"I believe that I was picked not because I was the best writer they have ever seen but because of my own personality, interests, and my life experience."
We asked SOCAPA alum and USC Screenwriting student Madeline Bhaskar for her advice to high school filmmakers preparing for college.
When applying to colleges, two things mattered to me: warm location and great film program with a possible screenwriting major. I applied to NYU, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine, UC Davis, Oregon, and a few others. I even applied to some schools overseas such as Exeter in England. I basically wanted out of the midwest. However, USC was always my top choice. USC's film program mainly stuck out for me because of three reasons. First, it had a screenwriting program. To my knowledge, USC is one of the few film schools that offers Screenwriting as an undergraduate degree instead of a graduate degree. Second, USC emphasizes knowing all the aspects of filming. They want their students to not simply be great writers, but overall great filmmakers. Third, USC is in the heart of LA. There are so many opportunities for me even as a freshman screenwriter. (The weather is also amazing out here).
The application that I filled out for USC was longer and more extensive than any other college application I filled out, even more than NYU's. USC goes through the Common App, so first I filled out that and all of the essays that go with it. Then, USC has it's own supplement consisting of two to three short answer questions. Finally, the film school/ writing program has another supplement to the application. I had to write an autobiographical essay told in some imaginative way, a short essay telling about the most challenging moment in my life, two short scripts (5pgs) written to a prompt, and one 10 page script that could be about anything. There are optional interviews that applicants can go to when applying to USC. I did an interview because I wanted to do anything to help my chances. I honestly do not know if that is what tipped the scale on my application. For the application, I definitely submitted work from SOCAPA. My 10 page script was from my 13 page script that I wrote that summer during a three week long screenwriting SOCAPA camp in New York. I also had to submit two letters of recommendation, and one of them was from a SOCAPA instructor Taylor Sardoni. He also proofread the two short scripts that I wrote before I sent them off. Overall, SOCAPA was essential in my application process.
I feel that I have learned so much at USC so far. I have learned not only how to write a script, but how movies are actually made. It is one thing to write a movie, it is another thing on how to get it made. From writing a slug line to learning how to pitch an idea, USC covers it all. I have loved all of my writing professors. USC's writing program is set up like a writers room where everyone is very comfortable with each other. We shout out ideas, and we work with them. My professors are more like friends/parents to me. They are willing to point out my mistakes, but they are also there to crack a joke. Overall, I have loved every bit of going to USC. It's a great place even on your bad days.
The most challenging aspect of being a screenwriter so far that I have experienced is probably learning just the ruthless business of the film industry. Both my parents are doctors, so I had no previous experience of what it is like to work in the film industry. The idea that my script can be completely changed once I sell it is very frightening. That is why I want to direct my own work, so I have more control over it. I also do enjoy being on set and working with people, which I discovered with SOCAPA.
The most exciting learning moment that I have had this past semester was just the magic of screenwriting and how your subconscious knows the story that you want to tell even though you do not. For example, in my 60 page script my professor pointed out that the main character is a lot like Jesus going through the Stations of the Cross before he was crucified. I looked back at the script and added title cards that corresponded to each station and it worked seamlessly into my story! For me that is just the magic of storytelling in a nutshell.
In my college years, I hope to get internships in writing rooms or anywhere I can get them along with perfecting my writing craft. I potentially see myself as a feature writer, but I am also open to the idea of writing for TV. Basically, I want to make sure that I am a well rounded writer, so whoever offers me a job whether it be in television or features I will be able to perform well. I hope to write dramadies/dark comedies because I feel that my style right now walks that line between serious subject matter told in a light hearted way. The ideal situation is that one of my feature scripts will get picked up, and I would be able to direct it. I think what I am looking forward to in my professional future is simply being able to see something that I thought of there on a big screen. It's almost therapeutic.
My advice to those wanting to pursue film in college is to work on your craft no matter what is available to you. If you want to write, write for your school's newspaper. If you want to direct, try to film a project for school. If you want to edit, make music videos with your friends. Any way that you can work on your craft, do it. I did not make a film every weekend with my friends. I simply wrote a lot during the school year and tried to perfect my writing. I would also say to focus on other aspects that are not film for two reasons. First, schools like USC or NYU are prestigious universities that won't compromise just because you are a good filmmaker with poor grades. USC tells you that it is sad to say that the reason why they turn down extremely talented people is because they do not have the grades to be in a high level university. Second, having life experience outside of film is crucial. I believe that I was picked not because I was the best writer they have ever seen but because of my own personality, interests, and my life experience. When you are a filmmaker, especially a writer, who you are as a person is what sets your writing off from everyone else's, so don't be afraid to have other interests.