Demystifying the Undergraduate Film School Application Process

Film School Applications
by Chelese Belmont

INT. A HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT’S BEDROOM – NIGHT

A STUDENT, 17, sits at a desk pondering life. As she clicks on the link to her dream school, we CUT TO a close up on the wide smile spreading across her face as she hears a college counselor’s voice in her head.

COLLEGE COUNSELOR (V.O.)

So, you’ve been bitten by the bug – the one that makes you want to capture, document, create as your life’s work. The bug is cinema, and it’s sunk its teeth into you.

So, what does it take to become the next Spielberg or Kubrick? Well, I’m not sure I can answer that in one sitting, but film school is a great option for students who know that they want to work in the film industry and perhaps don’t have the experience or connections to get there without a solid educational foundation. But, if you’re considering going to film school, how, you may ask, do you get there?

When a student wants to go into any field in the arts, the application process becomes more involved. On top of the main application requirements for all applicants, most film schools also have supplementary requirements, and sometimes additional applications of their own that students will have to complete as well. Some also have earlier deadlines than the regular decision deadlines (Chapman, for instance, requires applicants to submit by 11/1 even if they are not doing Early Action!). Indeed, navigating film school applications will take some organization, but as long as you know what is expected of you, manage deadlines, and give yourself the time and space to really let your creativity shine, you’ll be all right. I promise.

So, what goes into a film school application? While each school has its own requirements, there are some commonalities among the most renowned and competitive of the schools. Among the most significant elements that film school applicants are often asked to submit (either as an optional creative sample, or as a requirement to apply) is a short film. If you started panicking reading that sentence, take a breath and hear me out.

I know what you might be thinking: but I don’t have a camera. I don’t know how to edit. How can I make a movie if the whole point is that I want to go to school to learn how to DO that?! Here’s the thing. Whether you use your parents’ Nikon, or you whip out your cell phone, you are living in a time when you definitely have the means to make a film. What film schools are looking for when they ask for this element in their application process is to see your unique point of view and storytelling abilities. You don’t need a fancy camera or special effects to do that. Many a fine film has been made on an iPhone. There are also options for free and low-cost editing software (like iMovie) that students have successfully used to cut their movies together. So with technical accounted for, now you just need a vision, a script, some of your friends or family who can act, and a weekend to shoot it. It’s doable, and I’ve seen many students over the years come up with really creative concepts that gained them entrance to the best film schools in the country.

Pro Tip: If you want to see some examples of the types of films that prior years’ applicants have submitted, YouTube has TONS. Don’t copy these; you don’t want to be derivative of what others have already done, but use them as inspiration to help you know what is possible in student filmmaking.

Now, when preparing to shoot your film, there are some things to consider. Some schools ask for a film under 5 minutes. Some ask for a film under 2 minutes with no dialogue. Some may have a prompt or theme that they want you to address, and some don’t ask for a film at all. It’s important to read through everything that each school requires and to make notes of what you need to accomplish BEFORE making your film. Many times, my students have been able to shoot one film that can be modified to fit the various schools’ requirements, or they choose to take two weekends and make two different films that will work for their applications. No matter what, it will take some planning – both in deciding what films you will need, and then in executing them to the best of your ability. This isn’t something you want to throw together last minute, so make sure that you start the process as soon as you can and plan carefully to give yourself the time to shoot and edit your film. Plus, if you give yourself time and space, the process can actually be SO FUN.

Even if a school doesn’t ask you for a film, working on short films with your friends and family members will only benefit you. If you want to be a filmmaker, you should MAKE FILMS, so when you have free time, you should be out filming, or writing, or editing. And if you’re proud of what you’ve done, submit them to local festivals! Many film festivals have student categories and discounted rates to submit. Take advantage of these opportunities if you can!

This leads me to the next aspect of film school applications: the Creative Resume. The vast majority of schools will ask you to provide a resume of your artistic/creative endeavors. Some students balk at this requirement if they’ve never made a film or will only have the single film that they make for applications on their resume. But, my dear future filmmaker, the creative resume doesn’t only have to have the films you’ve made on it. This is a place to convey your creative pursuits of all kinds. Have you performed in the band? Come up with a sketch for the school talent show? Been in drama club? Done plays? Edited together clips of your favorite sports highlights? Written a script? What do you spend your time doing that is creative? Of course, it would be great if you had a few films listed on your resume, but if you are helping other students on their films, that counts too—list your positions on those as well! The creative resume is a way to show schools that you are invested in learning and doing things related to your professional goals, and there are many ways to do so, even if you don’t have a film class offered at your high school.

In addition to your film and resume, some schools ask you to write supplementary creative materials. The requirement could be a 5-page creative story, a short film script or dialogue scene, a creative personal statement about your goals and influences, and/or a critical analysis of a film of your choice. This is an opportunity to show off not only your writing style but also your unique creative sensibilities. I encourage my students to really put their individual stamp on these requirements, since you want to stand out among applicants as someone with an interesting point of view who would be an asset to your class of filmmakers.

Finally, you may also need additional letters of recommendation from someone who can speak to your creative potential. This could be a teacher who has taught a film class (if you’re lucky enough to have one), a drama teacher who has seen your potential as a director or writer, or a mentor of some kind who can speak to your skill set.

This all may seem like a lot, but if you organize it all and start early, you can submit an application you’ll be extremely proud of AND gain some valuable experience as a budding filmmaker and writer in the process. Don’t be daunted by it. Just remember, soon you’ll be starting your journey towards your dream job in an industry that tells stories and inspires the masses.

Now, get out there and shoot some films already!

If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed. – Stanley Kubrick

FADE TO BLACK.
ROLL CREDITS.

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