written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Amanda Grove•updated: 4/16/2010
Here are some pointers for applying to the graduate film program at USC.
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Inside USC Film School
When people think of film schools they tend to still think of the classic University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. USC was one of the earliest contenders in the field of film schools, especially for the Master's of Fine Arts program. From then on USC remained the top film school in the country, only really competing with the New York University Tisch School of the Arts. On the west coast there are few schools that will be better for aspiring filmmakers, and few that are more difficult to get in to. Here are some tips when you are preparing to applying for the Master's of Fine Arts program in Film and Television Production at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
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USC and the GRE
Most serious applicants will be applying to more than one master's film program. In this dynamic USC presents a clear problem because they are one of the only school's that require GRE scores. Other schools may consider them if you have a GPA that is less than 3.0, but they are almost universally ignored by the graduate film programs. Keeping this in mind it may not make GREs that important in the over arching graduate application process, but if USC is high on your list then you are going to need to prepare. GREs are not something you can do a brief crash course on, so a full class over a term would be your best bet.
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USC Portfolio Issues
Another strange aspect of USC that few other schools, namely UCLA, do is reject portfolio samples. Most master's film production programs will require you to submit video samples of your work so they can estimate your ability and background. USC does not do this and instead just asks for a portfolio list. What this means is that you can adjust your portfolio list in a way that would not necessarily be reflected by your video portfolio. This does not mean that you should like on your portfolio list, but it does mean you can embellish and add things that you may not show copies of. More recently you have been able to present a URL link to a video clip that you produce, but this is supposed to be less than five minutes and is optional against the photo assignment.
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You are going to be asked to present the portfolio list and resume in clean forms, which means you need this to look as professional as possible. It may seem counter-intuitive to prepare your resume in a professional way for a school application, but that is exactly what needs to be done. Make sure the formatting of every document you prepare is as professional as possible, and if you need to use a template or hire a person to assist with your resume this is going to help greatly. This is going to be true for all of your graduate school applications, so you do not have to do this for USC specifically.
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USC Photo Assignment
USC puts a lot of weight on a photography assignment that they give out as part of the application process. This requires you to do six photos that essentially tell a story. The goal of this assignment, beyond being annoying busy work, is to show if you can create a linear story with images. Take your time on this and try to script it out clearly ahead of time. You cannot alter the images themselves using any post-produciton methods, so you may want to bring an assistant on this to help out with the efficiency of images. This is unique to USC and is not required for any of the other graduate film schools.
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Letters of Recommendation
Letters of Recommendation are always important so try to get them early. You are going to have to have three letters of recommendation, but if you bring a fourth then it would not be a problem. If you are going to do that then it has to be worth it as quantity without quality is not a selling point. Try to get industry professionals to write you letters of recommendation as you are going to be going up against people who work in the industry and relatives of high level industry professionals and actors.
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Spend quite a bit of time on the personal statement that you have to submit. Tell about yourself in as concise a way as possible, and try to make it a little creative at times. Make sure that before you sit down to write sections A and B of this that you can clearly communicate what areas of filmmaking are interesting to you, why you want to be a filmmaker, and what is unique about your perspective as an artist.