Marginalia, Graduate Blog

What Are You Capable Of?

Conor O'Farrell

Production still from 'Outlander' (2008), a film Executive Produced by our professor Karen Loop. Courtesy The Weinstein Company.

Production still from 'Outlander' (2008), a film Executive Produced by our professor Karen Loop. Courtesy The Weinstein Company.

“Why graduate study?”

The question hit like a ton of bricks. I hadn’t worked many events yet in my role as Graduate Student Ambassador—November’s Graduate Preview Day was, in fact, my third—but I had become accustomed to the more practical or logistical questions: How do you finance your studies? Where in Chicago would you recommend I live? Why did you choose Columbia?

This daunting question required more than a few seconds thought, so I’d let one of the other Ambassadors take this one.

“Which program are you applying to?” David asked her.

“Creative producing,” came the reply. Damn.

I offered this in reply:

“For me, my undergraduate studies in Ireland were all about garnering an understanding of a modern film & television landscape and learning about the forces at play within the industry. Graduate study, on the other hand, is more specifically about me—figuring out my voice as a storyteller, defining my place in that industry, and priming myself to be one of those forces.”

It was an off-the-cuff response that might just secure me a nomination in the ‘most text-book answer by a graduate ambassador in a preview day panel’ category at some makeshift awards ceremony. I’ll take it though. All I’ve ever won before is a side of ham. But, to be fair, it’s a question that requires much more thought and one that has stayed with me since. So, with the benefit of time on my side, I thought I’d redeem myself and offer a more insightful answer.

Graduate school is a massive commitment, both personally and financially, and one that should not be entered into lightly. Financially, it’s a burden. That said, if you’re clever about it, you could work the angles. There are scholarships available. Columbia offers a range of campus jobs for students—which Arts, Entertainment & Media Management MAM Ambassador Ali Porter wrote about in September. And, if you’re a prospective international student, you should look into the Fulbright Scholarship—we have two Fulbright recipients in this year’s batch of producers.

For many reasons 'Chronicle' (2012) is one of my favorite films of the year, and the type of film I would like to produce. Courtesy 20th Century Fox

For many reasons 'Chronicle' (2012) is one of my favorite films of the year, and the type of film I would like to produce. Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Cash monies aside, you want to make sure your personal reasons for wanting this are legit. For me, making this decision meant moving six thousand kilometers away from home. I pride myself on my independence—I started working in a bar at the age of fourteen—and even though my passport is my prized possession, it’s still tough at times being that far away from family & friends. But, whether you come here from the other side of the world, from somewhere within these fifty states, or from just down the road, it’s no ball game.

Four months into the program, I’ve worked with some massively talented filmmakers, I’ve made friends that I know I’ll have for life, and I’ve been challenged by professors like never before. I have days where I go home thinking I know nothing about story. Nothing. Mostly because of Karen Loop. But that’s exactly why I know I’m where I’m meant to be. Karen is one of a notable producing faculty that we’ve been fortunate to learn under thus far. The others being Don Smith, Joe Steiff, Carolina Posse, Karla Fuller, and Kevin Cooper.

Professor Kevin Cooper delivers notes to Steve Guttenberg on the set of 'I Heart Shakey' (2012), a film he directed earlier this year.

Professor Kevin Cooper delivers notes to Steve Guttenberg on the set of 'I Heart Shakey' (2012), a film he directed earlier this year.

There’s an endless amount of information out there about the benefits of grad school. (Here’s a pretty decent article I found.). But, in an effort to not be so vague, do I need this Film & Video – Creative Producing MFA qualification to advance in the film & television industry? Maybe not.

Will the knowledge and experience gained at Columbia put me one step ahead of the rest? I’d say ten steps.

Will the slate of material I develop be richer under the guidance of these Hollywood and industry veterans? Without a shadow of a doubt.

Will their ‘break me to make me’ technique, which they’ll never admit to, make me a better producer? Yup, I can already see it in the fifteen of us.

Is grad school for you? Only you know.

I’ve been critiqued in the past for being ‘good at everything’. It’s a silly thing to say, and I’m not good at everything. ‘What are you capable of?’ is the tagline for one of my favorite films of the year, Chronicle, in which one character defends a similar critique by saying, “I’m not good at everything, I just do my best at everything.” And that’s why I’m here: to be the best that I can be.

For your chance to throw another mind f**k of a question at me in person, be sure to check out December’s Graduate Preview Day.

What Are You Capable Of?

“Why graduate study?” The question hit like a ton of bricks. I hadn’t worked many events yet in my role as Graduate Student Ambassador—November’s Graduate Preview Day was, in fact, …

Cinema Art + Science - Creative Producing Conor O'Farrell, conor.ofarrell@loop.colum.edu
600 S. Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL 60605