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April 12, 2007

Getting Admitted to UCLA's Masters Degree Program for Screenwriting

I'm mostly writing this so search engines can find it so prospective screenwriting students will know what the process is. I searched for it all the time while waiting and waiting and couldn't find an explanation of the process at all.

In November of 2005, I applied for the program. I didn't hear about an interview or anything, and in late April, 2006, I got an email that told me I had not been accepted. (April 19th to be exact).

I enrolled in their professional program, which is a feeder program for the MFA program. (Last year, I think 19 of the 24 people who got in had completed the professional program). Somehow, I lost track of the application date for the 2007 session, and didn't realize it until a little more than a week prior to the deadline. I asked my professional program professor for a letter of recommendation, but it was too soon in the program and he said he didn't have a feel for me enough to write one. He told me to wait and apply for the 2008 session. I didn't really want to do that.

Instead, I scrambled, wrote a full screenplay in a week, somehow got some letters written (thanks to Professor John Jebb from University of Delaware, Joe Kempista, owner of Elany Arts, and Heidi Banfer, a VP from Chase Bank, and then since I was already kind of thinking it was a lost cause, decided to do something really noticeable for my "Statement of Purpose," which is the freeform essay you have to submit.

Since I had written a statement of purpose the year previous and liked it - yet knew I didn't get in that year, I didn't quite know what to do. My purpose hadn't really changed much in the year. I still liked it and believed in it. So I thought... why not do something completely different? I sent them a roughed up message in a bottle. Bought a wine bottle, aged it, filled it with sand and grit, wrapped it in old vines. In it I put this crinkled old looking letter, written on a map that I created. I hand wrote the letter, a message from me trapped on the east coast, looking for a way to get to this mythical community I had heard of in UCLA, begging for assistance and rescue. I then also wrote out my previous statement and purpose and included it. I should have taken pictures of it. It actually looked pretty cool. I was happy with it, but at the same time knew it could be really risky, kind of ridiculous if it wasn't what they were looking for.

So I sent it by November 1st, and waited. And waited. In February I received a postcard from the UCLA MFA program. It had boxes on it that someone was supposed to check off to tell me if they'd received everything properly, or if they were still waiting on anything. NO boxes on the postcard were checked! It was COMPLETELY BLANK. There were no phone numbers to call. Every phone number I tried to call dumped me to an answering machine. I emailed addresses I found, and never got a response. The mystery of the blank postcard persists to this day. It made me very nervous, but I guess it was ok.

March arrived. I knew that decisions were communicated in April. I didn't know the timeline of the interview, but honestly I thought that they'd want to set up interviews at least a month before since I thought I'd have to go out to California and I thought they'd want to give me time to get out there, then they would need time to make the decisions too. March 17th arrived, and my wife and I decided that another year of failure was upon us. We were at peace with this, and thought, ok another year until we move to CA.

The next morning, at 4.19 AM I received this letter:

Dear Jason,

The UCLA Screenwriting Committee has reviewed your application and you are among a small group of candidates invited to a personal interview. From your application, I understand you live in Maryland. Is that correct? If so, we will be holding interviews in New York City on March 24th and would like to have the opportunity to meet with you in person.

Upon our receipt of your intention to attend, we will send you a specific meeting time and location.

David Whelan
Graduate Assistant to the Chairs

My mind was blown. I really thought it was too late for me, and here I was being set up for an interview just 6 days later. Wow. So I have my interview in New York. I didn't know what to wear. For a job interview, it's a suit. But I'm supposed to be the creative Hollywood writer here. I struggle with this, along with wondering how long the interview will run and whether I should have anything prepared to show them. Finally, I decide to just ask the guy who set up the interview. He answers:

Jason, Not a stupid question at all. Expect the interview to run 20-30 minutes; you do not have to have anything prepared. With regards to attire, as I understand it, it's not too formal. A suit and tie would be fine, maybe even a little too formal. It's safe to say that ripped jeans would probably be underdressed.

It lasts 20 minutes, and it's with Richard Walter and Hal Ackerman, two extremely nice men. It's a very comfortable talk. Prior to our interview, I get to talk to other prospectives as we wait in the hotel lobby. Every is very friendly, but I'm surprised to find out that the interviews had been communicated to us at wildly different times. One girl, from Maine, had found out about it 3 weeks previously. Another girl had 2 weeks notice. I had 6 days. One guy, another person from Maryland, had found out about it just 2 days before. Go figure.

In my interview, which I thought went extremely well, I was told I'd hear something from them in the "next couple of weeks." I interpreted that to mean... 2 weeks. So I waited and waited and waited for the next 2 weeks. Nothing.

An impending sense of doom settled on me slowly as the 2 weeks were up. My thinking was as follows, "They will surely tell the people who make it first. Since they are taking so long to tell me, I'm out." Finally, on April 10th, I just can't stand it anymore so I write to the person who set up the interview, telling him I wanted to make sure I hadn't missed a message. (Yes, that's pathetic, I know).

I received this message:

Hi Jason,

I do not know a confirmed date of when the decisions will be communicated, but I believe it will be soon. Wish I could be of more help!

As always, let me know if you have any further questions.

This comforts me to some extent, because I think... Well maybe they haven't told anyone yet.

The very next day, April 11, I get this message in email:

April 11, 2007

Dear Mr. Latshaw:

Congratulations! It is with great pleasure that I wish to inform you that you have been recommended by the admissions committee for graduate study at UCLA.

Official action and notification regarding admission to UCLA is handled by Graduate Admissions. You should expect to receive notification from Graduate Admissions within a few weeks.

Please advise me by May 4, 2007 if it is your intention at this time to do your graduate work
at UCLA. Your notification informally will assist us in completing the process of students who will be attending.

Whew, sweet relief. And disbelief. I'm still in shock.

So there you have it, the dates and the process. Hope it helps. I would have loved to know it when I was going through it.

Posted by jason on April 12, 2007 11:19 PM

Comments

exciting stuff! and so good to read about good things that happen to people who work so hard for it! we're so excited for you, jase! and ollie is pretty stoked about the rent-an-otter at seaworld...(who wouldn't be, really?)

Posted by: jessica on April 14, 2007 01:02 PM

Hi Jason,
I came across this page in your site just now, googling for info about the UCLA MFA screenwriting program (and procrastinating from homework). I applied for next year and am waiting to hear about possible interviews. I know it's extremely competitive (congrats to you for getting in!), and am wondering whether there are any students just out of undergrad in your class, and any international students. I'm in my fourth year at a Canadian university, and I know schools such as NYU don't really accept people straight out of undergrad. Are there any from that age bracket in UCLA screenwriting?
Thanks very much,
-Rachel

Posted by: Rachel on February 17, 2008 01:07 PM

hi Rachel-

The people in charge of admissions will tell you they like their candidates to ideally have real world experience and over 30. However I can tell you there are 4 people in this class of 24 who came straight from undergrad. Good luck!

Posted by: Jason on February 17, 2008 01:17 PM

Thanks Jason, I'd only be 22 in September when school starts, but hearing that there are those 4 people gives me a tiny bit more hope!

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