June 23rd, T-Minus 53 days

My name is Michael, of the Copponex variety.  The name is French.  We’re fairly certain it was Copponaux at some time, but based on my 2-minute Googling of my family history, we came over from France right around 1860-something, and the current spelling stands by itself.

Certain things interest me heavily: Space, Nuclear War, TV series, the impossible, the spiritual, Adriana Lima, movies and music.  I also firmly believe in A God, one that plays an active role in my life and has since I was born.

I’m 24.  I have lived in Marietta, GA nearly my entire life.  I have a large circle of fellow Marietta citizens I call friends, mostly comprised of Sprayberry High School alumni classes ’00-’03.  It makes for a fun group, a very social environment, and a leisurely existence…

But in less than two months, this will no longer be my existence.  I was recently accepted into Florida State’s Graduate Film Conservatory and will be moving to Tallahassee on August 15th.  So, I begin this electronic journal not only as a firsthand account of the beginning, middle, and end of the film school process for those interested, but also as personal documentation by which I hope to recount and read later in life.

The decision to apply to film school came one year ago, May of 2007, on the sidewalk of the AMC Barrett Commons here in Kennesaw, GA.  A former teacher and friend to many of my friends, Pete Difazio, met us at the theatre to see Spiderman 3.  Two and a half hours later, in order to quickly forget about just how bad Spiderman 3 was, we began talking about other, more encouraging, things.  Pete had just returned from Tallahassee and had visited Florida State’s film school.  He spoke very highly of it.  He made it sound tangible.  He made it sound like an option.  Pete was in a very different stage in life from me.  He was/is in his mid-thirties, already had a master’s in English, and had taught at they very same high school he attended for many years.  Now, after years of teaching an introductory film class elective to high school students, and writing many of his own screenplays, Pete decided it was now-or-never to do what he had excused and put off for so many years: he would apply to film school, multiple films schools, in fact.  Florida State just happened to be one of them.

As I stood on the sidewalk for those 45 minutes, Pete seemed to be divinely placed there in order to convince me to make the same decision… not that any of my friends knew that I would be interested in film school.  The decision to complete the application, while still daunting, seemed plausible.  As Pete spoke, the fear and intimidation of film school began to erode away.  I had heard horror stories of just how expensive and iffy of a venture film school could be.  But suddenly, the people sounded real, the facilities sounded a like a playground, and the opportunity would be undeniable.  Why not, I mean, a tour can’t hurt.  So on my way to my cousin’s wedding in Florida, my brother and I swung by Florida State to take a look.  It was awesome, no doubt, but they made it a point to drill into your head that this was “NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART. YOU WILL CRY AND PROBABLY QUESTION YOUR MANHOOD.”  They explained how serious the graduate program was and how much of a life you will not have when you’re in it..IF you’re in it.  Ok ok, I-I- I got it, thanks.

What makes FSU attractive is not only the facilities and prestige of the school, but that Florida State is part of something called the Academic Common Market, a program in which many southeastern schools participate.  If a student applies to a school, such as Florida State, from a participating state, and that student’s home state does not have an equivalent program to the one they are applying to, the student is offered in-state tuition.   In my case, this would essentially cut tuition costs down by almost 75%, a truly fantastic benefit.  If you’re interested, you can read about it here: http://www.sreb.org/programs/acm/acmindex.aspx

I went home that night and began secretly looking at FSU’s program.  I also began looking at many other top schools in the nation: USC, UCLA, AFI, NYU, Chapman, Columbia, etc.  Out of the top schools in the nation, FSU and Chapman are the only two that subsidize students’ films.  This means you won’t have to raise money to complete your thesis film in order to finish your degree.  I liked the sound of that.  Referring back to the horror stories of film school, I had heard that NYU and USC kids were taking out $50,000 – $100,000 loans to finance their films.  I had two problems with this, ok three:

1) I don’t even know if the loans were THAT large, but I’ve never heard anything to the contrary.

B) I don’t think it would quite take that much money to prove you’re a good filmmaker.  Part of the reason I like film is that a small movie like Juno can kick the spandex out of a movie like Spiderman 3, and it has nothing to do with money.  I feel like money is the great equalizer.  It’s a handicap, and through this handicap, your real talent shines through.  “Compressed Expression” as my friend Bill calls it.  Too much money also bites you, on the flipside, and creates overly-done, cinematic fluff like last summer’s sequel explosion.  Name on sequel last summer that was worth anything, besides Bourne Ultimatum, and even that got tedious.

3) If I have to raise that much money to finish my degree, what, exactly, is my tuition paying for?

Film school was something that had always rested way back in that “dusty dreams” section of my mind.  I didn’t visit it too often, and when I did, I quickly grenaded it with excuses and fears of competition, debt, and overall unhappiness.  We’ve all got insecurities, and I find that we use them against ourselves more than anyone else.  But I’ve also found that the thing you talk yourself out of the most, is the thing you most want to do.

I printed out the Florida State application and it sat…for months… all through the summer.  Applications weren’t due until Dec. 15th.  It sat because it seemed like there were way too many fires to extinguish.    What teachers would even write me a recommendation?  My GPA was mediocre.  What would I include as an example of my work?  I felt my stuff was well-done, but very very small-scale.  I certainly wasn’t gripping on any local Atlanta film sets.  Regardless, I told myself that applying didn’t hurt anyone.  I at least wanted to see where I stood.  I found two teachers who actually did believe in me. 1) my 11th grade Lit teacher, Miss. Sandy Case. 2) One of my former college film professors, Dr. Charles Eidsvik.  I have never read what they wrote about me, but I appreciate every word of it, because they obviously did something right.

I decided to apply to Chapman University in Orange, CA and Florida State.  Both schools subsidized students’ work and seemed like a great deal.  (USC, I’ll be honest, intimidated me and was REALLY expensive, as were UCLA, AFI, and the others).  The applications were very different.  I had to write about 4 separate pieces for Chapman (3 page script on a given scenario, transitional moment, statement of interest, and a favorite movie). I could not send in a video example of my work, only something called a “portfolio list” where you named off your creative projects chronologically.  FSU’s application was much more rigid.  A statement of interest, a video example, and 2 transcripts from every university attended…that was it.  At the time, I was much more confident in my Chapman application because I felt it showed more of who I was.

Chapman sent me something in the mail almost weekly.  It was quite misleading.  It was always info on the school and then a DVD.  From FSU, I didn’t hear a peep.  Pete texted me one day and said “I got accepted into Chapman! And don’t worry about the envelope being small, mine was small.” No interview, no nothing.  Hmmm, maybe I’ve got shot here.  Then, one day a letter came (sure enough, little envelope).  “Dear Michael, NO.”  It might have said a little more than that, but they could have just gotten away with saving their ink and keeping it simple.  Welp, one down, one to go.  This is why I did this, though, just to see if I could do it.  But seriously, if Chapman takes 85 kids and FSU only takes 30, what were my odds here?  Then again, I don’t believe in odds.  If something is meant to happen, odds don’t factor in.  Kinda like how I don’t think aliens exist just because the universe is “so big” that the odds are in their favor.  If they’re not there, they’re not there.  But that’s for another blog.

One day, while chatting on Gmail (kinda like I am now) an email came through saying “Congratulations! You got and interview.” WHOA. I immediately responded and scheduled my interview for the first weekend in March.  First hurdle down.  I always told my Mom that if I got an interview, I’d get in.  The interview wasn’t quite as easy as I thought.  This blog has been long enough, so I’ll talk about the interview next time.

BTW, if you’re wondering why the name of my blog is “Pure White Adult Rocker,” it was from a rocking chair for sale at Cracker Barrel and the name of the line was a Pure White Adult Rocker.  “How fitting,” I thought.  It has no racial overtones.


2 Responses to “June 23rd, T-Minus 53 days”

  1. Amy Harden Says:

    Michael!! I love that you are doing this. I loved reading your stuff, it not only tells me about the trials and tribulations of your film school journey, but it is pretty damn good writing too (I am very into writing lately). I look forward to checking this often and am actually going to link you up to my blog. I have one going for my graduate program right now, but am planning on creating one for myself too. Good luck with everything; I know you will be successful!!

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