questionmarkI’m in the middle of applications for USC and UCLA, where I hope to get an MFA in screenwriting.

Any tips on writing the ultimate statement of purpose? Also, what kind of references play well? Should I get industry types or not — I have a couple of contacts in L.A.

I notice you went to USC. Was it very expensive?

— Matt
London

Last question first: yes. Film school is and was expensive. In my case, it was definitely worth it, but for every film school grad who’s making a living at it, there are probably three who aren’t. It’s certainly not like an MBA, where you’re pretty much guaranteed to get some kind of decent job at the end.

I was tempted to dig back through the archives (which are probably on floppy disk) to find my original application letter for the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC. Laziness trumped temptation, and I didn’t. But here’s my recollection of my “statement of purpose”:

I want to learn about the film industry in a comprehensive way, everything from loading a camera to analyzing a marketing plan. In specific, I’m curious to learn how the industry learns from its successes and failures, both critically and commercially.

My letters of recommendation came from a journalism professor and a marketing professor at Drake, and a film instructor I’d had for a summer program at Stanford. I think if you have a film-related reference, use it. But make sure at least one of your references is someone who knows you well and can really speak to your unique strengths with specific examples. To me, there’s nothing worse than a hollow, generic letter of recommendation from someone who seems to be a near-stranger.

For USC requirements, I also had to take the GRE exam. Apparently, the Stark program doesn’t really care about the scores, but I’ll gloat and say I did well. I really miss standardized tests.

The Stark program didn’t ask for a writing sample, so I didn’t need to send in anything for that. What’s weird to realize is that back then, I really didn’t know what screenwriting was.

How to get into film school
Is film school necessary?