Graduating Cal State LA screenwriting student writes stories advocating for others
Her scripts bring humanity to complex, flawed characters
By Henry Fuhrmann | Cal State LA News Service
"Never look back and regret a thing. Allow your past to fuel you to drive you toward a fantastic future."
For the author of those words, Cal State LA screenwriting student Sabrina Short, life and art are inextricably linked. She signs her emails with such aphorisms to inspire others and to remind herself of the hurdles she has overcome on her way to earning a Bachelor of Arts in Television, Film and Media Studies in the College of Arts and Letters.
Short has maintained a 3.6 GPA at Cal State LA and won recognition for her creative work, including a scholarship from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association that typically supports master’s-level students. She has excelled on campus while raising two daughters as a single parent, working at a community college, serving the youth ministry at her church and writing—always writing.
Short, 38, of Claremont, traces her passion for writing to the second grade. She started creating mini-plays, with the encouragement of her teacher, while the other kids flocked to recess. In her preteen and teen years, after she had run away from an abusive situation at home and was placed in foster care, she found solace in writing.
“Writing has become a way to rewrite my own story in a way where I get to face my demons and speak up for other people that can't be spoken up for,” Short says, referring to a past period of addiction and to her advocacy for others who have lived in foster care.
Writing evolved from being an escape, Short says, to a hobby and then to professional magazine assignments and work coaching students. She earned two associate degrees at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, in television production and social and behavioral sciences. She has worked there in programs serving current and former foster youth as well as low-income and first-generation students and those with disabilities.
Upon enrolling at Cal State LA in fall 2015, Short had to deal with painful memories stemming from her years in the foster care system.
“When you sat at Edelman Children's Court, you could see Cal State LA,” she recalls. “I'd look out the window and say, ‘I'm never going to that school.’ I didn't want to because it’s the same freeway exit. You go right to Cal State LA or left to children's court.”
Short credits the support of faculty members, including Anthony Cox and Ligiah Villalobos of the Department of Television, Film and Media Studies, with validating her decision to give Cal State LA a chance.
The department allowed Short to take graduate-level courses, several with Villalobos, so that she could study advanced aspects of the craft. With a one-hour drama, a comedy and other scripts in her portfolio, Short says, “I literally have everything that a television writer needs.”
Villalobos, an assistant professor, speaks fondly of her collaboration with Short.
“I’m glad I got to work with her,” Villalobos says. “I’m glad I got to meet her characters and to see her stories and her unique voice evolve over the last few years.”
It is Short’s resilience that makes her stand out, Villalobos says. “She has had many personal struggles and has been raising her children as a single mother, while working and going to school. But her commitment to screenwriting, and telling stories that bring humanity to imperfect characters, has been really wonderful to witness.”
Short’s work is culminating in a new short film by Cal State LA students of her original script Rabbit’s Foot. She describes it as “a drama about a young woman from Los Angeles who copes with death, grief, weight and memories that keep her trapped in her past.”
Marla Ulloa, an adjunct faculty member, teaches the Urban Stories Film Incubator class for the Department of Television, Film and Media Studies. In selecting the winning scripts, she says, “we look for the best and the brightest original short films that are representational of our diverse student population at Cal State LA.”
She adds: “It is rare to find stories with so much heart, and Sabrina’s script, about overcoming sexual abuse, stood out because of its authenticity and emotional impact.”
With Rabbit’s Foot and other scripts as calling cards, Short hopes to enroll in a television industry writers program. Her goal is to write realistic stories about characters who are generally overlooked, including youth in foster care and juvenile hall.
And years after she first saw Cal State LA, Short is content to turn right, not left, when she exits the 10 Freeway. “I ate my words,” she says about her long-ago misgivings about the campus. “I've been given opportunities at Cal State LA that I wouldn't have been given at other schools. It has been good for me.”