To deny that I have a procrastination problem has been my single greatest self-injustice. Throughout high school, I earned grades which were adequate, given that I frequently missed assignments and turned homework in late. I was not a delinquent by any means, just burned out. While my friends stressed over whether or not their recent essay grades would prevent their admission into a respectable university, I figured as long as I kept my head above water, some university would accept me. My high school performance no longer counts against me, but to this day, I still resent my carelessness-because these habits so easily translate over into college. Even more importantly, my tendency to procrastinate reduced my already marginal chances of attending my dream schools.
Fall of 2013, I began applying to my top choice film schools, followed by backup, state universities, the following winter. The previous two years I had fallen even more in love with the gorgeous LA scenery and rigorous screenwriting programs offered by UCLA and the University of Southern California. Each school narrowed down their several-hundred-applicant pool to a mere 26-30 freshman screenwriters, through required submission of a film portfolio. If you've read my post "How to Sum Up Your Life in 650 Words," you might remember the bit about my mom developing an entire tri-fold for my application requirements. She neatly printed hand-outs for each portfolio piece and organized them by due date, on the back
of the board, in case I ran into trouble piecing together my supplements. Every afternoon, I came home to a "you should really start on your portfolio," accompanied by a stern finger pointing in the direction of the board (which by now had taken over the entire dining room table.) I'd shoo my mother off with a wave of a hand and an "it should only take a few hours to write. I have plenty of time."
If you have ever crammed an essay last minute, you know to an extent, it is true that an acceptable essay might be crafted in only two or three hours. These are never developed with quality in mind, but rather in hopes of receiving a passing grade. The problem with this technique is that you cannot expect an A on a paper that did not require A effort. Somehow, I still have not learned this lesson. Similarly, college admissions boards will not give you points, merely for completing your portfolio. Colleges are looking for thoughtfully refined pieces (a.k.a. the 4th, 5th, or even 6th draft.) A portfolio is meant to be a culmination of an individual's life works-the best pieces, or those most representative of the artist's values. Similarly, a college portfolio is meant to demonstrate an applicant's prior knowledge and gauge his/her potential within the program. It is important to understand that many of the students applying to a given program have dreamed of that career field for years. They have worked for months over the projects they will choose to present in their portfolio. Some will submit portfolios that are even more extensive than those of individuals graduating from that program. Simply put, competition is hard and you will most likely have a lot of time to make up.
Applying to film school, I had nothing. A year prior, I participated in a month long film and screenwriting program at UCLA and Pepperdine, so I was only vaguely familiar with screenplay format and technical cinematography terms. I was just beginning a critical studies film course at my high school, and possessed very little experience dissecting film techniques, especially from in front of the screen. It would have taken months to even begin learning about the field, let alone how to attack the pieces required for my portfolio. Still, I assumed that decent writing trumps experience, and relied on my extensive English background to win over the hearts of admissions board members.
I am the type of procrastinator that attempts to get ahead on a newly assigned project to atone for my past procrastination. And then reward myself with a much too long break in between the first step and the time the assignment is due. So, it came as no surprise that despite finishing my critical analysis essays early, I waited until the night before my portfolios were due to begin writing screenplay scenes. For several hours, I wrote furiously, occasionally running upstairs to have my mom evaluate dialogue and then to the basement for my dad's help brainstorming character summaries. I was stressed to the point that I barely let my parents finish reading or speaking before I ran back into my room to resume writing. I expected immediate answers and did not have time for criticism, since it only reminded me that I was crazy for waiting this long to start.
As the deadline neared closer, I swear I could feel my brain shutting down. Mechanically, I exported the files into PDFs and uploaded each document to the portfolio website. I flashed a defeated smile at my parents, who were too disappointed to even recite the standard "you should have started earlier." In the time that it took my finger to travel to the mouse and click "submit," I must have considered a million times, giving up and not submitting anything at all. At some point, I closed my eyes, clicked the mouse, and a window appeared to notify me of final submission. Once again, I had tossed away an opportunity to really express myself. Success was at my fingertips (almost literally), and yet for the past several months, I had channeled that energy into clicking YouTube video after YouTube video.
I am not sure why it took two rejection letters to understand that the portfolio was nothing special. Part of me hoped that something provocative or different made its way into one of the pieces, resonating with and exciting an admissions officer to say "this is trash, but at the same time there's something here." When it comes to applying to colleges, though, you have to be brutally honest with yourself. This isn't a movie. This is your life and it is your responsibility to take action and pave your own path to success.
With all that said, I do not regret not being able to attend either film school. I was accepted into several prestigious film and screenwriting programs, but instead decided to enroll in a state school, and my father's alma mater. Film is always still an option, but I now realize that it probably would not have mattered if I wrote my essays earlier in the application process. UCLA and USC expected experienced and proactive filmmakers and screenwriters, and honestly, I needed a school that would start me off at the very beginning.
Whatever ultimately happens is for the best. Fate is no excuse to procrastinate on a project, but procrastination and success are also not necessarily mutually exclusive.
Simply chip away at essays a day, page, sentence, word, or letter at a time. Whatever works for you. Revise, even after you think the piece is done and run your document(s) by several writers you trust. Give yourself a reasonable timeline and follow it. And most importantly, do not stress out. As I alluded to earlier, the application process is not a means of excluding individuals. It is a way to ensure that the school you attend is a good fit for YOU. Have fun with it.