Shooting for the top

Overseas-education | 23 Feb 2021

Film has fascinated Tiffany Rowse ever since she was young. Back when she was a secondary school student, she would often choose to make videos for her assignments, as well as take responsibility for promotional efforts and commemoration videos for her school’s clubs.

In The Standard’s new Student Globetrotters series, Rowse talked to host Alan Ng about her experiences as an overseas film student at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“Looking back, things kind of fell into place quite naturally on their own,” said Rowse. “When I was in form three or four and started thinking of university, I asked myself: what do I really like doing?”

Her answer was soon discovered to be film. She took a summer course with the International Academy of Film and Television, where she had her first taste of how it is to be a filmmaker.

“There I wrote my first screenplay, directed my first film and learned how to edit my film. It was a rewarding experience and definitely made me more sure about applying to film school in UCLA,” she recalled.

Even though studying arts is considered by some to be “useless,” or at least less favorable to professional and prestigious subjects like medicine, law and finance, Rowse’s parents were supportive of her decision, although they had their reservations.

“Convincing them wasn’t that difficult because I had things to show for it. There were physical things that I could show that demonstrated my interest in doing this,” she said.

“But what really made up their minds was that they trusted me as an individual, they knew that I was capable, they trusted my decision making, and they knew that I would work hard.”

Her summer course experience, where her script and her editing were chosen for screening, also helped convince her parents that she had what it took and that she would be fine.

The UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television dates back to 1947 and was one of the first among the leading universities to combine all three studies.

It is considered to be one of the best film schools across the world and counts actor Jack Black and filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola of the Godfather franchise among its many distinguished alumni.

The university has earned the nickname a ”public Ivy” and was ranked as one of the best public universities in the United States by several sites like US News Rankings.

It has a general education curriculum, allowing undergraduate students to take courses outside their chosen majors, which Rowse enjoyed.

The program that Rowse is taking, BA in film and television, consists primarily of two years of general college studies and two years of major coursework.

Although she had some understanding before dipping her feet into film school, she still considered her new path to be uncharted territory as the line of work for filmmakers was not prominent in Hong Kong.

“I went into it not having any expectation and just rolling with whatever came.”

Nevertheless, there were bound to be surprises along the way.

“Art is a very technical thing,” she said. “A lot of people say that when you are an artist, you just do whatever you want and things get created.

That is not true, and creating meaning for art in itself is a huge challenge.

“At UCLA, we spend two years learning the theory of film before making films because the idea is that if you just have the technical skills to make something but that thing doesn’t have substance, it doesn’t mean anything.”

But the surprises do not end there.

“Making a film is really, really tough,” Rowse said. “It requires a lot of tenacity.”

She said some filmmakers may take up to a decade to finish a project, and the working process may not be as linear and quick as other jobs.

“I realized that, in order to make something of substance, you need to stay with it for a while to really develop it thoroughly. And I think that pertains across all the different kinds of art.”

She recalled that even her parents were surprised when they found out about her workday schedule during the summer holidays, when she came back to visit her family while working on a film with a classmate.

“I woke up at 4am, arrived at the location at 6am, and would not come home sometimes until 1 or 2am. I was extremely tired, but happy. I was excited for the next day.”

As for advice for students who aspire to follow in her footsteps, Rowse emphasizes working hard academically as UCLA is one of the top universities in the United States.

“The better you do, the more you outperform, the better your chances are, and that is always true.”

Having applied to various art schools across the United States, Rowse also notes that most schools require potential students to submit a portfolio.

“It’s fine if you don’t have that much prior experience. People misunderstand sometimes that the portfolio is just showing what you’ve done, but also it asks you for ideas that you have. I wrote a lot of ideas for films I wanted to make.

“If you are a student and are interested in studying something particular, you should start trying stuff out. Because whatever you try out, however bad you think it looks, it shows that you are doing something to learn, and it shows that you are taking quantitative steps to achieve something.”

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