There aren't many potential careers surrounded with more glamour and mystique than those involving the silver screen. Just about every kid has sat in a darkened theater and harbored a few thoughts of becoming a dashing leading man, an award-winning actress, or a legendary director. But turning your love of the movies into a career takes more than daydreams; you'll have plenty of hard work and serious learning to do, whether you're pursuing acting, filmmaking, or the business of show business. Fortunately, there's a plethora of scholarships out there that can help you take the first step to Hollywood.
Most film-specific scholarships are designed for students who've already spent some time in college, so if you're a filmmaker, actor, or animator in high school, our advice is to cast your net as widely as possible and focus on lots of different activities and achievements for which you might earn scholarships.
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Two of the nation's most prestigious filmmaking departments are the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts and New York University's Tisch School of the Arts; both of them feature excellent guides to both specific and general scholarship opportunities for film students. (See USC's guide—including scholarship funds from the estates of Hollywood names like John Huston, Frank Sinatra and Gene Autry—and NYU's scholarship guide.)
Once you've been accepted and spent some time in your film school of choice, you'll find more and more opportunities for scholarships and contests—and you might even find yourself thanking the Academy, courtesy of the Student Academy Award program. Presented by the very same Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that hands out the Oscars, this program is open to filmmakers who are full-time college students. Awards are given out in four categories: animation, documentary, narrative, and alternative film; gold medalists in each category receive $5,000 (with $3,000 and $2,000 awards for silver and bronze medalists).
In addition to the monetary award, a Student Academy Award brings plenty of prestige, too. Past winners include Spike Lee, South Park's Trey Parker, and Oscar-winning animator John Lasseter of Pixar. The contest closed to domestic film submissions in early April; anticipate a similar deadline in 2013, and get filming!
If you're more interested in writing than directing, the Academy also has a program for you. The Don and Gee Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting awards up to five $35,000 fellowships to screenwriters who have not previously earned more than $5,000 from their work. The deadline to submit your script is May 1, so if you're sitting on your Great American Screenplay, now's the time to send it in. In addition, Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope studio sponsors a screenplay contest with the same entry criteria; that one opens in June and typically welcomes submissions through early September, and awards a $5,000 grand prize.
Scholarship awards for aspiring film actors are a little more difficult to come by; collegiate actors are generally served by their school's theater arts department rather than the film school, so we'd encourage you to start looking there. National programs are also out there, of course; the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's CBC Spouses Heineken USA Performing Arts Scholarship is one example, providing 10 $3,000 scholarships to students in a variety of performing arts, including acting.
And if you happen to have enough acting experience to qualify for Screen Actors Guild membership (or have a parent who is a SAG member), don't miss out on the John L. Dales Scholarship, which provides annual scholarship funds under the auspices of that union.
Finally, there are scholarships out there for plenty of specialties and subcategories within the film industry. If you're particularly interested in the technical work that goes into directing and editing films, the Kodak Scholarship Program provides not only scholarship funds but valuable film stock, and the Phi Delta Theta Lyon Scholarship awards $3,000 to one student each year.
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If you're working to produce entertainment with a focus on children, the Fred Rogers Memorial Scholarship awards four students with $10,000 scholarships annually (one award is always reserved for a student from the Pittsburgh area, which was Mr. Rogers's original neighborhood). And the Women In Film Foundation works with select schools in California to award a variety of scholarships to female students pursuing master's degrees in filmmaking fields.
Whether your Hollywood dreams are behind a camera, in charge of a studio, or on the silver screen, all of these scholarships can help turn them into a reality.
Matt Konrad has been with Scholarship America since 2005. He is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota and a former scholarship recipient.