Current CSUN Screenwriting MFA Student - AMA

itsallhappening

Well-Known Member
I just wrapped up my first semester at CSUN in their Screenwriting MFA program - ask me anything! I'm also in the unique position of seeing how they've dealt with Covid/classes via Zoom.

I wanted to post this now as folks are in the midst of application season and I can't recommend CSUN's MFA enough, so if you're debating applying, ask me whatever questions you may have. (For reference, I was also accepted to NYU's Dramatic Writing program and Chapman's Television Writing and Producing program, and I turned them both down in favor of CSUN. I have never been happier about anything.)
 

Abbey Normal

Well-Known Member
Supporter+
First off, thanks for doing this. A few questions:

1. What was the deciding factor for picking CSUN over NYU and Chapman? I know CSUN is significantly more affordable because it's a state school, and probably even more so when it comes to in-state tuition. The reason I'm asking is because I also applied to NYU and Chapman. I live like 15 mins from Chapman, but it's crazy expensive.

2. How are your cohorts/professors?

3. Any surprising guest speakers so far? Looks like CSUN has had some pretty amazing speakers in the past (PTA, Glen Mazzara, Robert Towne).

4. How's the workload? Are you able to have a part-time job?

5. Did you do any internships? If so, how was it over Zoom?

6. Have you had a chance to talk to any CSUN alum regarding success stories?

Thanks again!
 

itsallhappening

Well-Known Member
Hi! Great questions.

1. This is a tough one. A big part of it was how the schools were dealing with Covid - NYU kept insisting that everything was going to be a-okay by September, and whenever I pushed back and asked for a contingency plan, they refused to give me any information. I also felt that moving to NYC in the midst of Covid - especially with a lot of the city, and particularly the theaters - being closed would take away from why I wanted to move to the city. I didn't want to risk moving across the country (I'm in LA) and then being stuck in a tiny apartment if there was another serious shutdown. With Chapman... it never felt right. I interviewed with the head of the program and he spent 70% of the time talking about himself. With CSUN, once they reached out, I set up a call with their program coordinator and he spent an hour talking about all the great things CSUN had to offer. And, he set me with two students - one alum, one current student - to talk to and ask questions. Everyone had nothing but good things to say. They were one of the first schools in the country to commit to an online semester and let students know what they were in for. (We're also going to be online for spring, and they let us know this around mid-October). As you mentioned, the cost is amazing. Even if you have to take out loans, the whole program is maximum what *one semester* at NYU/Chapman/USC would be, and considering how low the pay is when you start in the industry, I wanted to minimize debt as much as possible. Oh! And it's also an incredibly small program - there's only 13 of us in my cohort - and I really loved that. I'm excited to eventually go back to campus, but they've done a great job with teaching via Zoom thus far.

2. I LOVE MY COHORT SO MUCH! I will say, it's a little weird meeting new people via Zoom. But we had an orientation, and then after we set up a facebook group to chat/share links/get to know each other. We had one professor who started us off doing a ~vulnerability exercise~ and we all bonded, and we would have happy hours 1-2x a week after class (all via zoom) to hang out and get to know each other. Just like in real life, it takes work, but I'd say for those of us who participate regularly, it's really fulfilling. Even during our break, we have a weekly happy hour to hang out and keep in touch. Everyone is so good in such different ways and personally, it pushes me to do better work. It's a diverse group of people, which I love, and it's half women and half men. Like I mentioned, there's 13 of us, which is a good size group. I was also really blown away by my professors. They were all so different, but have a breadth of experience across the industry. My TV Writing class, taught by Patti Carr (who's currently on The Good Doctor), was the HARDEST - and BEST - writing class I've ever taken, period.

3. We didn't get as many because of Covid. But we did have Stuart Beattie (Collateral, Pirates of the Caribbean), Ethan Reiff (Kung Fu Panda), Martin Shafer (Castle Rock Entertainment), and William Horberg (Queen's Gambit). And because it's a small group, everyone got a chance to ask questions. It was pretty great.

4. Workload is what you make of it. It's definitely manageable with a job, at least in the first semester - I started the semester with a full-time job (got laid off due to Covid) and was working through November and keeping up with school, no problem. When you have to rewrite something, you can choose to spend a few hours or several days. What helped me was looking at the syllabi at the beginning of the semester, putting due dates in my calendar(s), and made sure to block out time to get stuff done. All that said, this semester our big assignments were a full tv episode and a short film script. And once you'd turn in a draft, you'd get notes, and some folks spent a lot of time on rewrites and others did not. Again - it is what you make of it. I think I spent more time on my TV ep rewrite because TV is where I want to work, but others spent more time on their short because they actually want to shoot it. The next couple of semesters we'll be balancing three different writing projects each semester, so...we'll see what happens :) Also - all classes start at 7pm, so you can work full-time hours and still make it to class (especially while everything is online).

5. Not yet! I'm in the midst of applying for a summer fellowship. But from what I've heard, they're doing remote internships right now. Unclear how that will compare to a normal internship experience.

6. Not directly - I think Covid has interrupted potential networking events that might have otherwise happened. But we have alums at various production companies, at Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, and more.

I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions (via this post, or via message!)

Good luck with your applications!
 

Abbey Normal

Well-Known Member
Supporter+
Thank you so much for answering all my questions! I really appreciate it. Glad you had such a great first semester. The guest speakers you listed are big time! And Patti Carr's credits are LEGIT! So many shows...it's crazy how she transitioned from comedy to drama. Must've been a great class! Please keeps us posted after your spring semester.

Good luck with the summer fellowship!!!
 
I would really love to know if you had any prior experience before applying to CSUN and how important is experience? I will be shifting from a completely unrelated stream I graduated from this year so I was wondering if that would hinder chances. (I am 21) 13 in a class sounds like they have a really low acceptance rate.

What is the competition like and what kind of students are they looking for? Please let me know. There isn't much about this on the internet.
 

itsallhappening

Well-Known Member
I would really love to know if you had any prior experience before applying to CSUN and how important is experience? I will be shifting from a completely unrelated stream I graduated from this year so I was wondering if that would hinder chances. (I am 21) 13 in a class sounds like they have a really low acceptance rate.

What is the competition like and what kind of students are they looking for? Please let me know. There isn't much about this on the internet.

What experience specifically? Writing-wise? I had previously completed a couple of full scripts, and had gone through UCLA Extension's Writer's Program. And I've worked industry adjacent jobs forever. But I will say, experience is all across the board. We have people in their early 20's who just finished undergrad and folks in their mid-40's, with a ton of industry and without.

I can't speak to what they're looking for exactly, but my best guess is they want unique, authentic voices. Which may sound like a cop-out, I realize, but if there's one thing about my cohort that we all have in common, is that none of us approach storytelling the exact same way. I think if you've got a strong point of view, that will go a long way. Re: competition - do you mean to get in? Or within the program? Not sure of the former (I would email the program coordinator and see if he'd release that info). For the latter, even though we're going out for some of the same opportunities, we're all really supportive of each other, give notes to each other, etc. It's a great little community.

Hope this helps! Let me know if any of my answers didn't make sense :)
 
THANK YOU! That clears things up a lot. I was just wondering because they ask for your CV and my CV is really bare in regards to the creative projects I took part in.
What experience specifically? Writing-wise? I had previously completed a couple of full scripts, and had gone through UCLA Extension's Writer's Program. And I've worked industry adjacent jobs forever. But I will say, experience is all across the board. We have people in their early 20's who just finished undergrad and folks in their mid-40's, with a ton of industry and without.

I can't speak to what they're looking for exactly, but my best guess is they want unique, authentic voices. Which may sound like a cop-out, I realize, but if there's one thing about my cohort that we all have in common, is that none of us approach storytelling the exact same way. I think if you've got a strong point of view, that will go a long way. Re: competition - do you mean to get in? Or within the program? Not sure of the former (I would email the program coordinator and see if he'd release that info). For the latter, even though we're going out for some of the same opportunities, we're all really supportive of each other, give notes to each other, etc. It's a great little community.

Hope this helps! Let me know if any of my answers didn't make sense :)
 

Chris W

Willem was robbed
Staff member
Our interview with @itsallhappening is up. :)

Andrea Zevallos, MFA in Screenwriting Candidate at CSUN, Talks Perseverance, Pedagogy, and the Writing Process

Andrea Zevallos, MFA in Screenwriting Candidate at CSUN, Talks Perseverance, Pedagogy, and the Writing Process

“I've always loved film and television — TV has been my dream job ever since I was pretty young,” Andrea Zevallos (FilmSchool.org Member @itsallhappening) says, leaning back in her desk chair. Behind her is a wall-sized bookshelf, and beneath it is a tiny replica taco truck labeled El Gato...
 
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