? Obviously dealing with these questions can be part of the exploration in the full version, but I think some of them should be addressed at the point Newton interacts in a regular, non-murdery fashion with someone who apparently doesn't know about (or maybe she does?) the fantasy aspects of this world.
    -I get the juxtaposition between Newton's grim (ahem) day job and his hobby, but I wanted more specific tension between the two. For instance, is the story that different if Newton had some other job/identity he can't share with Emma? Does reaping souls inform his tap dancing, or do they get in the way of each other? In other words, if this were a pilot or the opening of a movie, I wouldn't yet be sure what core question Newton faces. But I would keep watching, because I need to know more about how death works in this world!

    Great work on the whole, and thanks again for sharing!
     
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  6. cjpsmith

    cjpsmith Member

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    Here are my materials.

    I'm open to any and all criticism about how brilliant I am and how big of a mistake USC is making.
     
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  7. professionalcouchpotato

    professionalcouchpotato New Member

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    Can I just say that your autobiographical character sketch is amazing? Pure creativity. Seriously, I laughed the whole time reading it.
     
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  8. cjpsmith

    cjpsmith Member

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    Thanks! I decided to put my hours and hours of email marketing experience to good use :)
     
  9. Manwitch

    Manwitch Member

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    Hey, so unfortunately USC doesn't incorporate sheer bravery into their acceptance algorithm because starting this thread speaks volumes of yours. Kudos for eliciting feedback from cyberpeers.

    I only read Me 2. The great news is that you're clearly super imaginative and I think this was a really inventive way of interpreting an elevator scene, so conceptually you're where you should be. My critical instincts are that A) You have too much creative writing in your narrative descriptions. They skew overwritten, especially for a 5 page assignment and at times furthered the plot which should be reserved for your dialogue. B) The dialogue, while charming, was mostly stagnant. You spent most of so few pages iterating the same expressions between Me and Me 2 while their rapport didn't really develop or travel much. C) The errors. I know you said you were aware but there are a few of them, which is surprising because your posts on this site seem edited with such care. Clean copy says a lot about your eye and ethic and in a situation with so many variables, just do yourself the favor by submitting the best version you can that distracts the least from what you're actually trying to artistically convey.

    I've been waitlisted from two screenwriting grad programs before so I'm no expert, but that's just what I saw. Keep your chin up. :)
     
  10. cjpsmith

    cjpsmith Member

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    Speaking for myself, it's a lot of work to not get any feedback (or to only get "no thanks" as feedback). Also, theoretically I want to write stuff in order for other people to read it, so why not start here.
     
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  11. Eddy

    Eddy New Member

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    Hope this helps!

    From my experience as an intern for CBS Films, and assistant at FOX, I've had the privilege of reading tons of scripts, features and TV pilots. Here's what I would say after reading all your work:

    -Know when to jump in, and when to get out.
    -Too much talking heads.
    -Less is more.
    -You tell everything instead of showing it on screen through action. Let us connect the dots.
    -Show me reasons to like/dislike the characters. We like people we can root for!
    -Why should we invest our time as a viewer? Can we support or follow him/her?
    -I agree with Manwitch's notes.
     
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  12. ngs091

    ngs091 Member

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    I applied to 6 schools (USC, UCLA, AFI, NYU, Boston University, and University of Miami.) So far I have been accepted to Miami, and I am waiting to here back from the other five.

    Here's the elevator story (2 pages) and the dinner story (5 pages) for USC, as well as my personal statement and most challenging moment (both about 2 pages.)

    Not included here is a full-length, 78-page screenplay.

    Any feedback is much appreciated.
     

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    #12 ngs091, Mar 7, 2018
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2018
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  13. Septopus7

    Septopus7 Writer

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    Hey everyone. Thanks already for all the feedback, which has been all very constructive. I'm going to directly respond to everyone in a bit (and jump in with my thoughts on the things the rest of you shared), but I'm on my break at work, so probably not enough time. But just wanted to quickly acknowledge how supportive everyone has been.
     
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  14. Olivia Song

    Olivia Song Member

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    Hey there!

    I also wanted to echo Manwitch's and Eddy's notes. I read all of your scripts, and they all struggle with the same things:
    - Your characters do a lot of talking but not a lot of showing. I know exactly what's going on inside their heads, but only because you spell it out for me, which is not what people do when they typically talk. Try to approach your script with the mindset of "How do I display this emotion as accurately as possible with writing as little as possible in action lines and dialogue?" For example, in your puppy script, instead of Kristen saying,"I think you might be getting a tad bit clingy", you could have deleted this piece of dialogue and emphasized how she pushes the dog away. And obviously, you can show rejection in so many other ways. She could ignore the dog completely or even interact with another character where she complains about not having free time to herself yet she never explicitly mentions the dog - but we know she's definitely talking about the dog because we've seen what she's seen.
    -I think if you reevaluate your script solely on that note, you will realize that your characters are not as realistic as they could be. Once you really focus in on the intricacies of how your characters choose to express themselves, they become so much more real. In my opinion, people don't explicitly always say what they feel. They choose action over dialogue, and they do it briefly.
     
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  15. Eddy

    Eddy New Member

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    Notes for "What are We Having for Dinner."
    -beginning doesn't set the tone clearly enough for the reveal at the end. Maybe plant more clues/props for the payoff.

    USC Character Sketch
    -start with the obstacle paragraph to show how the specific genre you chose influenced you
    -try to show more of yourself (more vulnerability)
    -maybe chose one specific movie to analyze and bridge your ideas to it

    We Won't Burn to Embers
    -idk how to help there

    Heaven of Hell
    -would like to see more conflict
    -why is he there? Can he get out? Maybe use the flashback tool for a bit? Jump to future or past?
    -is there enough character development? Or change in him? Growth?
    -even in a short 5-page script, I would want to see a clear beginning, middle, and end.
    -what is the major idea I'm getting out of it? Main conflict? The main message?
    -why should we care, or how can we connect with him?
     
  16. cjpsmith

    cjpsmith Member

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    Hi Nick, thanks for sharing your stuff. Here are my reactions:

    PERSONAL STATEMENT - As someone who doesn't know much about horror, it was interesting to hear your perspective as someone who has studied the genre. I would have liked to hear some more detailed examples from the films you mentioned to see how they accomplish the goals you mentioned (critique society, explore psychological scars, etc.)

    I also wanted to hear more about you personally. You run through several personal details in the second-to-last paragraph, but I was left wanting more detail. I would have expanded that paragraph into the whole essay. Also, how do these significant life events connect to the horror movies you saw at those times in your life?

    HEAVEN OR HELL - A lot of the weight of this scene seems to rest on the impact of the reveal at the end (although I could be misunderstanding the intent; maybe it wasn't intended to be a reveal?). I think you'd need to do more to mislead the audience about Judas's identity if that's the case, as his apologizing to Jesus really narrows down who it could be.

    In terms of the interpersonal drama, I feel like you were true to how Jesus would probably react to the situation, but, in doing so, you took away some of the conflict, since Jesus immediately forgives Judas. You do show us a bit of Judas's interior conflict, but mainly because he tells Jesus his feelings directly. What if he didn't ask for forgiveness right away? What if he tried to weasel out of it and blame Jesus? I think there's more room for Judas to try some interesting tactics.

    EMBERS - I quite liked this piece. You get to the heart of some of what every writer struggles with, and you find some great language and imagery to describe that moment which we all know. I think it could be stronger if you pared it down to the most essential and powerful lines. Alternatively, if you wanted to keep the "flood of thoughts" feeling, it might work with an alternate layout, such as having multiple lines in parallel columns rather than in a single sequence.

    DINNER - I was engaged by the opening of this scene. "Adrasteia" and "Valkyrie Manor" are names that instantly make me want to learn more. In contrast to the elevator scene, I did not see the twist coming, but I'm also not sure it's supported by the opening. The interaction between Adrasteia and her mother seemed like standard teen rebellion, which did successfully mislead me away from the ending, but also made me wonder why this character was capable of such a monstrous act. Was the angst hiding something much deeper? Were there any opportunities to see hints of that evil poke through in what otherwise seemed like a normal teen-parent conversation? I also wasn't clear if Adrasteia had been planning this turn for a while, or if she made the decision on the spot.

    In short, I liked the world you set up, but I felt like the sharp turn maybe needed more time to set itself up. (EDIT: Basically, what Eddy posted while I was writing this.)

    Thanks again for sharing your pieces! Best of luck with your other applications.
     
    #16 cjpsmith, Mar 7, 2018
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2018
  17. ngs091

    ngs091 Member

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    Thanks for the critique Eddy! It means alot.

    I wrote both of these with only one scene to show that I can progress the arc of the plot without the need for an additional slugline. I also went for a final twist to hopefully make the reader reread it and see what was really going on the whole time..... which I think is what a good flash-short story should do.

    A few questions about your response......
    For the Dinner story.......

    Do you mean the very beginning only (introduction of the characters,) with the black painted in windows and the sleeping-in-late, gothic teen needs to do more of that? Does the rising action (the talk about where to eat, and that vegan food makes her sick, the black-eyed boy friend that has to be invited into the house,) not clear enough for the climatic reveal of what they are and the resolution?

    Is the reveal at the right point in the script for a Twilightzone-ish twisty-tale? Does it make one want to reread it?

    USC Character Sketch
    -start with the obstacle paragraph to show how the specific genre you chose influenced you
    -try to show more of yourself (more vulnerability)
    -maybe chose one specific movie to analyze and bridge your ideas to it

    Thanks!

    We Won't Burn to Embers
    -idk how to help there

    Heaven of Hell
    -would like to see more conflict
    -why is he there? Can he get out? Maybe use the flashback tool for a bit? Jump to future or past?
    -is there enough character development? Or change in him? Growth?
    -even in a short 5-page script, I would want to see a clear beginning, middle, and end.
    -what is the major idea I'm getting out of it? Main conflict? The main message?
    -why should we care, or how can we connect with him?[/QUOTE]

    I tried to keep this purgatory story very brief.

    My question is here does the fact that there is Jesus and the later-revealed Judas in the elevator to judgement make someone want to reread it? Are these figures so well-known that i don't really have to explain the background and the relationship between these 2 characters (that Judas betrayed Jesus and got him killed)?

    Finally, for both of these stories, is the structure really that vague once the twists are revealed? Do they also work as pure drama without the twists?
     
    #17 ngs091, Mar 7, 2018
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2018
  18. ngs091

    ngs091 Member

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    Thanks CJpSmith! That too was a good thorough critique.
     
  19. Olivia Song

    Olivia Song Member

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    I'd love some feedback on one of my sample scripts too!
    Wrote this for Chapman.
     

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  20. Manwitch

    Manwitch Member

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    Nice! Evocative, tense, crisp. In and out. I tend to write densely so I appreciate the polar opposite in well-done sparseness. What was Chapman's prompt for this? Just a two character 3 page scene?
     

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