I’ve finished my first year of film school.
(For those new around here, I’m working on my MFA in Writing and Producing for Television at Loyola Marymount University!)
What a wild year it was.
When this whole pandemic began, I was sitting on an acceptance from USC. The day my office was told to work from home for the next “two or three weeks,” I was accepted to AFI and Chapman. I spent the next month agonizing over which school – USC or AFI – to commit to, only to choose USC and get an interview request from LMU hours later. I’ll admit it – I interviewed with LMU just to see if I could manage to get into all four schools I applied to, having believed I would get in nowhere as I had exactly zero experience in screenwriting and had spent the previous summer teaching myself how to write a script from books, the internet, and YouTube.
I was accepted a few hours later and after a few more weeks of agonizing, chose LMU and started making plans to move to Los Angeles at the end of July because you know, we all thought the pandemic was going to be over by summer.
We had jokes, didn’t we?
Once LMU decided the fall semester would be virtual, I opted to stay put in North Carolina and continue to work full-time. I wouldn’t call it easy, but I did it. I had classes Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 7-10pm. I kept Wednesdays evenings 100% free from commitment to have a “day off” despite working (from home still) that day. I used the weekends to get the bulk of my homework done. I learned a lot, especially in my Elements of Screenwriting class, but more than that, I felt affirmed in my choice to attend film school. School never felt like work. It lit me up, inspired me. I was where I was supposed to be.
Knowing you’re where you’re supposed to be is a really magical feeling.
By October, I knew it was time to move to Los Angeles, even though spring semester was going to be virtual. I was ready. So in the midst of final projects, I packed up my apartment in Chapel Hill, sold most of my belongings, donated most of what didn’t sell, and after spending the holidays in Virginia, made the cross-country move.
Spring semester kicked my ass in a lot of ways. I loved my classes, but they pushed me as a writer and the workload was substantial. I was really looking forward to my production fundamentals class as I had zero production experience, but the virtual setting wasn’t ideal and the COVID restrictions were challenging and frustrating at times. Yet on the other side of it, I can’t believe how much I learned by being forced to get creative for the three short films I made in that class. I had no idea what I was capable of using just my iPhone and iMovie. Watch out – those new skills will be put to use very son.
I also wrote my first feature film during spring semester. It was HARD. My professor had a unique approach to it and we were churning out ten pages a week. There were several weeks where I utterly and entirely loathed my script. But I had an “aha!” moment and it all changed. I need to do a massive re-write now, but I have a feature to work from that I don’t entirely hate.
Some days I still really hate it.
But that’s how screenwriting goes.
And now it’s summer and I have no classes and no idea what to do with myself. It took less than a week to miss school, miss my classmates.
It would be easy to complain about the whole first year being virtual. It wasn’t what I nor anyone else wanted and there were elements that just couldn’t couldn’t be replicated in a virtual environment. We didn’t get to bond in person as classmates, didn’t get to touch the equipment, work in collaborative group settings, form relationships with our professors. I’m sure the argument could be made that instruction was subpar, although in my opinion, our professors made the best of a crap situation.
But I’m not looking at it like that.
I’m looking at it as a chance to demonstrate resilience. The challenges my first year of film school threw at me have made me a better writer and they will make me a better professional. I could have let challenges derail me. Instead, I embraced them and found a way to make them work in my favor.
That’s kind of what you do in a writers room anyway – embrace the challenge before you and create something people want to watch on their screens.
My first year of film school was challenging and not ideal. But it was worth every late night and every curse word I muttered over my feature script (and every bad episode of television I had to watch for an assignment…). I have two more years to go in the program, and I’m excited for what’s to come.
And I’m trying to wrap my head around the fact that I will be sitting in an ACTUAL CLASSROOM in a few months’ time. You mean I’ll have to get dressed and drive to campus three times a week?! Honestly, I can’t wait.
Here’s to year one of film school.
May the next two be just as good.