Looking for help with Personal Statement

Hi everyone,

It is application season, and I'm in the middle of mine. I spent a week working on my personal statement for AFI Screenwriting. I would be really appreciate it if someone had the time to take a look at it and give me some feedback :). Thank you!

For most of my life, I’ve been a bottled up, snooty boy from a “good” wealthy Moscow family, equipped with a massive sense of entitlement. I’d like to believe that a lot has changed.

Being born to the golden cage is bittersweet. For me, the downside was the deep narcissism that plagued our family, intertwined with complete lack of communication between its members. Nobody ever shared his or her feelings, except for irritation –– it snuck through by being the default emotional state for the majority of city dwellers.

It has always been clear to me that to get through to my parents, I had to achieve and so I did. However, nothing was enough, not even straight A’s I got in literally the best school in Russia. If only it was just the marks, though. Every friend I had, every girlfriend, every hobby –– simply put, each manifestation of my personality was rebuked for one reason or the other.

As often with quiet sickly children, most of my social interaction relied on my parents. Perhaps, one of the few ways to share anything more meaningful than discussions of haircut prices was weekly movie nights that I had with my dad –– a workaholic, he has always been hard to get hold of. Discussing the movies’ characters, their decisions and messages behind the stories was the closest to a sincere conversation I could have with either of my parents.

My response to berating was not rebellion –– instead, I developed a peculiar skill of feigning impersonality. I would hide behind silence and sarcasm –– anything to camouflage feelings or emotions, anything to carry on the isolation I grew so accustomed to. Naturally, this coolness would repel most peers, except to the very few carefully selected friends. In turn, I prefered to believe that most people were not good enough to mingle with.

Still, something in me, something strongly oppressed, desperately wanted a way out. By the age of 15, I started writing short stories. Aside from my personal demons, I would express the common teenage despair and everything that surrounds it. Those stories were not to be discovered, though. I dismissed them as fooling around, from which nothing serious could emerge. All things considered, those stories served as pure means of spilling out whatever emotional state I was in at the time –– the only one available to me.

Another quality to my family was its heritage of art historians. I studied art history since I was six, so doing it for my BA was a no-brainer, especially since I really enjoyed art history and was good at it, too. Nothing fed my narcissistic hubris like being adept at something so sophisticated and exquisite that no one could even begin to grasp.

Most of all, I loved history of architecture. No other fine art allowed me to get the feeling of people’s lifestyles through the ages. Specialising in Ancient Roman architecture, I travelled around Europe to visit numerous archeological sites. I would wander around villas and forums and imagine how at the very same place people would go about their day two thousand years ago. It fascinated me how different had been everything that took place inside those walls: social constructs, etiquette, daily routines. In a way, I was so enamored by architecture because I felt its ability to tell stories –– true everyday stories of people’s lives, their aspirations and failings, contrary to paintings or sculptures with scrupulously conceived subjects.

Over the years I grew jaded, however. True to my ambition, I wrote papers on Roman architecture and participated in student conferences. Sadly, it seemed like all of this mattered only to our airtight community. No one else cared for art history. The very elitism I’ve been pursuing for all this time prevented my work from making any noticeable impact.

That didn’t discourage my friends from the faculty who also studied Classical Antiquity. Those people were zealots. They read hundreds of art history books and archeological reports. They studied Greek and Italian to read more. I felt humbled in their presence, not only by their knowledge but, most importantly, by their passion. I yearned for it, too.

I didn’t even have to do “proper” soul-searching, realizing right away that I always dreamed to make movies but dismissed it as stupid, just like with those teenage short stories. By the end of my BA, I researched top U.S. film schools and applied. Thankfully, I was rejected. Looking back, I see how laughable was everything that I submitted, from my very first primitive short, edited in iMovie to naive movie concepts.

Still, preparing all of that made me feel passionate in a way I didn’t know had been possible. I decided to act: aside from joining graduate art history program (BA is considered “unfinished education” in Russia), I went to a part-time screenwriting program in Moscow Film School. On top of that, I started working as a screenwriter, copywriter or creative producer for advertising, corporate videos and all the other small jobs I could get into.

Those two years were not easy. I had art history in the morning and then screenwriting in the evening as well as a full day on weekends. Throw in those screenwriting jobs. I was writing at least something all the time: screenplays of my own, screenplays for friends’ shorts, scripts for commercial videos, assignments, my art history thesis…

Still, I was truly happy for the first time in my life. Writing so much gave my life a new form of meaning. So did having to fight. I had to fight exhaustion. I had to fight the anxiety that every writer knows too well. But most importantly, I had to fight myself. I had to open up to make stories that would work. At first, I attempted to write from hiding, as I did with everything all my life. The results were worthless, so I promised myself to dig deep. Little by little, I learned to enjoy expressing myself after staying shut for so long. My best work to date is centered on family. That script was the first to give me at least some assuredness about my writing future.

That’s why I’m applying to AFI. You’re offering an even bigger fight. I know that pressure brings out the best in me. That shows most clearly in boxing (yes, I also box): in sparring, the more I get hit the better I retaliate. I know about the pace you set for students. I can only imagine how high they set the bar themselves. I’ll be happy to immerse in all this – the harder it is, the better writer I will come out.

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