I spent a frightening portion of the last few weeks prepping an application for the Universal Writers Lab. For readers who aren’t aspiring screenwriters, a lab like this is essentially a miracle ticket — a salaried, year-long fellowship where the participant receives mentorship while developing work with producers, execs, and others, all combining to hopefully provide a springier spring-board into the industry than the participant has experienced thus far.
Applying to opportunities like these are moonshot endeavors, as usually only half-a-dozen are chosen from many applicants. To give you an idea of how many – a couple years ago I prepped an application for similar lab, but when the application portal opened, there were so many applicants it overwhelmed the submission portal. Ultimately the organizers capped the number of applications at 4000, leaving an uncounted number of people left over. Such is the glamorous life of an aspiring Hollywood writer!
I can tell that the organizers of the upcoming Universal lab really tried to cover all their bases, detailing what to name documents, what formats to use, word and page counts, font size, line spacing and even how to address the optional referral letters.
But it’s impossible to predict all the pain points. Because the third party submission portal had no way to save an in-process application, I lost my work three times. Coming to the end of the application the third time, I was getting excited about the nearness of the “submit” button, when I discovered the final “question” was actually a form that needed to be downloaded, hand-signed, scanned, uploaded AND sent to my agent for their hand-signed signature as well! A bummer of a surprise on get on a Saturday night, though it would have been more of a bummer to get it on the Monday evening it was due.
Such administrative oversights land harder in the context of the feelings raised by filling out applications in general. For me, the whole application process calls my life into question — when I’m asked for referral letters, I wonder why I haven’t cultivated have a larger network and more intimate relationships? When tackling the essay prompt, I question whether my life experiences or thoughts could possibly be “unique”! The 15-year limit on work history on the resume is a reminder that few see the life experience of older applicants as having value or relevance. Same for unpaid labor. Although the focus of the initiative is diversity and inclusion, my projects with diverse collaborators didn’t qualify for mention because they were the most difficult to find money for. Overall, the application process is a prolonged reminder of the chasm between where I am and where I want to be, which in turn causes me to self-interrogate — do I think that wanting something badly makes me worthy? Worthier that the 4000+ applicants with their own stories to tell?
At a certain point the overwhelm is too much, I have to give up on these questions. Work continues, even on wrong side of the chasm, and it has its own rewards: For me, the rewards of making through this application are that I finally created a complete project list with loglines that I’ve been needing for ages. I revised a treatment. I re-opened a feature script that broke my heart last year and realized my heart is mended and I have the distance to revisit it again. And I wrote a 750-word essay that would live a better life as a longer-winded and more introspective 1500 blog post — so ya’ll can look forward to that.