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Changing Lives at the Colorado Film School

Changing Lives at the Colorado Film School

Articles - Education

The Rocky Mountains and spacious landscapes aren’t the only things Colorado has to offer to moviemakers. For more than 10 years, the Colorado Film School has given aspiring moviemakers the opportunity to learn and develop their talent. With a wide range of classes offered from writing and directing to cinematography and acting, CFS students can achieve a BFA, AGS or AAS degree through classes taught by experienced industry professionals. Program director Frederic Lahey spoke with MovieMaker to discuss the perks of being a Colorado Film School Student.

Nora Murphy (MM): How does a Colorado setting influence your students’ moviemaking experience?

Frederic Lahey (FL): Mostly with unpredictable weather, although we do have more than 200 days per year of sunshine, about the same as San Diego, but San Diego doesn’t have spring blizzards like we’ve had this year. There is a great variety of looks for exteriors—mountains, of course, but downtown Denver can be shot for almost any city in the world, and there is plenty of ranch to farm to suburban settings as well. There are a lot of action sports productions locally, but mostly our students are working on original narrative work that is not tied into a specific location. Having incredible beauty in close proximity never hurts a production, but it doesn’t necessarily serve to make a story or character more compelling.

MM: What types of classes are offered to your students?

FL: We offer full BFA programs in Writing/Directing, Writing/Producing, Cinematography/Videography, Post-Production and our new offering, Acting for the Screen. Our students make more than 1,000 films per year in a wide variety of writing, production, post, acting, directing, lighting, camera and various other skills classes. We believe that most students are experiential learners, so we maximize opportunities to learn by doing, then analyzing, and broadening perspectives by critical viewing. We teach more than 50 distinct courses but all emphasis areas take our common core five courses first: Video Production I, Post Production I, Short Script Analysis, The Development of Film Expression and Understanding the Actor’s Process.

MM: You recently partnered with Regis University to offer on-site BFAs. How do you think this will affect students’ work?

FL: We have offered BFAs on site for the past 10 years with another institution; we had a parting of the ways because the former institution wanted to emphasize film appreciation and de-emphasize experiential learning. What we have with Regis is an excellent university with a great College of Professional Studies that shares our vision, as well as our facilities, equipment and faculty. It’s a wonderful collaboration. The first three years (90 credits) will be through CCA, with very affordable community college rates, then the final year (39 credits) will be through Regis. Working now with a private institution, the final year will have the same tuition rates for all our students, Colorado resident or non-resident. This helps out our significant out-of-state population.

MM: How hands-on will the students be getting? And what type of production equipment is available for their use?

FL: CFS students spend the vast majority of their time engaged in creating new work. We have a S35mm 4K Red One, Aaton S16 XTR, Aaton LTR, Sony EX1s, EX3s, Panasonic HVX 200s, Fisher 10 and doorway dollies,10K Big Eyes, an assortment of HMIs, studios and 40+ light kits.

We are so production oriented that we have had to develop our own custom software now in its 3.0 release: EQ. We use EQ for (free) equipment rental, project approval, script approval, shoot approval, scheduling and production management. Students and faculty have 24/7 Internet access to inventory availability. Production budget levels are based on templates appropriate to the production level. Upper level production students have a rental budget of $7,000 to $8,000 per project, based on real-world rental rates for identical equipment. This gives students experience working with budgets, even though they don’t really have to pay any rental. When they create a project, they also create a site for posting location photos, approvals and surveys, rehearsal and shoot schedules, cast and crew lists with automatic e-mail lists and centralized shoot information. Faculty serve as Executive Producers and have access to the sites to increase dialogue over our high volume of productions.

MM: You’ve had past guests such as Spike Lee and Frank Marshall. What was it like to have them speak to the students? How do their films reflect the mission of the school and what you hope your own students will achieve?

FL: We try to break down the walls between professional practice and school experience, so their deep experience, knowledge and insight can really help inspire our students. Their proximity can sometimes help our students recognize what they need to do to realize their dreams and ambitions.

We would like our students to become more engaged in the world we live in, help effect change and provide insight into the human condition. We want our students to become talented storytellers. Storytellers have been strong social contributors for the past few millennia. We just have new forms, and now many new outlets for those stories. These are exciting times for filmmakers!

MM: What do you believe sets CFS apart from other film schools?

FL: We believe in democratic access to the means of expression. Consequently, we are hands-down the best deal in the world in regards to tuition dollars for quality of faculty, curriculum, equipment and facilities. Our students are focused and professionally engaged. Have a look at our student work on our YouTube channel.

MM: Are there any future developments on the horizon for the school?

FL: Right now we’re trying to set up a clearing house for requests for student work from local entities. We’re engaged in discussions with Rocky Mountain PBS, Colors TV, Comcast, Qwest, four local radio stations who are opening up streaming Websites, the U.S. Olympics Website (soon to open a broadcast channel) and the Governor’s Office, who are all interested in either distributing student content or hiring students to create custom content for them.

At the same time, we planning on coming together as a school to engage in more feature film and longer format production with students and faculty working side-by-side to generate new work. When we engage in such productions it keeps our faculty and students engaged and growing together.

For more information, visit www.coloradofilmschool.net.

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