Rian Johnson almost didn’t make it into film school.

I first met the writer / director in 1993 at the University of Southern California, where we lived in a row of dorm rooms colloquially termed “The Cinema Floor.” The goal of nearly all the students residing there was to attend the university’s renowned film production program — the same one that produced a young George Lucas — but getting in was notoriously difficult, even for those already accepted to the university itself.

Johnson received rejection letter upon rejection letter, all the while making short films with his longtime collaborator, cinematographer Steve Yedlin. The film school cut-off was during a student’s junior year, when the production track began. Up against the deadline, Johnson put together one final application — topping it off with what he now calls a “screw you, assholes” essay — and in the second semester of his junior year, he got the answer he was looking for.

11 years later, he took his first feature to the Sundance Film Festival.