6 Ways to Prepare for Applying to a Film School or Film Major

International College Counselors’ new Director of College Advising, Sam Johnson, has worked with students on applications to NYU Tisch, USC’s School of Cinematic Arts and UCLA (among many, many other film programs).  He knows there are an unusual number of moving parts to a film school application, and that it can be daunting for sure! Taking into account both his work with film applicants and his own background as a USC MFA alum and an award-winning screenwriter, shares with us “6 Ways to Prepare for Applying to a Film School or Film Major:”
  1. Walk the walk, friend 
    It is easy to say you want to be a filmmaker. Watch: “I want to be a filmmaker.” There, it’s literally that easy. What’s not easy is producing a body of actual work. If you are a filmmaker, even an aspiring filmmaker, you should be making films! Every weekend, over your summer, with friends, with enemies, however you can get it done. But this is NOT about creating a portfolio. (More on that later.) It’s about learning technical and storytelling skills and finding your own voice. Even if some of the movies turn out “bad,” you will learn something! It’s not like you will be forced to screen your movies for anyone. Speaking of which…

  2. Screen your movies for people
    Yes, even the bad ones. Allow people to critique your films and give yourself the opportunity to see others’ work. This will give you new ideas and help you figure out if there is a better/easier/cheaper way you could be making the kinds of films you want to make. You may also meet a collaborator!

  3. Attend a summer film program 
    While, yes, you can and should “learn by doing,” that can sometimes be a daunting task. Oftentimes students will want a guide before they jump right into making their own films. Luckily, there are several summer filmmaking opportunities for high school students-whether you want to direct, write or produce. Or even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do yet. Here a just a few, NYU being perhaps the most prestigious.
    – NYU

    New York Film Academy
    – USC
    – UCLA

  4. Prepare an “Artist’s Statement”
    If you’re a rising senior, this one’s for you. Not every school will ask for this, but it’s still good to have because it will answer a question that ALL school applications will ask: Why do you want to apply to your major? If that major is film, you will want to have a clear, compelling answer to:
    a. Why are you interested in film in the first place? To entertain? To change people’s minds? To change the world?
    b. What are your greatest achievements so far? If you won a festival and are an expert on RED camera cinematography, that’s awesome. If not, don’t worry about it! Plenty of great films have been made on iPhones, and what schools really care about most is your storytelling chops.
    c. What kind of films do you want to make? This will connect part a with part b. Maybe you have only ever shot a film in your backyard, but you want to make $200M superhero movies, that is a pretty good reason to say you need to go to film school.

  5. Prepare your portfolio 
    Boy, it’s a good thing you made all those movies with your friends/enemies over your weekends/summers! Cause now you need to bring together a killer “5-minute reel” from them. I know that sounds really short, but think of it this way: the people viewing your films will have to watch hours and hours (and hours) of student films even with this short running time. They may even want to re-watch certain films a second time. If they had to watch 30-minute portfolios-well, they just wouldn’t.
    Choose the films that show your passion, your unique voice and your storytelling talent-not just the ones with the best production value. You can be taught ways to increase production value; passion, not so much… If you have one really killer film (or a killer 5-minute section from a 4-hour masterpiece) just use that. It will give the impression that all your work is that good. If, on the other hand, you just can’t decide what’s your best piece, cut together 2-3 clips from your greatest hits. (Don’t go below ~30 seconds for any one film or else the viewer won’t really be able to get a sense of the film.)
    Can’t decide what your best films are because you spent your blood, sweat and tears on each one and consider them all your babies? See: “# 2, Screen your movies for people.” Which of your films do others like?

  6. Write your creative resume
    A creative resume is much like a regular resume, just more focused. It should include only film or other creative activities (painting, photography, architecture, web design…).  Be sure to include your role(s), the equipment used so they know your amazing technical skills, any special circumstances involved, and if it won any sweet awards! Here’s some formatting help for each bullet point:
“My Excellent Movie”; surreal dramedy; 7 minutes, 18 seconds  2019
  • Director/Writer/Photographer/Editor
  • Filmed on BlackMagic Pocket Cinema 4K; edited on Adobe Premiere
  • Awarded Best Surreal Dramedy at Surreal Dramedy Awards, 2019
  • Filmed on location in a raft in the middle of the Ocean/Raised $10,000 for charity/etc…
Well, that’s about all-to begin with. Good luck and may the force be with you.