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Feedback for personal statement

Discussion in 'Application Help (MA/MFA)' started by cakeislife, Nov 3, 2017.

  1. cakeislife

    cakeislife Member

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    Hi filmmakers,
    I'm working on refine my personal statement for USC but got really stuck and paranoid about my current draft. I sent it to some of my friends for opinions but none of us has ever written any PS or SOP (Neither of us went to undergrad school in the States and all in non-film related areas). I not entirely sure the difference between these two. Do PS have more prose like and focus on life experiences whereas SOP is more on academic achievements and aspiration? From the limited PS and SOP for MFA programs I could find online, I feel like they are more interchangeable than not?

    I'll post my PS for USC down below, my main concern is the opening. According to the feedback I got, it's already too commonplace/not unique enough. But HP is what got me into writing, inspired me to move overseas and ultimately made me find my passion in filmmaking as I mentioned in the PS, without mentioning it I just feel like the statement would loose its footing and it wouldn't be personal for me.

    If anyone could share some feedback it would be really really appreciated. THANKS.
     
  2. cakeislife

    cakeislife Member

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    “Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home”. The sentence appeared on the screen in a dimly lit room of Warner Bros. Harry Potter studio in London, it wasn’t cold but the girl in Slytherin robe felt goosebumps creeping up her forearms. Having spent the entire day in the studio, it was about 10 minutes away from closing time and she was the only one left in the room. A mountain of wand boxes piled up along the walls, each bears the name of one of more than 4000 crew members worked on the series in over a decade of filmmaking. Astonished by the amount of work and dedication, she lowered her camera, walking around the room to read the names, thinking: “Wish my name could be on one of these boxes.” It was October 2016, the girl was me, backpacking alone in UK, 15 years after the first time I watched the Philosopher’s Stone on the silver screen in my hometown of South West China.

    When Prisoner of Azkaban came out, my school held a writing contest for Harry Potter fan fiction. In stead of jumping into the storyline of popular characters, I wrote a short story about Harry’s cousin Dudley bumping into Harry escaping the house. Reluctantly, Dudley helped him break out, joined Harry and Ron on the flying car and eventually bonded with his cousin through this adventure. Although my plan of becoming the greatest witch of all time did not work out, I ended up discovering a different type of magic, the magic of storytelling. I never stopped writing fan fictions for pop culture films since winning 2nd place in the contest. By playing with the elements of an established story, I found it fascinating how different a story could be if we were able to take a spin with the perspective or to explore different choices the characters could have made. This passion for storytelling naturally extended to original writing. In my stories, I am always intrigued to challenge ordinary characters to break existing rules, to get out their comfort zone either by choice or by circumstance, and to go on an unexpected adventure.

    While my characters went on their journeys, I went on adventures of my own. Inspired by Harry and all the other adventure stories, I aspired to explore the world and meet new people from a young age. A few years later, I turned out to be the only girl in my family to leave home and moved overseas to Sydney for higher education. Training as an occupational therapist, I exercised with stroke survivors to regain their upper limb functions in neurosurgical ward, painted traditional Aboriginal dot painting with patients in mental health centre, trained patients with cognitive impairment to use public transportation independently in community rehab and developed regulation techniques for sensory seeking students in rural public school. These goals may seem unimpressive but are all very personal and crucial to people’s roles of being a student, a parent or an independent person. Despite of the obstacles and setbacks inflicted by their conditions, I experienced stories of resilience, optimism and determination with my patients. I came to understand that adventures does not always have to be elsewhere, with larger-than-life antagonists. The challenges and conflicts we encounter in daily life are adventures in themselves. And the attempts to conquer these barriers in order to find and fulfil what is central to us as human beings is a story of self-exploration that’s worth telling.

    “Who are you? Where are you from? Where are you going?” I always thought it funny how much custom officers are like philosophers, asking the universal questions of life. As an avid traveler and someone who relocated more than a dozen times throughout the years, I found it hard to sum up simple answers for these questions when I introduce myself. Growing up, my father has always taught me that we are Tujia people and our traditions. However, on my mother’s side, I am of Han Chinese descent and living an urban life made it impossible to tell my lineage from my looks. When I was younger, comments and anecdotes suggesting that “the ethnic minorities are brutes” were often exchanged in front of me without knowing I was one of the brutes being referred to. As the result of the negative image, for the longest time I was in denial of my ethnic heritage. It wasn’t until I left home, traveled around the world with my camera, experienced different cultures and met people from all kind of background that I realised being a minority is nothing to be ashamed of. If anything, putting stereotypical labels on people is shameful. Nowadays, I identify myself as both Han and Tujia with pride. My experiences living in East, West, North and South of the planet, hitchhiking on Jeju island, backpacking in China and UK, road trip in Australia and west coast of USA have all become part of me and shaped me into a stronger, more confident person with open-mindedness. Now I am evermore aware that our different values, tranditions, cultures, lifestyles and choices are precisely what made each and every one of us unique. As a storyteller, I wish to draw from my own experience, to create stories that are non-judgemental, with diverse characters that confront social stereotypes, making people reconsider their perceptions of the world and themselves.

    My journey so far has made me a relentless writer, an explorer who love to look at the world through a lens, a professional who enjoy meeting new people and working in a team. These passions continued for years but never intervened with each other. Until it occurred to me in my belated, soul-searching trip to London, that I could combine these seperate parts of me all in the single, unifying medium of filmmaking. In the past summer, I took a beginning filmmaking class in USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. As a filmmaker, I found myself constantly using skills and experience I learned from other fields to better tell a story. But I believe there’s much more to learn and the stories I tell are ever evolving as I gradually mature as a visual storyteller. I believe devoting myself to the holistic teaching approach of SCA will hone me in the technical tools of filmmaking, and it’s encouraging and diverse environment will help me channeling my unique voice into this new adventure.
     
  3. cakeislife

    cakeislife Member

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    Anyone in this thread? I would really appreciate it if you could share your thoughts :)
     
  4. Chris W

    Chris W FilmSchool.org Owner Staff Member

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    Post a link to it in main USC thread to grab people's attention. :)
     
  5. cakeislife

    cakeislife Member

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    Hi Chris thanks for replying but I looked through the MFA forum seems there's no post designated for 18Fall USC film production or did I miss it?
     
  6. Chris W

    Chris W FilmSchool.org Owner Staff Member

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    It's possible no one has made one yet. Feel free to start one!
     
  7. Kira

    Kira MFA Screenwriter @UCLA

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    Hi cakeislife! Like the name ;)

    I love the connection with Harry Potter since I am a huge fan (and Slytherin) myself!

    Just a bit of an BTWs, since you are applying to film school, they understand that you probably really like films. HP is a great gateway, but don't do too much.

    I wouldn't put your first paragraph in third person. It distances the reader from the experience.

    I'd take out some of the stuff about where you've been and more about what you've learned.

    Also, it seems a little long. You have lots of good information in there, but short and sweet is best. I've learned that the longer something is, the easier it is for the reader to get bored.
     
  8. cakeislife

    cakeislife Member

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    Hi Kira,
    Thank you for your advice ;)
    I'm working on cutting down the first part of the PS. However I was also wondering your opinion on referring/talking more about other filmmakers/genre/art that resonate with me and informed my storytelling? Or should I stay focused on my personal experiences? I'd love to hear what you think!
     
  9. Kira

    Kira MFA Screenwriter @UCLA

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    I'd stay with your personal experiences. I mentioned a few screenwriters I liked in passing, but didn't go into much depth (compared to my personal stuff). Your PS should focus on you :)
     
  10. cakeislife

    cakeislife Member

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    Thank you so much for clearing it up. It's also where I felt was right to go. I will post my updated PS down below if you are interested in having a look. I managed to take out a little over 200 words while editing a lot of content. Also I changed the first paragraph to first person according to your advice. You have truly helped me a lot <3.
     
  11. cakeislife

    cakeislife Member

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    “Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home”. Having spent the entire day trying my best to avoid groups of screaming and running primary schoolers on excursion, it was about 10 minutes away from closing time. I was finally the only one left in this dimly lit room of Warner Bros. Harry Potter studio. A mountain of wand boxes piled up along the walls, each bears the name of one of more than 4000 crew members worked on the series in over a decade of filmmaking. Astonished by the workload and dedication, I lowered my camera, walking around the room to read the names, thinking: “Wish my name could be on one of these boxes.” It was October 2016, I was backpacking alone in UK, 15 years after watching the Philosopher’s Stone for the first time on the silver screen in my hometown of South West China.

    When Prisoner of Azkaban came out, my school held a contest for Harry Potter fan fiction. I wrote a short story about Harry’s cousin Dudley stumbling into Harry escaping the house. Reluctantly, Dudley helped him break out and eventually bonded with his cousin through this adventure. Although my plan of becoming the greatest witch of all time did not work out, I ended up discovering a different type of magic, the magic of storytelling. I never stopped writing fan fictions since winning 2nd place in the contest. By playing with the elements of an established story, I found it fascinating how different a story could be if we were able to take a spin with the perspective or to explore different choices the characters could have made. Naturally, this passion for storytelling extended to original writing. In my stories, I am always intrigued to challenge ordinary characters to break existing rules, to get out their comfort zone either by choice or by circumstance, and to go on unexpected adventures.

    Inspired by Harry Potter, I aspired to go on adventures and meet new people from a young age. A few years later, I turned out to be the only girl in my family to leave home and moved overseas. Training as an occupational therapist in Sydney, I trained stroke survivors to regain their upper-limb functions in neurosurgical ward, painted traditional Aboriginal dot painting with residents in mental-health centre and developed regulation techniques for sensory seeking students in rural public school. As rapport gradually established, I found myself start to appreciate people I worked with as more than just patients, but individuals with incomparable life experiences that drove them to achieve their personal goals. Through the stories of resilience, optimism and determination of my patients, I came to understand that adventures is not always elsewhere, with larger-than-life antagonists. The challenges we encounter in daily life are adventures in themselves. And the attempts to conquer these barriers in order to find and fulfil what is central to us as human beings is a story of self-exploration that’s worth telling.

    “Who are you? Where are you from? Where are you going?” I always thought it funny how much custom officers are like philosophers, asking the universal questions of life. Growing up, my father has always taught me our Tujia traditions. However, my Han Chinese descent on my mother’s side and an urban life made it impossible to tell my lineage from my look. When I was younger, comments suggesting that “the ethnic minorities are brutes” were often exchanged in front of me without knowing I was one of the brutes being referred to. As the result of the negative image, for the longest time I was self-conscious, in denial of my ethnic heritage. However, in my years of relocation and travels, I hitchhiked along the coastline of Jeju island with two Korean ladies, shared a blanket in a freezing London night with a girl I just met in a long queue to a play, attended potluck birthday parties in Sydney and listened to my host singing and playing guitar in San Francisco. Looking back to those unforgettable memories we shared and incredible stories I heard, I realised that regardless of our age gaps, languages, cultures and backgrounds, the things we enjoy in life and the emotions we feel as human are fundamentally universal. Today, identifying as both Han and Tujia with pride, I wish to tell stories that promote understanding and communication, to help people in the spot that I once was to reconcile with who they are and to appreciate different perspectives brought by others.

    For years my storytelling continued in the forms of writing and photography. Until it occurred to me in my belated, soul-searching trip to London, that film is the unifying medium that combines all my passions and brings people together. In the past summer, I took beginning filmmaking in USC School of Cinematic Arts. I believe the holistic teaching approach of SCA will hone me in the technical tools of visual storytelling, people from diverse backgrounds will inspire each other and the encouraging environment will help me channeling my unique voice into this newfound adventure.
     
  12. LonelyBear

    LonelyBear New Member

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    Hi cakeislife, I've been meaning to write a reply for a while to your initial post but I was a bit busy for the last week so I am a bit late. I wrote down some of my impressions and possible suggestions for your essay. Just so you know these are just my opinions so only take them if they help you. I don't want to suggest things that the writer does not feel true or agree with about their own story.

    First thing the opening with HP. I think its nice but I have to say ultimately I think it is not helping the essay. Obviously HP means a great deal to you so you should include its influence in your essay. But the way its written, taking up the first two paragraphs of your personal statement, is too much space and focus from the readers.
    The first two paragraphs cause the essay to split in two ways. The first half being your experience with Harry Potter. The second half being about your background. This feels a bit like two different essays mashed together in the middle. I think it's because the way first two paragraphs are written, it makes me assume we already know you to a certain extent and all the sudden we are being reintroduced to you from a completely different angle.

    Whether it be PS or SOP the admissions committee are looking for a way to get a sense of the applicant as a potential artist. Citing a work of art shows your taste and, depending the circumstance, some information about your character. But that's the extent of what it can tell the reader.
    I think in that sense stories about your life and events that were formative to your character are much more important. Again it's perfectly fine to write about HP and I like what you wrote, but given the 1 pg limit and the real need to give the admissions a sense of who you are, I don't think the first two paragraphs help the bigger picture.
    In fact the second half of your essay is where the real meats and potatoes are at in my opinion. Here I feel like I'm dealing with a real person and real experiences that carry actual weight. I think the contents here give a much clearer sense of who you are and where you come from. Paragraph 4 in this sense is full of this kind of potential.

    Also I want to comment on is how I feel that the essay is trying to be too many things at once.I think less is more in this case because having too many things going on can detract the reader. Just for example it's quite incredible that your entire family is in China and you are the first woman in your family to go to the west to get a degree. That's a very unique and also a weighty experience. It can really be a paragraph by itself but the essay spends very little time on this detail because it's too busy unloading all the other details. I get that there is kind of a rush and a need to put out as much information as possible but if these details aren't focused you end up blurring their significance by constant tangents. Normally I actually suggest people to focus in on very specific things that are unique about themselves. Sweeping statements that emphasizes the "universality of storytelling", might be true but it's a rather common talking point in a lot of applicants.
    I think your essay would greatly benefit from finding the 'one' or two story that matters most, and really build the essay around those stories. A simple point of view, a single line of events that connects to tell one big story. In the end one very well told story is all you will need for the admissions to say yes.

    I know what I wrote down is a lot of stuff and if your were to take it seriously it would mean very extensive editing on your essay, which is a lot of time and work. So if you choose to stick with your current structure its no problem. Like I said these are only suggestions.
    But if you choose to make these edits I suggest starting with the first half of paragraph 4. Given the contents of paragraph 4 I think it is a solid way of establishing yourself and putting down the kind of life experiences/ values you have dealt with. And then you can make your narrow things down to how you came to be the artist and the person that you are now by using the other details you already have.

    I imagine this structure would look something like this:

    1. I was born in china and in to a family that gave me a lot conflicting ideas about my identity.
    2. I watched Harry Potter and it inspired me to travel/ be more adventurous and stretch my boundaries.
    3.This lead me to study abroad, and while studying abroad I learned things about people/ values/ etc. And all this developed my desire to be a storyteller more certain.
    4. I am very different from who I was and am now confident about my identity and I feel certain I want to be a storyteller/ filmmaker.

    Best of Luck!
     
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  13. cakeislife

    cakeislife Member

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    Hi @LonelyBear, thank you for all the thought and time you put in this long and very helpful reply!
    I really appreciate the comment on my opening, I guess deep down I knew it has to go but just needed a bit of push.
    I rearranged the structure and completely got rid of the first two paragraphs. The new version is now in chronological order and very similar to what you have suggested. I also went ahead and fixed a lot of grammar in my early draft, hopefully it's now easier to read. I'll post it below if you want to have a look.
     
  14. cakeislife

    cakeislife Member

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    “Who are you? Where are you from? Where are you going?” It was 5:30 in the morning, most people were still in bed, but this room in Tullamarine airport was filled with jet-lagged travelers with backpacks and luggage, moving slowly along queue dividers. Having lost count how many times I have stood in lines like this, I still think it is amusing how much custom officers are like philosophers, asking the universal questions of life. Beyond providing the routine answer, I actually ask myself the same questions each time, and discover that the answers have changed through the years.

    I was born and raised in Sichuan, China, an area surrounded by provinces with large ethnic minority population such as Yunnan, Guizhou, Qinghai and known as the gateway to Tibet. However, the majority of the population in Sichuan, like most of China, are Han Chinese. To avoid the possibility of being ostracized in a new environment, when my grandfather relocated his family here in the late 1970s, he decided to not declare the family as ethnic minorities in their identification documents. While my father has insisted on teaching me about our Tujia traditions from an early age, my Han lineage on my mother’s side and urban lifestyle makes it impossible to tell my heritage from my appearance. Growing up among Han kids, I would hear comments suggesting “ethnic minorities are brutes” spoken right in front of me, without the speaker knowing I was one of those brutes. Because of this negative image, I was self-conscious and insecure for a long time. Much like my grandfather, I was in denial about my ethnic heritage, hiding in the comfort zone of a false identity. In the summer of 2001, my aunt took my cousins and I to see Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Having never left Sichuan at the time, I saw the spectacular imagination and foreign scenery in the film as a glimpse into a whole new world. Starting with fan fiction, I soon began using writing as a way for me to express feelings I found hard to explain to people. Moreover, Harry’s adventure in the magical world was a journey of self-exploration that echoed deeply my own conflicts about identity and sparked an aspiration to go on adventures of my own. A few years later, I became the only girl in my family to leave home and move overseas.

    As someone who enjoys working closely with people, I decided to train as an occupational therapist in Sydney. I have done traditional Aboriginal dot painting with residents in a mental-health centre, helped elders with cognitive impairments to use public transportation independently in community rehab, and developed regulation techniques for sensory seeking students in a rural public school. Moving across different settings and meeting people from all walks of life, I have found myself learning to appreciate people I work with not simply as patients with medical needs, but as individuals with unique and valuable life experiences. Getting to know each of my patients well started as part of my job but later became more of an interest for me, learning more about their backgrounds, relationships, and pursuits in life. Although patients come and go during my time at each facility, they all share a story of their own with me. Looking back, my time as an occupational therapy student served a major role for me in truly recognising my love for storytelling and its power to connect people.

    My passion for storytelling is also manifested during my time on the road. Over the years, I have hitchhiked along the coastline of Jeju island with two Korean ladies, learned how to make Thai milk tea from a street vendor of Chiangmai, shared a blanket in a freezing London night with a girl I just met in a long queue to a West End play, and listened to my Airbnb host sing and play guitar in the Bay Area of San Francisco. Through these unforgettable memories we have created and shared, I have come to realise that, regardless of the age gaps between us, the languages we speak, the cultures and backgrounds we come from, or the things we enjoy in life, the emotions we feel as human beings are fundamentally universal. Although for years stories of my life and the people around me were told in the separate mediums of writing and photography, I have long realised the impact that films like Harry Potter have made on the course of my life. Over the past summer, I decided to spend six weeks in Los Angeles, taking beginning filmmaking course at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. It was an eye-opening experience that committed me to the idea of visual storytelling. By making my own short films and attending screenings in class, I realised that film is a unifying medium that combines my passion for writing and photography and brings people together in a shared experience.

    My life’s journey so far has made me much stronger and more confident as both a person and storyteller. Today I identify as both Han and Tujia with pride, but I believe there are people still stuck in the conflicting place that I once was. Therefore, I wish to tell stories that promote understanding and communication. I want to encourage people to explore their identities and to appreciate different perspectives brought by others through my films. I believe the holistic teaching approach of SCA will help me sharpen my skills in the techniques of visual storytelling. Working with people from diverse backgrounds will be inspirational, and the encouraging environment will help me channel my unique voice into a newfound adventure.
     
  15. LonelyBear

    LonelyBear New Member

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    Wow! I honestly think this draft is a big improvement from the first draft. (I might be a bit biased though lol.)

    It's much more focused and it delivers a in showing who you are. I think the additional details you've put in paragraph 2 really helps in showing the tension in your early life and the issues that were formative so much more clearly.

    I think you have the structure and the themes down. I just want to give little suggestions now to smoothing over some things. As I said all of the things I write down are just here if they are actually helpful. I don't mean to "fix" or "change" your essay. So really take them as me bouncing ideas off rather than a "You should do this" type of thing.

    Anyways here goes.

    1. In paragraph 2 when you describe your first experience with HP. I wonder if you can make the transitional sentence a bit more dramatic to highlight a shift in your narrative. Obviously this particular experience is meaningful in ways that it affects you throughout your life.

    Right now you have: "In the summer of 2001, my aunt took my cousins and I to see Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone."

    Maybe add a little something like: "In the summer of 2001 something happened that gave me a completely new perspective of the world and forever changed the course of my life: My aunt took my cousins and I to see Harry Potter and the Philosopher's stone."

    Also I would suggest perhaps reordering the following sentences for the rest of the paragraph to:

    Moreover, Harry’s adventure in the magical world was a journey of self-exploration that echoed deeply my own conflicts about identity and sparked an aspiration to go on adventures of my own. I soon began using writing as a way for me to express feelings I found hard to explain to people. I began with fan fictions where I took the characters from Harry Potter on an imaginary adventure of my own making, and moved on from there. Through out all these stories, I was always fascinated the most by the idea of an adventure. A few years later, I became the only girl in my family to leave home and move overseas.

    (I took the liberty of adding in a few lines for consistency's sake. Hope you don't mind. I just want to get the general feel of the paragraph across. Feel free to take them out or replace them with something better!)

    Also I would change the opening lines of paragraph 3 a little make the transition a little bit more smoother:

    "When I landed in Sydney, thousands of miles from home, I decided to study to become a occupational therapist. I always enjoyed working closely with people..."

    For Paragraph 4 I would include just a bit more about yourself. You list a lot of details about your travels which is informative, but I think it would also be good to state how the idea of "Adventure" evolved and deepened since you first watched Harry Potter as a child, and other possible insights that was personal to you in the time of your traveling.

    Lastly I would suggest cutting unnecessary details as much as you can. You did trimmed down your essay quite a bit from your first draft but it can always be leaner and more efficient.

    But all in all I think you are definitely on the right track so carry on!
     
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