Applying to Film School: A Portfolio Process

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Watching the way a story is woven together and the way the audience reacts to it is what I would consider one of the greatest pleasures in life. I have been creating stories since I began taking dance classes at age five. So for a while, I’ve known that I’ve wanted my professional career to deal with storytelling and creating. Around the time of 8th grade, I was able to discover my passion for editing and film producing through a broadcast writing course elective. For a while now I’ve been certain I’d like to study communications and film when I go to university.  

Some people may not realize the differences that exist for students who apply to an arts school or program. In addition to the traditional application processes of Common App or UCAS, prospective students must complete portfolios. For certain arts courses such as dance or theatre, students will have to attend an audition where admissions will deem applicants suitable or unfit. For film students the required portfolio piece consists of a well developed, produced and edited short film. Although less nerve wracking than a live audition in front of an admissions judge panel, the pressure to create the best and most original product is overwhelming.  

Around the time I began taking TV Production courses in middle school, I began testing out my newly developing skills on home movies. Most of the products were stupid comedies made with friends out of boredom. Other times I would force my partners to be “professional” and plan out ideas for movies or music videos. After selecting a topic or idea each person would be assigned characters and costumes. I would grab whatever video camera was closest and would begin directing the shots. We wouldn’t bother with lines seeing as scripting would take up too much time which we didn’t have. Our home movies would take anywhere from an hour to three to properly shoot, direct and edit on our dusty old Mac computer. The final screening would be showed to our parents.  

However, my application short film could be nothing like the other films I had loved to create on those play dates. This would have to be thought out to perfection. Real critics would be viewing this work. This was a film that decided my right of passage into the school.

One detail I have always found necessary when choosing an idea or story for a film is to KISS. In Television or Film KISS means: Keep It Short and Sweet. In other words, to chose a topic that this simple and not too emotionally complex or deep rooted. Each individual is allotted 5-10 mins to convey their stories. In order for the plot to make sense, it is better to keep the story as basic as possible. Something else I have found when creating is that it is much easier to portray a sad story. Sadness is an emotion which is more easily felt as humans naturally sympathize with each other. Keeping these two points in mind, I formulated a story for my film.  

In my plot, the protagonist, a girl age 17, becomes handicapped after she suffers a stroke, making it difficult for her to walk normally. The story surrounds the complexities of this sudden change, especially for her and her best friend.  

I asked my sister Sydney and Andrea Orta to aid me as the characters for this film.  Since I wanted to keep the story as simple as possible in a very immense topic I decided to shoot the scenes at home. The scenes would take place on weekends in order to be more personal and reflective of the girls best friend relationship. I aimed to keep the setting similar before and after “the accident” to emphasize the changes to the audience.

The first step in production was writing out scenes or sketches I visualized in my head and then talking it over with the girls. Next, we took a few hours after school to shoot and re shoot scenes from different angles and positions. Finally, I downloaded all the film onto my editing software and got ready to work. The final touches included adding music and text to show changes in days/time. In total the editing process took a couple of hours over the course of approximately a week.  

As I clicked the big play button for the final screening before exporting it to my portfolio, I held my breathe. This was it; the nine minute short film was finished after weeks of meticulous work. I watched the video in full. As the screen faded to black I smiled. Certainly it was not the best movie to have ever been created but I was proud of the product. Indeed the main objective is to show admissions that the individual carries an understanding of basic editing and production methods.

In any case, students apply to schools to learn more about their subject of interest.  They should not be the masters of the topic before going to school. The movie I created shows that I know how to piece together a chronological story which is emotionally moving. As I wait with the many other anxious seniors to hear from schools, I can only hope the reviewers feel the same.  

Abby Tattle ’16

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