The Bay School Blog sat down with Ari, a recent alumna of The Bay School, to talk about then, now and how far she’s come since high school.
“I didn’t think I was going to be a screenwriter when I entered The Bay School,” Ari says. “I thought I was going to be a biomedical engineer.” To her, it probably seems like forever ago: San Francisco at 14 with science in mind, with such a clear and separate passion right around the corner. But somewhere between the creative opportunities The Bay School afforded her and the journey of self-discovery those years made, her path became clear. Now, a sophomore screenwriting major at USC School of Cinematic Arts, she couldn’t be more sure: “I’ve known what I wanted since I was 15,” she declares. “I am so eager to be a screenwriter out in the industry right now. Meeting people who want the same thing I want and love to do exactly what I love to do is the most amazing feeling in the world. It’s like being surrounded by love and Hanukkah and Christmas and joy all at the same time.”
But let’s rewind. How did Ari get from aspiring scientist to amateur screenwriter in just one short high school year? She credits The Bay School’s myriad opportunities and varied curriculum in explaining the steps that led her to film school or, as she puts it, “the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Among the experiences that influenced her, Ari names “arts and Senior Signature Project as well as creative writing opportunities in humanities and some of the English classes.” Throughout the talk, a few of these experiences float, particularly memorable, to the forefront.
• First there were Digital Imaging classes 1A and 1B, which first put her behind a digital SLR camera with attention trained on lighting and composition (the skills now known to Ari as “the really basic stuff that everyone expects you to understand when you come to film school”).
• Her Video Production class took it a step further: “I took Video Production knowing I was going to use it for my senior project … that’s where I really learned how to use the editing program called Final Cut Pro, which people do use in the actual industry,” Ari says. The class was also her foray into video editing, an art form she’ll fiercely defend. “Editing is a really fine, detailed art,” she says. “It is a true art form; people get Oscars for editing. It was in Video Production that I learned the final steps of storytelling.”
• “In terms of crafting my own voice,” Ari says, “Advanced Composition” made the difference. She remembers seeing “eye-to-eye” with humanities teacher Lori Cohen and how much she learned from assignments to spin a new Hinduism tale, invent her own short story in response to a novel written from an unusual perspective and pour her own “very detailed, very focused experience” into what would become her college essay. “That was the real point that I could express my voice,” she says.
• “Morning Meeting was another place you could find a space to express yourself,” Ari adds, recalling her own presentation on the struggle to reconcile her Jewish background with her experience visiting Palestinians in Israel. The mindfulness meditation aspect has stuck with her too; “We were very much taught to practice being aware and present all the time,” she says. “That was a very real thing for me my freshman year – I was appreciating everything around me. I would see little dew drops on a rose and I would be astounded by how beautiful it was. The little details would just catch you.”
• Peer counseling, too, was a place where Ari grew as an artist. Now, Ari says, “I feel like my obligation as a writer is to help people realize shared human experience – to make that tactile so that people will connect more.”
And now? Well, film school is treating Ari well. Not only has she earned a five-year merit scholarship, received awards typically reserved for upperclassmen and “worked for an agent, a production company and CBS,” but she’s also interning at Spike TV and learning about resourcefulness and innovation in her schoolwork. “When we’re at film school, we don’t have access to professional equipment; people bring their own equipment,” she says. “We make do with what we have. We’ll use the lamp in our dorm room and make it work.” Best of all, the work is often better for the challenge. “You should see the stuff we make,” Ari says. “We make it beautiful. The Bay School gave me the groundwork for that.”
More important than her successes, resume or even her portfolio, is Ari’s enthusiasm for learning and building relationships. “[Members of my program] hang out all the time and talk TV and films and books and boys and girls and food,” she says. “It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me, getting into USC. And in order to prepare I had to have this portfolio, and The Bay School gave me the writing skills and also the emotional component I needed.”
“It’s the combination of the opportunities we’re offered [at The Bay School], the space that we’re given to grow emotionally as well as to learn,” Ari says. “All of that allowed me to enter the space in my life where I am right now.”