Fulbright Scholar / Scriptwriter
Мariana Sabeva is a Fulbright scholar, completing her M.A. in Screenwriting program at California State University, Northridge.
You won a Fulbright scholarship; what is the process and was it tough?
It takes a lot of hard work to win a Fulbright scholarship award, but in the end it’s absolutely worth it. It’s a life-changing experience. You could check the application process online, but I can share my take on it as well. You need to take two exams, TOEFL, and GRE. The latter includes math and statistics in English, a verbal section (reading & vocabulary) and two essays. While TOEFL is an English exam for foreigners, GRE is the test that all graduate applicants in the U.S. need to take, Americans included. Having said that,
Apart from the two exams there is a detailed online application where you list all kinds of personal and professional info. Include everything (legal and appropriate) that you’ve ever done. The most important part of the online application is the two motivational essays. Even if you mess up the GRE, you can impress the commission with your personal and academic statement. Once you send your online application, the Fulbright committee chooses a number of applicants for the next stage — an interview in person. This is your ultimate chance to demonstrate who you really are and state your goals. A funny memory: on my way to the interview I kept telling myself “Behave, don’t be yourself, be a serious person, no jokes.” Five minutes into the interview and, of course, I cracked and made a joke (a very courageous one, by the way, so courageous that I won’t write it down here). The commission laughed along with me, and I realized that as long as you are honest (and respectful), you will be appreciated.
What is your advice for someone who wants to get a Fulbright?
The most important thing is that you’re focused and confident about where you’re heading to. Think or even write down: how did your background lead up to the decision to pursue a graduate degree in the U.S., what exactly do you aim to achieve in America and most importantly — how are you going to contribute to your professional area once you come back to your home country? As a Fulbright student, you’ll be given an exchange visitor visa that requires you to return to your home country for a minimum of two years after graduation. In other words, you’re funded to go, see, learn, and come back and apply the knowledge.
Which are the best schools for specializing in screenwriting, worldwide?
In my humble opinion, in Europe the best schools are London Film School, the National Film and Television School (again UK), La Femis in Paris, FAMU in Prague. The top U.S. schools for screenwriting (and filmmaking as well) are considered to be USC, UCLA, AFI, the Tisch Film School at NYU, Boston University (BU), Chapman University. These schools are so popular mainly because of their tutors and guest speakers, but most of them are private and not very affordable. BU’s tuition, for example, is as high as $47,000 per year, and this does not include the living expenses. Here’s a good moment to mention something very important: the Bulgarian Fulbright Commission offers $30,000 funding for a graduate degree. This amount of money must cover both the tuition and the living expenses for two academic years. For example, the estimated minimum of living expenses in Los Angeles is around $2,100 a month or nearly $20,000 a year. So, be wise when choosing the schools you want to apply to and take into account the city you’re heading to.
And which are the most affordable?
The University of Texas (UT) and California State University Northridge. UT is in Austin, which has a great artistic community and is a pretty hip place. California State University Northridge is affordable and yet based in Los Angeles where all the film and TV action happens.
Who is your mentor?
From the humans, professor Eric Edson is the person to whom I owe my evolution as a writer.
Tell us about your last internship.
I was part of the development team at Bold Films, the production company behind Drive, Only God Forgives, Nightcrawler, Whiplash — all visceral, dark, American neo-arthouse films that I love so much.