The write stuff to study at UCLA

FILM FEMME: Shoshana Sachi is on her way to the University of California, Los Angeles, for a two-year course in film screenwriting.
FILM FEMME: Shoshana Sachi is on her way to the University of California, Los Angeles, for a two-year course in film screenwriting.

Charlie Kaufman, Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino . . . Shoshana Sachi.

It's not inconceivable that the Waikato University screen and media studies graduate's name could one day be mentioned in the same breath as those cinema luminaries.

And if that is what she wants, she is certainly going the right way about it. The 26-year-old Hamiltonian leaves on September 7 to undertake a two-year masters programme with the University of California, Los Angeles, in screenwriting.

She is the first New Zealander to be accepted onto the course.

"It is an elite programme which only accepts 30 students per intake," she explains. "From 900 applicants this year, I was one of the lucky 60 to be interviewed, and then one of the lucky 30 to be granted admission."

UCLA is ranked as the third best film school in the world and, as an examination of the school's alumni website reveals, it produces a high number of Oscar winners and other illustrious film-makers.

But although she uses the term "lucky" to describe her achievement, Sachi's acceptance to the course is no fluke. It is the culmination of years of hard work and study - and a lot of writing.

"I've always been a writer. I wrote my first little story when I was 4 years old and it carried on from there, particularly after my family moved from to New Zealand when I was 15. I was really lucky I had teachers at Sacred Heart High School who noticed I had some enthusiasm for writing."

Sachi initially enrolled in a law degree at Waikato, but took a few screen and media papers and "fell in love with films and the film department . . . It's a real community. So I ended up switching degrees."

Attending UCLA was also a long-term goal, after her parents took her to visit the campus while on holiday when she was 9 years old.

"My dad was academically inclined and often took us to university campuses. Ever since that visit I have wanted to go back there to study."

Sachi, who has earned Sir Edmund Hillary Scholarships and has twice been a finalist in the BBC's Writersroom programme, is under no illusions about the wealth of opportunity the course represents.

"Going to UCLA, being so close to the heart of that industry, is a great chance to do two years of networking and creating really good contacts. There are so many competitions you can enter . . . You get to take electives in acting and direction, which helps give you a better picture of the film-making process."

As part of her coursework, Sachi will have to write four features in different film genres. Pinning her down on which is her preferred genre is not easy, however.

"I don't want to pigeonhole myself," she laughs.

Adding to the fruits of Sachi's labours is a US$10,000 entry award from UCLA.

"This was great news as my family and I have been scraping pennies together to make sure we can afford this big move and endeavour for me."

That act of benevolence and the general ongoing health of the American film industry prompts Sachi to make comparisons with the New Zealand Government's interest in film and film development - or rather the lack of it.

While it appeared to some that New Zealand's film industry was in a state of rude health, thanks to the mega-successful films of Peter Jackson and the consistently high quality of the small number of movies made here, it was really malnourished and starved of support.

"Ministers often talk about film funding in terms of throwing money at developers in order to fund film projects, but there is nothing on offer in terms of education.

"Besides Fulbright Scholarships, there was nothing else on offer locally for me to apply for in order to help fund my studies at UCLA . . . I just happen to be blessed with very supportive family.

"At Waikato University alone we have so many students who are incredibly talented. The question is how are they able to become successful if they don't have the educational opportunities?"

Lobbying for better support of the New Zealand film industry is, however, taking a back seat to Sachi's more immediate concerns of getting into and through her masters degree.

Will we soon see her name scrolling up the screen in the credits at the conclusion of a major motion picture? Sachi does not blow her own trumpet.

"That would be great and if it happens, it happens. It's not about that or seeing your name on some poster. That's not why you become a writer. As long as I get to do what I love and can pay the bills I'll be happy."

Waikato Times