Moviemaking hotspots like New York and Los Angeles are host to a plethora of film schools, but you’ll find a few off the beaten path too—like Academy of Art University. Located in San Francisco, AAU provides a comprehensive moviemaking education through an immersive college experience. Founded in 1929, the university has both BFA and MFA programs and is made up of many schools that target different areas of the arts: Advertising, Animation & Visual Effects, Architecture, Computer Arts: New Media, Digital Arts & Communications, Fashion, Fine Art, Graphic Design, Illustration, Industrial Design, Interior Architecture & Design, Motion Pictures & Television, Multimedia Communications and Photography.
Academy of Arts’ School of Motion Pictures & Television offers various courses that cover acting, cinematography, editing and screenwriting, to name a few. The faculty arms students with the necessary skill sets to become specialists in their fields.
To get the lowdown on this school and its contribution to furthering cinema, MovieMaker spoke with Jonathan Fung, associate director of the BFA program and a successful photographer and moviemaker in his own right. Read on to see how the university prepares the next wave of moviemakers and if this school might be the right choice for you or someone you know.
Kristin Forte (MM): Many film schools boast impressive rosters of teachers who are professionals still working in their field. What makes your faculty stand apart from other film schools?
Jonathan Fung (JF): The Academy of Art University has a dedicated faculty of working professionals from Hollywood to independent filmmakers from the Bay Area. We don’t boast but embrace the diversity of our esteemed faculty committed to provide excellent mentorship to our students.
MM: The School of Motion Pictures & Television provides a full college experience concentrating on acting and moviemaking. Besides the obvious benefits of having more time to learn and hone your craft, what makes this experience different from shorter-term film schools?
JF: Filmmaking is a highly collaborative effort. It takes time to learn the process of making a movie. Networking and building lasting relationships is a major component to a successful project. Consistent repetition and application of skills in the classroom and on set is necessary. They say practice makes perfect.
We have had students that left the program after two years to work in the industry and came back to complete their education and gain advanced skills. They were not competitive after studying for only two years.
MM: What about San Francisco is conducive to the moviemaking process, as opposed to other major U.S. cities like New York and Los Angeles? Do you think that San Francisco has the potential to become a popular production spot?
JF: San Francisco is a beautiful city and has been used as a backdrop for many films. George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Pixar, DreamWorks and other production companies are located in the San Francisco Bay Area. San Francisco has the potential to become a popular new production spot if the San Francisco Film Commission, along with Mayor Gavin Newsom, would develop new strategies to make San Francisco a film-friendly city.
MM: Students in the School of Motion Pictures & Television begin by taking a broad range of courses to develop a variety of moviemaking skills, including producing, directing, cinematography, lighting, sound, editing, screenwriting, production design and acting. After gaining these experiences they then specialize in one area for the purpose of portfolio development. With so many different areas of study available, what kind of guidance does the school provide to help students choose which might be the best for them?
JF: The School of Motion Pictures & Television is very hands-on in assisting students with selecting a track to pursue. Students can choose to meet with directors, advisors and instructors for career guidance. Every student must attend a midpoint review during their fourth semester, which prepares them to decide on an emphasis to follow.
MM: The school fosters creativity and independence in moviemaking as an art but also provides instruction in the commercial aspects of moviemaking as a business. What about this curriculum better prepares the students for graduation and the working world?
JF: Our mission and focus is to prepare our students for a career in the film industry. We provide classes that teach the student how to pitch, create a demo reel, write a resume, network, etc. Also, guest speakers are invited to teach on topics that can develop the student’s business savvy—financing, development and distribution.
MM: As the associate director, how do you remain connected to the student body and their needs? Is there a sense of community among students? How common are student collaborations on projects during school and in future endeavors?
JF: As the associate director, I am required to teach five classes per semester. My position is very hands-on and collaborative with the students. Teaching production classes allows me to get to know the students well.
Also, six years ago I founded and continue to advise the Epidemic Film Club, [which is] led by students and focuses on building community, collaboration, networking and producing shorts, music videos, commercials and documentaries. The students and I recently shot an awareness piece, titled Sink, on 35mm with unprotected sex, teen pregnancy, STD and HIV themes. That will be screened globally. It has a vibe of American Beauty meets Juno.
Every spring I have the pleasure of producing the university’s annual Epidemic Film Festival at the historic Castro Theatre. It’s a showcase of our best student work [made] during the year. Students help me in all areas of planning and we continue to sell out the 1,400-seat theater each year. We have 1,400 students in the film program and it is very common to see hundreds of projects being shot in a single semester. It’s quite amazing and inspiring.
For more information, visit www.academyart.edu.