Zero film related background. Do I have a chance get into film school like NYU and Columbia?

andy_ma

New Member
Hi all,

I am working on finishing the last few portfolios of my film production MFA application. And I just get started writing my personal statement. I am a little worried that no related creative background on my resume will be a big minus of the application. I'm a full-time software engineer with a BS in physics and MS in Computer Science. I use my spare time writing stories and shooting films. I do know my passion lies in film and I am gonna steer my career in this direction. For my portfolio, I do love them and I think they show my personal style and the ability to write and direct films. I just don't know how to convince those schools that I am capable of doing this. I'm also concerned if I even have a chance of getting in because of my background.

Wish somebody can give me some advice.
 

Chris W

Willem was robbed
Staff member
I use my spare time writing stories and shooting films.
That's all you need right there. All Filmmaking is is storytelling. When we interviewed USC admissions they said they've even had a doctor who switched careers.

Heck not having a film background could even be a plus as they'll have more to teach you and craft you and also your different background will give you more stories to tell. :)
 

Asar

Artist
Lifetime Supporter
Hi all,

I am working on finishing the last few portfolios of my film production MFA application. And I just get started writing my personal statement. I am a little worried that no related creative background on my resume will be a big minus of the application. I'm a full-time software engineer with a BS in physics and MS in Computer Science. I use my spare time writing stories and shooting films. I do know my passion lies in film and I am gonna steer my career in this direction. For my portfolio, I do love them and I think they show my personal style and the ability to write and direct films. I just don't know how to convince those schools that I am capable of doing this. I'm also concerned if I even have a chance of getting in because of my background.

Wish somebody can give me some advice.
I didn't want to assume, by the title, that you were only applying to NYU or Columbia as I have experience applying to one of those two, but will be attending USC. I think you generally want to know if your 'limited' creative background takes away your competitive edge towards getting into a highly ranked film school.

I say 'limited' with quotations because I want you to move away from discussing your background as being a 'no related creative' background. With film, life and every aspect of it, is related. I'm not saying that to sound cheesy, but everything YOU personally have done in life will influence your stories from the games you played as a child to the sad thoughts you've had when no one was looking. Make yourself believe that everything you've done is related to this industry you're pursuing and you will, at the very least, have more confidence in your ability to get wherever you're going. That's the first thing. :)

Secondly, hopefully I can put you at ease with letting you know that before January 2018, I knew absolutely nothing about a camera, how films were made, etc. While I was a creative person and did things like make Wix websites, design school events, and kind of direct or provide the story for very amateur promo videos (again, for school), I had absolutely no clue as to how to get into the film industry or even where to start. I first applied to USC during their August 2019 deadline. Between January 2018 and August 2019 I did two things.... 1) I tried to STUDY how to get into grad school and particularly study the schools I wanted to apply to (USC and NYU), and 2) I purchased a camera and tried to utilize the time I had (I was in the Navy so I couldn't go to film school until I got out) to learn what I could. Both of these things helped tremendously because I graduated undergrad in 2012 and much of that process was done by my mother so it was something I had to completely learn again... and I was able to really go from not having any knowledge of film/cameras to being able to say I'm decent with one.

Studying how to get into grad school taught me not to think like everyone else... "Am I qualified?" "How can I get in with a low GPA?" "I don't have any experience," etc. It taught me to MAKE yourself qualified. COUNTER your low GPA. GO GET the experience or actually think about what things you've done that could be used as experience. Getting into grad school is a strategic game and as long as you've checked the absolutes (like if GPA is a hard requirement and you meet that requirement) then the rest is answering what the application asks for in a way that ONLY YOU could deliver it.

The experience that I do have is not ANYTHING close to professional experience. I have a long way to go, BUT when I was building my portfolio for USC, the MAJORITY of it were things I've worked on before I picked up a camera (the websites, the events, etc.). If the schools you apply for are like USC and are so welcoming of individuals who don't even have any experience, and they ask for a list of any creative work you've done, take the time to talk about the projects you've worked on as a software engineer. I can't totally recall what NYU asks for, so this whole thing might sound like a USC pitch (lol) but I chose USC because it is a top school that recognizes that great filmmakers may not have high GPAs or professional backgrounds. So if you're looking for an additional school to consider, check out USC.

Like I said, I applied to both USC and NYU. I didn't get into NYU and didn't get into USC the first time I applied, but because their deadlines are back-to-back, I was able to make some adjustments to my USC application and submit it again. I was waitlisted. Their waitlist gives you a spot if enough people decide to not enroll, but even if they can't offer a spot during the time you're waitlisted for, the next semester's offer is guaranteed to you. So I'll be attending USC in the Spring 2021 off of the Fall 2020 waitlist.

Again, I didn't know anything or have any professional experience when I decided I was going to go to film school in January 2018. I applied in the end of 2019. My undergraduate GPA was 2.8. My degree was in Business Management. I had been out of school for several years in a 'non-creative' field. It's still kind of surreal that I'll be attending, but the confidence from reshaping my mindset about the application process makes me know that it wasn't luck or unbelievable, but that I really focused on showing my full self as best I could to give the application what it asked for.

It's a lot, but I'm compelled to reply when people are struggling with the insecurity about their experience level (or GPA). Hope it helps.
 

andy_ma

New Member
I didn't want to assume, by the title, that you were only applying to NYU or Columbia as I have experience applying to one of those two, but will be attending USC. I think you generally want to know if your 'limited' creative background takes away your competitive edge towards getting into a highly ranked film school.

I say 'limited' with quotations because I want you to move away from discussing your background as being a 'no related creative' background. With film, life and every aspect of it, is related. I'm not saying that to sound cheesy, but everything YOU personally have done in life will influence your stories from the games you played as a child to the sad thoughts you've had when no one was looking. Make yourself believe that everything you've done is related to this industry you're pursuing and you will, at the very least, have more confidence in your ability to get wherever you're going. That's the first thing. :)

Secondly, hopefully I can put you at ease with letting you know that before January 2018, I knew absolutely nothing about a camera, how films were made, etc. While I was a creative person and did things like make Wix websites, design school events, and kind of direct or provide the story for very amateur promo videos (again, for school), I had absolutely no clue as to how to get into the film industry or even where to start. I first applied to USC during their August 2019 deadline. Between January 2018 and August 2019 I did two things.... 1) I tried to STUDY how to get into grad school and particularly study the schools I wanted to apply to (USC and NYU), and 2) I purchased a camera and tried to utilize the time I had (I was in the Navy so I couldn't go to film school until I got out) to learn what I could. Both of these things helped tremendously because I graduated undergrad in 2012 and much of that process was done by my mother so it was something I had to completely learn again... and I was able to really go from not having any knowledge of film/cameras to being able to say I'm decent with one.

Studying how to get into grad school taught me not to think like everyone else... "Am I qualified?" "How can I get in with a low GPA?" "I don't have any experience," etc. It taught me to MAKE yourself qualified. COUNTER your low GPA. GO GET the experience or actually think about what things you've done that could be used as experience. Getting into grad school is a strategic game and as long as you've checked the absolutes (like if GPA is a hard requirement and you meet that requirement) then the rest is answering what the application asks for in a way that ONLY YOU could deliver it.

The experience that I do have is not ANYTHING close to professional experience. I have a long way to go, BUT when I was building my portfolio for USC, the MAJORITY of it were things I've worked on before I picked up a camera (the websites, the events, etc.). If the schools you apply for are like USC and are so welcoming of individuals who don't even have any experience, and they ask for a list of any creative work you've done, take the time to talk about the projects you've worked on as a software engineer. I can't totally recall what NYU asks for, so this whole thing might sound like a USC pitch (lol) but I chose USC because it is a top school that recognizes that great filmmakers may not have high GPAs or professional backgrounds. So if you're looking for an additional school to consider, check out USC.

Like I said, I applied to both USC and NYU. I didn't get into NYU and didn't get into USC the first time I applied, but because their deadlines are back-to-back, I was able to make some adjustments to my USC application and submit it again. I was waitlisted. Their waitlist gives you a spot if enough people decide to not enroll, but even if they can't offer a spot during the time you're waitlisted for, the next semester's offer is guaranteed to you. So I'll be attending USC in the Spring 2021 off of the Fall 2020 waitlist.

Again, I didn't know anything or have any professional experience when I decided I was going to go to film school in January 2018. I applied in the end of 2019. My undergraduate GPA was 2.8. My degree was in Business Management. I had been out of school for several years in a 'non-creative' field. It's still kind of surreal that I'll be attending, but the confidence from reshaping my mindset about the application process makes me know that it wasn't luck or unbelievable, but that I really focused on showing my full self as best I could to give the application what it asked for.

It's a lot, but I'm compelled to reply when people are struggling with the insecurity about their experience level (or GPA). Hope it helps.
Hi Asar,

Thank you for writing such a long article. I am touched. Thank you, really. Yes, I think I'm more like, I need to hear some courage from people with a limited background like me. Definitely, I won't only apply for these two mentioned.

Just one more question I want to ask. When writing your personal statement, how do you determine the proportion of different content? I mean, take NYU's request for an example. They want to see four things from your personal statement:
1) Why would you like to attend the program.
2) What has led you to this point.
3) Your goals as a filmmaker.
4) Why you would like to study with us, specifically

For me, I have tons of things to say on 2). But I am worried if I talk too much of this, would they think that's too verbose? I want to hear some feedback on how to determine the proportion of these contents and how to structure them organically.

Thanks again,
Andy
 

Asar

Artist
Lifetime Supporter
Hi Asar,

Thank you for writing such a long article. I am touched. Thank you, really. Yes, I think I'm more like, I need to hear some courage from people with a limited background like me. Definitely, I won't only apply for these two mentioned.

Just one more question I want to ask. When writing your personal statement, how do you determine the proportion of different content? I mean, take NYU's request for an example. They want to see four things from your personal statement:
1) Why would you like to attend the program.
2) What has led you to this point.
3) Your goals as a filmmaker.
4) Why you would like to study with us, specifically

For me, I have tons of things to say on 2). But I am worried if I talk too much of this, would they think that's too verbose? I want to hear some feedback on how to determine the proportion of these contents and how to structure them organically.

Thanks again,
Andy

You're very welcome. Yeah, when I did all of my google searches and read through the forums, the things that helped me the most were any of the advice that told me to just focus on what's being asked and tell YOUR story. Our anxiety and overthinking things really makes us defeat ourselves, so staying away from that as much as possible.

As far as the personal statement, I don't recall myself thinking too much about proportions. For me, it was make sure all of the questions are answered, make each answer a mini story in itself, and then make all of the stories tell one big story. I can't say whether my personal statement was PHENOMENAL or not, but that's what I focused on. And I did MANY edits. As I said, I had to reapply so the one thing I completely did over was my personal statement for the second time. But before that, I had re-read it, edited it, and gotten feedback on it a lot of times. So I think I naturally was satisfied with the proportions as long as I achieved MY goals (answer each question, make each answer a mini story, and make all the stories tell one big story). I tried to cut out cliches, take away redundant or fluff words/sentences, and not say more than I needed to get my point across. It naturally evened itself out and cut itself down.

If it helps, you could also divide the word count up and put caps on each question that way. Or, you may also think about answering two questions in the same answer (but be careful to make sure the reader can find your answer. For example, I'd bake the question into my answers so that if the reader were to just skim for the answers they could find exactly where they were).

At the end of the day, since you know there's a limit and you can't say EVERYTHING, say the most important, most UNIQUE, most COMPELLING things for each question that you can. Tell your story... and as you know, a story should capture you from the beginning and hold you through to the end.
 
Last edited:

andy_ma

New Member
You're very welcome. Yeah, when I did all of my google searches and read through the forums, the things that helped me the most were any of the advice that told me to just focus on what's being asked and tell YOUR story. Our anxiety and overthinking things really makes us defeat ourselves, so staying away from that as much as possible.

As far as the personal statement, I don't recall myself thinking too much about proportions. For me, it was make sure all of the questions are answered, make each answer a mini story in itself, and then make all of the stories tell one big story. I can't say whether my personal statement was PHENOMENAL or not, but that's what I focused on. And I did MANY edits. As I said, I had to reapply so the one thing I completely did over was my personal statement for the second time. But before that, I had re-read it, edited it, and gotten feedback on it a lot of times. So I think I naturally was satisfied with the proportions as long as I achieved MY goals (answer each question, make each answer a mini story, and make all the stories tell one big story). I tried to cut out cliches, take away redundant or fluff words/sentences, and not say more than I needed to get my point across. It naturally evened itself out and cut itself down.

If it helps, you could also divide the word count up and put caps on each question that way. Or, you may also think about answering two questions in the same answer (but be careful to make sure the reader can find your answer. For example, I'd bake the question into my answers so that if the reader were to just skim for the answers they could find exactly where they were).

At the end of the day, since you know there's a limit and you can't say EVERYTHING, say the most important, most UNIQUE, most COMPELLING things for each question that you can. Tell your story... and as you know, a story should capture you from the beginning and hold you through to the end.
Thank you so much. That is really helpful!
 

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