I applied to several graduate programs. The majority of them were MFA Film or Writing programs, some were MA Film programs and some were MA Creative Writing programs. What's the difference in those degrees, you ask? MFA (Master's of Fine Art) is a practical degree, where you not only study the art but you physically do the art. An MA (Master's of Art) is more of a theoretical degree where you study the art but you don't necessarily practice it. Make sense? Maybe not but that's the gist of it. For example, an MFA is to a Filmmaker what an MA is to a professor (there are always exceptions to the rule).
As I told you, I wanted to be a writer. At this time in my life I had narrowed it down to a TV writer. Well, after taking the GRE twice (only one of my schools needed this score, it happened to be the school I attended!), practically teaching myself how to write a screenplay, and writing more admissions essays than anyone ever wants to write in a lifetime, I was finally accepted into two of the programs: American Film Institute in LA and Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL. So therein lies the question: Shannan, why didn't you choose AFI? Well, we have to back up a bit to find the answer.
I was working as an Advisor in the Office of Honors Programs & Scholarships at Texas A&M University while applying to graduate programs. It was my job to recruit the top, diverse students from selected underrepresented high schools in Houston and Dallas. Don't get me wrong, I love working with students (hence, the whole loving to give notes thing) but I felt my creativity was being stifled. So, instead of staying there until my graduate program began, I left a year early, packed my car with whatever could fit and drove to LA.
I led the starving artist life. I slept on floors and couches for months while interning (that means free labor) at The Dr. Phil Show, Cube Vision, and ABC Casting. I moved to LA in July of 2005 and didn't get my first paying gig until that October. But guess what... artist gigs are contract to contract. So the contract of being Scott Caan's assistant on his directorial debut of "The Dog Problem" was over within a month and I was back to being broke. Sure, I 2nd AD'ed a few music videos here and there to make a quick dollar. But I was basically eating spaghetti every day (you must learn the cheap grocery game). Eventually, I landed a job at Intervention (GRB Entertainment for the A&E Channel) as the assistant to the Executive Producer Bryn Freeman. She was awesome sauce. I learned a lot from her and earned a great letter of rec for my admissions packets.
So, getting back on track. I was living in LA. FSU sent me an acceptance letter. I hadn't heard anything from many of the other schools. FSU was inviting me into their production program, though I really wanted to be in the writing program. The writing program had only six slots while the production program had 24. I was told that if anyone left the writing program before the first semester ended, that I was next in line. Now, after having worked on SEVERAL sets by then, I knew I didn't want to do production. But I also knew that I'd still get the opportunity to write in our screenwriting courses. So, I prayed on it: "God, if I move to Tallahassee, please let met get into the writing program. Amen."
I resigned at Intervention and traveled across the country to Florida. The Film School has an orientation week (a well needed orientation week) that begins one week before classes start. It was during this time that AFI contacted me. Really? Now, you call, after I moved all the way the eff across the country! Lol. I had a decision to make. AFI is in LA, right in the middle of the industry. Of course I'd be learning from top-notch instructors AND I was admitted into their screenwriting program. BUT, I knew that I had also moved all the way to Florida for a reason. I weighed my options. FSU was much cheaper than AFI. FSU was an actual college campus giving me the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities. Not to mention, of the top ten film schools in the nation, FSU was in the top seven. FSU was winning student Academy Awards left and right. I had to trust my decision. I declined the offer. It was the best decision EVER. And for those wondering... a student dropped out of the writing program that December. You gotta trust your gut!
Shannan E. Johnson, a writer who doesn't write.