Industry Pros Offer Tips on Pursuing Fellowships and Labs

On Wednesday, January 29, Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film and Television’s four-part series SFTV in Conversation: Life After Film School began with a panel discussion about fellowships and labs. The panel, moderated by SFTV programs and special events manager Dr. Alice Royer, featured Dea Vazquez, Project Involve Manager of Film Independent; Melissa Verdugo, Manager of Programs for Women In Film; and Cathleen Young, Executive Director of Humanitas. The panel discussed why students might want to pursue fellowships, specific ways to make their applications stand out from the crowd, and general career etiquette and advice.

Fellowship programs are often a good intermediate step between school and a full-fledged career, panelists said. Fellowships are generally geared toward people who have been developing their skills, but they stressed that they’re not redundant with film school. “We assume you’re ready to be a working professional in this industry,” said Verdugo.

All three spoke to the benefits of diversity in their programs. Each spoke briefly about the variety of people coming into their programs—from younger adults coming straight out of film school, to professionals looking to shift their film careers onto a different path, to people with passion and talent for storytelling but no prior contact with the film industry. 

When asked for specific advice regarding applications, the panelists went back to the basics: Read the directions. Answer the questions. Proofread. Address your application to the right organization. They stressed how many applicants simply don’t do these simple steps.

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Dr. Alice Royer [left], manager of programs and special events for SFTV, moderates a panel of experts who gave tip on about apply for fellowships and lab programs in the film industry.
The conversation then moved over to the tone of statement letters. Vazquez and Verdugo emphasized clarity in these letters, where applicants simply answer, “Why this fellowship and why now?” without regurgitating their personal bios. Humanitas’s Young diverged slightly, saying she prefers to see captivating writing from line 1. All agreed that personal statements tinged with humility generally leave a better impression—less “I’m the only person who can write this story,” more “Here are the reasons why I must write this story.”

All three panelists retold cringe-worthy stories of applicants who dashed high chances of acceptance into fellowships due to aggressive and negative emails, particularly during delays in the selection process. “Being persistent isn’t a problem, but it’s how you‘re persistent. Don’t be obnoxious. No mean emails. No mean writing. We’ll remember. If you need to be mean, you can do it in other ways—just don’t send that angry email,” said Young, to laughs from the audience.

The event was the first of four talks in this spring’s SFTV in Conversation series. Future panel discussions will address film festivals, how to get an agent or manager, and how other SFTV alums have navigated post-graduation life. Click here to see dates, details, and RSVP information.

Luke Hart-Moynihan is a second-year MFA student in SFTV’s Writing for the Screen program.