"I take classes 26-30 hours a week, in addition to working on 4-5 one minute films every weekend and doing other homework assignments."
We asked SOCAPA alum and FSU student Arielle for her advice to high school filmmakers preparing for college.
I applied to a lot of schools, but the main schools I was considering other than FSU were Emerson, Bard, and Kenyon. When I was applying to schools I was keenly aware of how difficult it can be to find a job in the film industry, so I had decided that if I didn’t get into more practical schools with high employment rates like FSU or Emerson, I would major in English Literature at a more ‘liberal artsy” school.
FSU’s program is unique in that it is extremely practical. Every semester is dedicated to a specific film project, we have the opportunity to volunteer on sets from day one, and we get experience with nearly every position in the industry - from director, to gaffer, to script supervisor. We also have equal access to all equipment and as a production student, you even receive some basic training in animation softwares like After Effects and Maya. The school has the highest employment in field of study rate that I’ve ever seen in a film school - 97%. Obviously as an aspiring filmmaker - that number is exciting. I also was looking for small class sizes when I was applying to schools, and being that there are only 30 students that are accepted to the film school in every year, my classes are pretty intimate.
A word of warning: FSU’s program is also unique in the hours students are asked to work. I take classes 26-30 hours a week, in addition to working on 4-5 one minute films every weekend and doing other homework assignments. During production cycles for our three major fiction projects we work 13 hour days, 6 days a week. This is not the film school experience that your grandparents roll their eyes about — this is hard work. It’s worth it, of course, if you’re passionate. But it’s definitely something to consider. Going to school at CMPA is not your average college experience. All in all, once I got in, going to FSU was a no brainer. I wasn’t necessarily looking for a ‘classic college experience’. I wanted to go somewhere that would prepare me for the industry I plan to work in - and that’s precisely the education that I’m receiving.
The admissions process for FSU CMPA is what I’d imagine auditioning for Project Runway is like. The easiest part is sending in the essay, short screenplay, and portfolio with your initial transcript. The admissions faculty then pick 70 -100 lucky candidates to participate in the CMPA interview process. So what is that like? You and 6 or 7 other applicants are all invited to interview at the same time. To start, you get to meet and talk to current students in the program and have a group interview with them. While that is going on, each applicant goes to an individual meeting with three representatives from the admissions faculty. Be prepared to be amazed: Unlike most college interviews I experienced, the faculty at FSU actually knew who I was. They asked me questions about the short films in my portfolio (including two from SOCAPA), they referenced my vlog, and knew the other colleges I was applying to. Basically, they did their research. This is great because it gives you the opportunity to really be yourself and get straight to the meat of things, instead of having to explain everything you’ve done and have already sent them. So you’ve done the group interview, the individual interview and now you’re headed for the group exercise. Essentially, they put four or five of you in a room with a very basic beginning to a story and they give you a certain amount of time to come up with a pitch based on that story. From my understanding, this activity is so that they can evaluate how well you play with others. After that, they give you a tour of the film school and send you on your merry way. You wait a week, a month, or a few months in some cases, and find out if you’re one of the lucky 15 production students or 15 animation students to get in.
The first thing I did when I found out I had to make a portfolio for film school applications was sign up for SOCAPA. I realized that in my day to day life, I probably wouldn’t have enough time or resources to make a film that I would feel comfortable sending to colleges. That being said, I did a few things in high school to supplement the films I made at SOCAPA. First of all, I started posting to youtube regularly, something that is a common thread between me and many of my classmates. I had a vlog where I spoke about feminism, politics, and my favorite books, one of my friends posted film reviews, another made compilations out of clips from her favorite tv shows. In all three cases, we were demonstrating that creating was important to us, and that visual communication was integral to our lives. In addition to that, I entered a few 48 hour film competitions, which gave me the opportunity to have a wider variety of films to submit.
My advice for building your portfolio would simply be to make stuff and put yourself out there. Start a vlog or a sketch channel or a vine account, enter some film competitions, make films in your backyard with your friends. It will make you more attractive to colleges and it will make you a better filmmaker. Practice makes perfect, as they say.
FSU Film School has what we like to refer to as the FSU Mafia. When we graduate our administration connects us with alumni in the part of the industry that we’re interested in and networking builds from there. In addition to that, our school is set up in such a way that we become very close to the classes above and below us and the MFA classes. So, we leave film school with a large network of peers.
One of the benefits of having 15-30 people classes is that it’s impossible not to become close with your professors. We call nearly all of our professors by their first names, we are all given their phone numbers at the beginning of the semester and are encouraged to text them or call them at any time, and - most importantly to me - our professors take an interest in us. My professors know the films I’ve made, they know my favorite movies, and what movie I recently saw and hated, they know my strengths and weaknesses and are happy to discuss them with me. At FSU the students are on call, and so are the professors. It’s one of my favorite aspects of the program.
I was volunteering on a set last weekend, which is always a little scary to me because I don’t like not knowing things and I still have so much to learn when it comes to Grip/Gaffer and understanding some of our more advanced equipment. The key grip on set asked me to set a few things up and I agreed and ran off and did what I was told. As I was doing it, I realized that it was the first time on a large set where I didn’t have to ask questions about what I was being asked to do. Everything I was told was something that I had learned on a previous set. It might sound small, but it is little victories like that that make me really excited about filmmaking and learning in general. It’s those little moments that demonstrate how much I’m really learning every day.
I would say look at the programs, not at the university as a whole. When I started looking at schools, I avoided all large ‘football schools’. I didn’t want to be taught by graduate students, I wanted to have intimate class sizes - not sit in a 100 person lecture hall, and I’m not really one for school spirit. So, it is pretty hilarious that I go to FSU. But the thing is, even though those experiences may be common for non-film majors at FSU, that is absolutely not what FSU film school is like. In the film school, I’ve so far taken only one class taught by an MFA (it was actually a great class); none of my classes have more than 30 students in them - most of them have 15; and honestly I probably wouldn’t have time for school spirit-y activities even if I wanted to.
By looking at schools as a whole I discounted a number of programs that might have been an awesome fit - I even almost discounted the school I go to and love today. Which is basically all to say, do your research.
I’m currently in pre-production for a documentary I’m directing about abortion clinic escorts and buffer zone laws. Clinic escorts are volunteers who serve to protect patients at abortion clinics from violent or aggressive protestors. In recent years, ‘buffer zone laws’, or laws that prevent protesters from coming within a certain radius of clinics, have been overturned by the supreme court, and my film is about the effect that those laws becoming unconstitutional has had on access to reproductive care. We have eight weeks of pre-production for our documentary films and I’m currently in the sixth. Right now, I’m focusing on finding reference images with my director of photography (Anthony Romaguera, another SOCAPA alum) and having some pre-interview discussions with my subjects. This project is especially exciting because it is a great opportunity for me to put on my ‘activist hat’ and create a film and a discussion around something that I’m incredibly passionate about. I feel very lucky to be going to a school where creating something like this is an assignment, and something that a whole semester is dedicated to supporting.