questionmark I know there’s a post in the archives about film school, and whether it’s necessary, but I would love to hear any advice you have on actually applying to film school.

How can someone improve their chances for getting accepted to a MFA program in film production/writing? What in your opinion are film schools really looking for in applicants? Any thoughts on what to avoid in an application?

Honolulu, HI

This time, I decided I would go right to the source and ask Howard A. Rodman, who in addition to being a fine writer and all-around good guy, is the chair of the MFA and BFA programs in screen and television writing of the USC Cinema School.

Here’s what he had to say.

first personHoward Rodman: I read many, many applications. [We just this week finished selecting this fall’s incoming class.] Here’s what we’re looking for:

  1. Writing. Good writing. Not necessarily in screenplay format. We’re less interested, at this point, in whether you know what we’re here to teach you, than in whether you can put together a sentence. Tell a story. Create a dimensional character. In short: do you have your very own voice? [P.S. – We know the difference between “its” and “it’s,” and we actually care.]

  2. Grades, good enough to pass muster with the larger USC admissions apparatus, and good enough to give us the confidence you’ll be able to execute a demanding program. Four point something GPAs and 1600 SATs (or GREs) are truly lovely, but are not in and of themselves guarantors of anything. We’re looking for writers [see #1 above], but we do need to know you can handle the load.

  3. Diversity. Folks with life experience. Folks from strange and wonderful places. Folks who’ve had interesting ‘first’ careers before turning to writing. Not just your typical work/study/get ahead/kill types. The New York Times says that a cinema MFA may be the new MBA; but I’m not sure we’d view it that way.

  4. A good mix. Not all Hummers, not all Priuses.