When new Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) freshman Stephen Boyer was attending a Catholic high school just last year, he thought his future was set. Fresh off the heels of scoring Best Film and Best Comedy for two separate films at the All-American High School Film Festival (AAHSFF), he applied to the nation’s top film schools.
Only to be rejected. Multiple times.
Confused and admittedly hurt, he began to question, like many teenagers, whether college was even worth it. This predicament is exactly why Academy Award-winning documentarian Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) chose Stephen and 14 other teenagers transitioning to or away from college to focus on for his Al Jazeera America series, Edge of Eighteen.
When Stephen was awarded for Paradigm (Best Film) and Dinner with the Woodburns (Best Comedy) at the AAHSFF, he scored a multitude of contacts. While he was told “not to name-drop,” he essentially began the dream of many writer/directors: pitching to various production companies. Though many recognized his talent, no one was grabbing at his offerings, so he began the tradition of many high school seniors that is applying to college.
USC, UCLA, and Chapman were the biggies he was aiming for, each SoCal institution internationally recognized for its film schools, the homes of George Lucas (USC), Francis Ford Copolla (UCLA), and Cynthia Pascoe (Chapman—and in case you didn’t know, she’s only the Executive Director of global promotions for 20th Century Fox).
Having applied in the fall, the documentary series follows Stephen as he receives his acceptance and rejection letters from February of this year until May.
“The rejection letters weren’t fun to sift through,” Stephen said. “I even tried to appeal to USC but got rejected. The reasoning I will never know… It reminded me of my Dad’s predicament. He’s an accomplished musician, straight up writing full orchestral music when he was about to attend college—and they rejected him. Some 20 years later, after he built up a career, some of the higher-ups at the school told him, ‘You were talented but your style wasn’t what we were looking for.’ So I like to think they knew I was talented and 20 years from now, I’ll have someone walk up to me and tell me why. Until then, I will always hypothesize.”
This isn’t to say he failed entirely, given he opted for CSULB—y’know, alma mater of that other director, Steven Spielberg. But the battle of deciding whether college was even worth it still lingered for Stephen, during the seemingly-endless period all college-bound students have to endure while awaiting responses from university admission offices.
His AAHSFF contacts haven’t left him entirely, though; one of his backers is currently working closely with the teenager to formalize a pitch-able pilot in the next few years.
“For me, there was no alternative besides college—and I’m happy for it,” Stephen said. “I had done some work during the summer as a production assistant here and an assistant director there—but nothing of substance. I don’t have the resources and now, I have time and resources.”
Plus he strolls into the golden halls of academia this fall with something few students have: the experience of having worked with and having had a major television network document his life. Not only did crews occupy Stephen’s home, director Gibney handed a camera to the subjects of his series so that much of the visual content, including Stephen’s segment, comes from the teenagers themselves.
“When I think about college and whether I made the right choice, I have to say I did,” Stephen said. “I can’t speak for anyone else because everyone is different—but generally speaking, it’s a good idea to go to college. Unless you have some great connection or prospect or opportunity, then go to college. Because if you use your resources right at college, you’ll have more connections than you can imagine.”
Stephen Boyer’s segment on Edge of Eighteen (Episode 5) will premiere on October 5 on Al Jazeera America at 6PM PST. The series will premiere September 7.
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