Tell us what past experiences led to your passion for filmmaking.
I wasn't the most popular kid back in elementary school. What I lacked in looks and personality, however, I made up for with creativity. I used to draw, write and print (well, photocopy) original comic books and sell them to my classmates for two dollars per copy. Video games weren't going to pay for themselves, after all. Eventually, I realized I could double my output (and my profits) by nixing time-consuming illustrations and just writing short stories. I was always more passionate about the narrative than the drawings anyway. This period lasted about nine months and twenty short stories. Then I saw Sam Raimi's Spider-Man and everything changed forever. Spider-Man wasn't the first great movie I had ever seen (I watched Beauty and The Beast every morning for almost two years), but it was the first film that really spoke to the comic book nerd in me. X-Men was cool, but Peter Parker was instantly relatable. I probably felt more in that screening than any film since. From that day forward, all I wanted to do was write a film that entertained and captured audiences like that film did.
What were you least prepared for when entering the BFA in Production program?
As someone who spent the majority of my teen years rigorously training myself mentally and physically to get by while doing the least amount of work possible, I was entirely unprepared for the sheer amount of work expected of the typical film school student. On top of the thirteen-hour set days, attendance in every class is mandatory at the risk of losing a letter grade and most of those tend to exceed three hours. Particularly during the production cycle, your social life only takes place in dreams and that's before the infamous "set nightmares" kick in. I'll admit that I struggled at first and even contemplated dropping the major, but after a few months I got the hang of the things. The work is hard, but the feeling you get when you see your project light up the silver screen makes it all worthwhile.
What does a typical day look like for a film student?
The typical day for a film school student starts the night before when trying to decide what time you're going to set your alarm to. "Call time is at 6am and it's going to take me thirty-minutes to get to the location. I want to get there early, but not so early that I regret not sleeping in a few more minutes. Normally, I take a 7 minute shower (yes, you'll start timing your showers), but, given it's going to be almost 5am, I'll probably be drowsy and take 15." Eventually, you'll decide on a time (I recommend getting the Sleep Cycle iPhone app; it works miracles), go to sleep, curse yourself awake at 4:30am, do your morning routine, which rarely includes breakfast, and make your way to work. Depending on the season, set will either be entirely too hot or mind-numbingly cold. You'll carry heavy objects and witness your great friends become overwhelmingly obnoxious co-workers. The day will be stressful and it will feel long, but you will assure yourself this is worthwhile and, most of the time, it is. Then you'll get home, take the best shower of your life and do it all again. Unless, of course, you just wrapped. In that case, you'll still have equipment check-in, which is all of the above with none of the satisfaction.
What advice do you have for prospective applicants of the program?
I'd hate to say "be yourself" because it's probably the most useless advice anyone could ever offer. Instead, to make things a bit more interesting, be someone else who's auditioning for the role of you in a short film about your film school application process. That's less cliche, right? In all honesty, just because you're attending film school doesn't mean you have to fit a certain "artist" stereotype. The faculty here will know when you're bluffing or being insincere. I'll be the first to say I prefer Fast Five to The Master, and there's no shame in saying The Usual Suspects is overrated-as if the ending is any different from the classic "it was all a dream." Just don't speak poorly of Pixar because, unless you're citing Cars, you're just wrong.
How have the faculty and staff prepared you to enter the motion picture industry?
Every department at the film school is staffed with enormously talented professors who are all willing to go out of their way in assisting the students. Every production cycle, the director and his or her ATL (director of photography, producer, production designer and first assistant director) have the privilege of attending a required "director's prep" with three or four members of the faculty. The purpose of the meeting is for each member of the crew to present their departmental concerns and ideas for feedback. The screenplay is scrutinized for plot holes and character fallacies, production design elements are re-imagined and storyboards are critiqued and adjusted. I've personally seen terrible films turn into great ones in these meetings.
Anything else you would like to share?
A lot of people will suggest that pursing a film degree is a worthless endeavor. The industry, after all, does not care what college you attended and several of the world's most prolific directors are known dropouts. I would like to debunk that theory. Every since I saw Spider-Man, I have wanted to make movies. I tried in high school, but I didn't have friends with a common interest, so finding a gaffer, a director of photography, a producer or any other such was an impossibility. At film school, I have made some of the best friends that I could ever ask for and, thanks to this program, I created some spectacular shorts that never would have been possible if I had decided to pursue a degree in journalism or creative writing. Don't apply for the degree; apply for the experience.