BFA, Writing for Screen and Television '14
How has the School of Cinematic Arts changed your view of your discipline (filmmaking, screenwriting, animation, producing, interactive, critical studies, etc.)?
Since coming here, I’ve learned that there are indeed plenty of jobs for writers in the industry—just look at all our amazing professors and alumni! But I’ve also learned that if you want a job, you have to prove yourself by working hard and being assertive. Things don’t just fall into place—it’s important to surround yourself with people who support you and help you grow. This is true for writing as well as for the industry in general. Filmmaking is such a complicated process, and every job is as integral to the whole as it is unique from all the others. This may all sound cliché, but it really does mean that we have to work together and have faith in everyone’s abilities.
What advice do you have for prospective students looking at applying to your program?
If you’re at all interested in scriptwriting, apply! I only developed an interest in writing my sophomore year in high school, and I had no idea what the admissions committee was looking for in potential students. I just kept on writing, and I guess they saw something in me that I wasn’t even sure I had. Also, write what you want, not what you think other people like to read. This goes for college admissions in general: don’t do things just because you think it’s what people want to see. If you do things for you, if you write things for you, your passions will come through and people will appreciate your talent and enthusiasm.
How has the School of Cinematic Arts prepared you so far for a career in your discipline?
SCA has prepared me in innumerable ways for a career in writing. The most useful thing I’ve learned here is that it never hurts to ask. Whether it’s asking for advice, asking for help, asking for a job—here’s how I look at it: things don’t just fall into your lap. You have to stand up for yourself, because otherwise you’re just another fish in the very, very large sea. If you ask for something, what’s the worst that’ll happen? That they’ll say no? Okay, well, at least you tried. But if they say yes, you’ve just done yourself a huge favor! The trick is to figure out whom to ask, and when. But don’t worry; you’ll learn all that here, too.
What have been the biggest challenges for you at USC?
Keeping my room clean! Aside from that (a challenge I faced even before coming to USC, unfortunately), I’d say a big challenge is finding time for my interests outside the film world. I play two instruments and make visual art, but it’s difficult to find time to practice when I should be writing pages or watching movies for class (not the worst homework assignment, admittedly). Even though I don’t have as much time for these activities as I used to, I still try to keep up with them. I’ve managed to squeeze in some elective time for art—I took a wheel throwing (ceramics) class last year and loved it!
What in your past has given you inspiration or a unique point of view that you bring to USC?
I cite two elements of my upbringing as my main sources of inspiration: one is my parents’ backgrounds, and the other is my high school experience. My parents are both pretty extraordinary people—my mom grew up in a small town in western Kenya and has since moved around the world, settling here and gaining her US citizenship, while my dad has a job in urban planning and development that often requires him to travel to dangerous parts of the world, helping other countries’ governments find their footing. They are both extremely courageous and inspiring, so I try to transfer that inspiration into my writing and also emulate their wonderful traits so that they will be proud of me.
Even though I graduated from high school years ago, the strange social structure of those four years continues to fascinate me. Teenagers’ emotions are so nascent and fragile, and it’s easy for adults to brush them off as “silly.” I can assure you, they’re not! Teenagers don’t have any means of comparison, so it’s natural that seemingly menial problems should feel like the end of the world. In high school, every day is the end of the world, you know? It’s because you’re constantly put in situations that you’ve never faced before. I want to open people’s eyes to the relativity of emotion, and high school is the perfect vehicle for doing so.