Written by Christina Hamlett
Years ago, I interviewed a prominent producer and asked him whether he thought a film school degree was essential to a successful career in the movie industry. His answer surprised me. “I can’t say I learned anything in a classroom I didn’t already know from grunt work on a tech crew, peppering screenwriters with questions and reading as many scripts as I could. What I did come away with was lasting and invaluable—my friendships with classmates who had the same dreams I did.”
When you’re planning to apply to film school, the good news is that the U.S. has some of the best in the world. The bad news is that competition for slots is extremely high. Unless you’re entering this arena with a stellar referral or a recognizable family name, the first—and sometimes only— impression you can make is with the portfolio you submit with your application. Here are six tips to make yours stand out.
Tip # 1.
If you’re asked to submit only one video sample, make sure it’s not only the best representation of your skill sets but that it also embraces diversity, inclusivity and originality. If your demo reel can showcase multiple projects, go for variety to demonstrate your flexibility and enthusiasm for multiple genres. Continuity, cutting and expert storytelling are what they’re looking for here.
Tip # 2.
Video samples should focus on projects you’re especially proud of. Don’t forget that these don’t have to be limited to directorial and screenwriting expertise. The inclusion of credits for cinematography, lighting, sound, special effects, makeup, set design and costume design will all be in your favor as demonstration you want to master your craft inside and out.
Tip # 3.
Link your demo reel to your website, social media, YouTube channels and online resume so that admissions directors know where to learn more about you. Just make sure all of these links are strictly professional and focused.
Tip # 4.
Writing samples should include concept pieces (descriptions of new projects you want to try), dialogue scenes to show your expertise with spoken conversations, and non-dialogue scenes to support your awareness of the power of a visual medium.
Tip # 5.
Don’t forget a cover letter. This piece of your portfolio should be no more than three concise paragraphs which (1) introduce yourself, (2) define what you believe you can bring to the academic table, and (3) explain why you believe this institution is the best match for what you’d like to accomplish. Stay humble. Declaring that you are the next Spielberg is not going to get you any points.
Tip # 6.
Don’t stress about test scores or awards. While these can certainly be helpful, film schools place a greater emphasis on whether you possess the creative spark to thrive, survive and adapt to the mercurial nature of the entertainment business.
Top feature photo taken by Tim Mossholder. Connect with Tim through his website or IG.
Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award-winning author whose credits to date include 44 books, 249 stage plays and squillions of articles and interviews. She is also a script consultant for stage and screen and a professional ghostwriter. Learn more at www.authorhamlett.com.
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