Profile Evaluation/Feedback for MFAs in Screenwriting, and MFAs in Directing

mistah_P

Active Member
Hey folks,

So I discovered this site a month ago, and have been voraciously reading the posts here and been gleaning lots of useful information as I consider my upcoming applications to film schools. I wanted to throw down my base profile, and get some thoughts and feedback about the strengths/weaknesses of my profile, what I can do to improve, and if there are any other schools/programs I should be considering.

Personal Basics:
40/Male/American
Lived abroad for 20 years
Speak five languages fluently
Had a career in education field that has little to do with film (Teaching, advising, consulting)

Education:
Undergrad: NY State University. BA in Lit. GPA 3.7
Grad: Masters in Comparative Lit in France @ Sorbonne. GPA 16/20 (Equivalent of 4.0)

Film Experience:
Writing/Directing
- Self-produced and directed 2 short docs and 1 feature doc.
- Self-produced and directed 4 short fictions. (budgets ranging from 3,000-20,000 EUR)
- 1 short fiction went to 30+ international film fests including an A-fest
- Another went to a few B-fests (didn’t do that great)
- Received funding from National film fund
- Received funding from German institute for short film on basis of script
- Wrote two documentary scripts which won funding in a German film contest

I've also Produced/AD-ed/ and held boomsticks and carried jugs of water for small independent film productions

Film Criticism
- I've written a few dozen articles for three pretty well-known film journals, and have been doing festival coverage worldwide.


Goals/Thoughts
Basically I have been doing film “on the side” while having a career in Education, but I no longer want to do anything other than write and direct (I would prefer to avoid production if I can). Any other time spent that would be a waste of my life.

I see an MFA as a very good way to hone my skills and put myself smack dab in the market, while also enabling a smooth transition back to the US. I am more looking into Screenwriting programs because a) they are shorter B) I see a higher likelihood of me getting work as a writer c) I’m better at writing than directing. But I am also open to Directing/Producing if I find the right program. (plus I believe I would have a relatively solid portfolio)

My film tastes and what I wish to continue to make fits the arthouse film/independent category, although I do like detective flicks and sci-fi as genres. In US productions of recent years, I really enjoyed anything by PT Anderson, David Gordon Green, The Big Short, Manchester by the Sea, Good Time, Little Odessa - that sort of shizz… and I’m curious to hear where I might fit.

Thoughts about schools
I am very hesitant to spend a colossal amount of money on a program that cannot deliver on the industry-connections, pitches, exposure to producers. I’ll do the work, but I want real-world options at the end. Having attended schools good and bad, I know that there are good professors and bad ones at every institution, so I'm not so worried about the studies themselves, which I'm sure I'd enjoy anywhere. But I want a real return on the investment. This isn't an MBA and I'm not guaranteed to come out with a 120K salary, so the tutition has to justify itself somehow.... The main things I’m looking for:

1. The school’s network
2. The efforts and opportunities the school puts into developing its MFA students career’s
3. The caliber and diversity of the future classmates

I am not interested in any EastCoast schools (I’m from the east coast and don’t like the weather or living there), although I also don’t really fit into your “Hollywood” prototype… /:

and so right now the programs I am looking into:

MFA in screenwriting:
AFI conservatory (Maybe. It seems very expensive and non-competitive enough)
Austin (so far my favorite program on paper)
USC - Looks like a good program (but I have hesitations as I’m not really a “Hollywood” type)
UCLA - Looks interesting. Also price is fair (especially as I can become a Cali resident in the interim)
Michener Center - Also attractive as I write fiction
LMU - Don’t know much about this one other than the bits I’ve read here. I’m a bit hesitant given the big expense and the acceptance rate of over 50%
Chapman - Don’t know much about this one other than the bits I’ve read here. I’m a bit hesitant given the big expense.

MFA in Directing:
AFI conservatory (Maybe. It seems very expensive)
Austin (Hoever, I hesitate to take on a 3-4 year program at 40)
UCLA - Looks interesting. Also price is fair (especially as I can become a Cali resident in the interim. As above I hesitate to take on a 3-4 year program at 40)
LMU - Hesitations about school and program length
Chapman - Hesitations about school and program length


Questions:

1. How much of a neg is my age? Are some programs/schools more open to older candidates?

2. Do you feel that it is less reasonable for me to pursue a directing program give my age?

3. For Austin, can I apply to both the Michener AND the screenwriting MFA? Or what about Michener AND the Directing program?

4. AFI - It’s so expensive, that I wonder how it can be worth it. Any thoughts? Do they offer hefty scholarships?

5. In terms of fellowships/scholarships I’m trying to get a sense of which schools give out how much to how many? Does anyone know of any original source where I can find this out? Or does anyone have anecdotal information? (At my school, half the people got 10,000 Scholarships each year)?

6. Are there any other lesser-know programs that might be interesting?

7. Are there any interesting screenwriting programs like the “Professional Program” in Screenwriting at UCLA, but that are intensive over a period of several weeks? I’m not interested in anything online. Only bricks and mortar.

Thank ye kindly,
 

IndecisiveElle

Contributor
FilmSchool.org Writer
I have a similar background and am in my 30s, so here are my thoughts ...
1) Not at all. Most programs want a broad spectrum of students.

2) Many directors first films that were successful were in their late 30s or 40s. It's only a deterrent if you let it be.

3) Yes you can. I did that last year and so did my friends who were accepted to their screenwriting program. None of us were accepted to Michener, but there are instructions on how to dual apply on their website.

4)There are scholarships, you'd have to ask them for more details on the amounts and chances of funding.

5) You'd have to contact the organizations and schools for details. I haven't seen any information like that posted anywhere and often the amount changes each year based on funding.

6) absolutely! I think you'd find Vermont College of the Arts interesting. Here's a link. https://vcfa.edu/film If I'm not admitted to AFI or Chapman I'll be applying there myself.

7) Yes, many screenwriting organizations offer them. Columbia has some summer programs as well. I attended their TV writing intensive in 2016 and it was wonderful, although I believe the main faculty has changed since then. Look up workshops with Alan Kingsberg - he's now at Stonybrook but used to run screenwriting at Columbia and is all about intensive workshops too.

Now my personal take beyond your specific questions. Look at programs that are conservatory based like AFI or Chapman if you're trying to focus on directing. The 3 and 4 year programs like UT Austin and UCLA are designed with someone who doesn't have production experience in mind. As a former career AD, I did not want to re-learn all the ropes and potentially be sidetracked, I want to only focus on being a director from here on out. Any program that required extensive coursework in general production or post wasn't for me. Granted, they are great programs, but really think about WHY you are going towards an MFA - for me, it's about shifting gears so if the program doesn't let me focus on my new gear, directing, they're not a good fit for me at this point in my life and career. Chapman, for example, is a great fit for me because it lets me focus on directing but I have the option to audit any other coursework that I choose within the film department. So I can take an editing class, with no coursework required, no grades, and just stop going when I get busy with my actual course load. This is for no extra cost by the way.

The biggest thing I think is overlooked by applicants is the structure of the programs they're applying to - broad vs conservatory. I also think asking program heads what goals they have for their students during the program is incredibly important. As a screenwriter, does the program want you to walk away with your work having been produced by others in the cohort, or do they focus on creating a portfolio of scripts for you to take out into the world? Is it a combination of both?Ask if they can put you in touch with current students or alumni also. While some members stick around here after they have gone through a program, most do not, so it's hard to find out what the programs are like on the inside through this forum.

I hope some of that helps. I know it was an earful, but I identify a lot with your journey and your questions sound familiar. Honestly, it took me until this 3rd round of applications to really know what my goals were and how to find the right fit for me. I'm glad I didn't get in anywhere the last two years because it wouldn't have been the right path.

Best of luck!
 

mistah_P

Active Member
Hey!
So first of all thanks for taking the time not only to answer every single one of my questions, but going out of your way to point out things about how the programs work.

So I'm actually only at the very beginning of figuring things out. I haven't yet dug into the program brochures and specific offerings. For a scriptwriting program I am most definitely looking to develop materials for the outside world. Meaning that is what I would hope to do for day one. And although I'd be happy to collaborate with classmates, it's not the goal.

For Direction, if I decide to go that route, it's of course more flexible as well... nobodies gonna give me four features to shoot :) So obviously it'll be more work with students, which I'd very much look forward to.

Like you, I'm definitely attracted if I can take other coursework as well, not only in cinema departments but cross-functional (say economics, art history, cinematography, photography). But it's not the main focus, and anyhow I've found at least in bigger institutions you can almost always do an "unofficial audit" as long as it's not a minuscule workshop.

For me it's more work on the materials themselves, the work the school does to actively propel the members of their program in industry (set up meetings, pitches, collaborations with film fests, on-site recruitment, internships, trips).

I will definitely get to the talking to students/alumni part as well as visit every one of the schools I will apply to. But first:
1. Writing the application materials
2. Starting to prep the GRE
3. Get the Recommenders sorted
And then everything else....

Lots of work and thought. Glad I started early :) (or late????)

Thanks again,
 

IndecisiveElle

Contributor
FilmSchool.org Writer
Hey!
So first of all thanks for taking the time not only to answer every single one of my questions, but going out of your way to point out things about how the programs work.

So I'm actually only at the very beginning of figuring things out. I haven't yet dug into the program brochures and specific offerings. For a scriptwriting program I am most definitely looking to develop materials for the outside world. Meaning that is what I would hope to do for day one. And although I'd be happy to collaborate with classmates, it's not the goal.

For Direction, if I decide to go that route, it's of course more flexible as well... nobodies gonna give me four features to shoot :) So obviously it'll be more work with students, which I'd very much look forward to.

Like you, I'm definitely attracted if I can take other coursework as well, not only in cinema departments but cross-functional (say economics, art history, cinematography, photography). But it's not the main focus, and anyhow I've found at least in bigger institutions you can almost always do an "unofficial audit" as long as it's not a minuscule workshop.

For me it's more work on the materials themselves, the work the school does to actively propel the members of their program in industry (set up meetings, pitches, collaborations with film fests, on-site recruitment, internships, trips).

I will definitely get to the talking to students/alumni part as well as visit every one of the schools I will apply to. But first:
1. Writing the application materials
2. Starting to prep the GRE
3. Get the Recommenders sorted
And then everything else....

Lots of work and thought. Glad I started early :) (or late????)

Thanks again,
My take it you started early. Everything in it's/your own time. You're clearly researching and prepping well for your applications. I've seen your screen name for what feels like a long time on here and you've been gathering information, and continuing to work on your craft, that's the sign of a professional in my book. No matter if an MFA is the path for you or not, your dedication to figuring that out is a sure sign you have the stuff it takes to make it.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to you, no matter what school you attend. You have to make it all happen and if you have the stuff, you can make any education work to your benefit.
 
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