Since opening their doors 15 years ago-with a class
of 12 students-the Vancouver Film School has grown into one of the
world’s most respected film education institutions. With an accelerated
program that is geared toward graduating students in 12 months or
less, VFS takes a hands-on approach to education-taking students
out of the classroom and putting them onto the film set.
In an interview with MM, Vancouver Film School’s Managing
Director Marty Hasselbach discusses the school’s unique approach
to learning, their adherence to the rule of quality over quantity
and how a year at VFS is much like a year spent in France.
Jennifer Wood (MM): Location plays an important
part in any education, but film education especially. What makes
Vancouver a great place to learn about film?
Marty Hasselbach (MH): Vancouver is rated as
the third largest entertainment center in North America. It is a
very busy city when it comes to commercial production-many high-budget
movies are made in Vancouver-as well as indie production. We have
a thriving independent filmmaking community in Vancouver as well
as busy animation studios and new media production companies. Being
in Vancouver allows our students access to some of the best and
brightest people working in the industry.
MM: What do you think is the one thing that
sets VFS apart from some of the bigger US schools like NYU, USC
or UCLA? Why should students considering those programs take a look
MH: VFS offers a very unique model of education
and the truth is, it isn’t for everyone. It takes a very dedicated,
focused and creative person to succeed in the fast-paced production
style of training that we offer. We take the student out of the
lecture hall and put them into the production studio in an accelerated
VFS programs are all one year or less, and they concentrate
on being in production, not being in a theory class. For a certain
type of person, this makes the most sense: they want to come in
and immerse themselves in their discipline and go out with their
portfolio and get a job. It is about learning the most in the shortest
MM: VFS invests a lot of time traveling
the world and holding informational meetings in an attempt to recruit
new students. Why do you take such an aggressive approach to maintaining
a wide international cross-section of students?
MH: VFS may be based in Vancouver, but we are
a global school. We believe that it is important that we have a
wide variety of people in each class because the entertainment industry
is global. Each class ends up working with people that will undoubtedly
be good contacts for them in the industry, whether they are from
Canada, the US, Japan, Australia, England or Africa. Each person
brings their own perspective to their chosen discipline and each
person in that class can learn from someone else’s experiences and
perceptions. It isn’t just the technical information that is important:
it is learning to work creatively and constructively within a team
environment, with people who have similar and different views, that
rounds out a true professional.
MM: The philosophy at VFS seems to be quality
over quantity: students don’t need to spend four years in an educational
program when they can learn just as much in one-and enter into the
workforce that much sooner. What steps do you take to make sure
that the compression of coursework does not suffer as far as quality
MH: An example of how this “immersive” model
of education works is this: If you were going to learn to speak
French, you could go to class every day for two to four years, or
you could move to France for a year. The truth is, you would be
more proficient by living in France, because you would absorb the
language, the culture and the subtext of the language. That is what
Students work hard at VFS. Their average day is 12
to 16 hours, depending on where they are in the production cycle.
We expect a great deal of our students-and they constantly deliver.
We have taken out much of the lecture hall-type of teaching because
we believe that the students who attend VFS are going to learn by
doing. We encourage students to watch films, attend film festivals,
and to discuss the great directors on their own time. When they
are in school, they are working on films.
MM: VFS was the first school to offer a
3D animation production program, and the first to offer a production
training program for new media. How do you keep current with happenings
in the film industry? Are there any new ‘firsts’ forthcoming?
MH: We have recently introduced a new Sound
Design for Visual Media program, which is the first program of its
type in North America. Students learn how to create sound for film,
television and the Internet. Many other programs out there concentrate
on the music industry. While the program does cover music, including
soundtracks and scores, this program is a direct result of VFS going
to the entertainment industry and asking what type of person they
needed in order to improve the quality of their movies, television
shows and Internet projects.
We are also in the final development stages of a Broadcast
Media Production program that will train students to work in the
ever changing world of broadcast. They will learn on-camera skills
as well as how to shoot, edit and transmit their tapes to the studio
from anywhere in the world. Again, this program is a direct result
of industry input: we know what the industry needs-they have told
us what jobs they have and what skills are necessary to fill them-and
then have worked with us to create these programs.
MM: VFS adopts a very hands-on approach
to film, even with your part-time students. Can you talk a bit about
your Indie Film Shoot program?
MH: VFS offers part-time courses in all of
our full-time programs. It provides people with the chance to experience
VFS before making the commitment to apply for full-time enrollment,
or it gives people who don’t have the time or resources to come
full-time to learn. It also allows industry professionals to upgrade
their skills on a regular basis.
The Indie Film Shoot is a part of the part-time courses
that we offer and gives students the opportunity to work on a film,
from pre-production to shooting to post-production. The courses
involved in the Indie Film Shoot include Producing, the Director,
Cinematography, Script Supervisor and Art Direction. It is a great
way to gain real experience as a member of a film crew on an actual
MM: You have a separate set of courses for
teens. Where do the kids come from who take these courses? How are
they different from your undergraduate classes? Are the goals different?
MH: The teen courses are reasonably new and
were started because Vancouver is a very busy production center
for film and television-and more and more young people are realizing
that they are interested in a career in entertainment.
The training is quite intense. Even in a part-time
program, students are expected to act like professionals-they are
there to learn how to be professionals, after all. The teen programs
are developed specifically for younger people so, naturally, the
courses are a little different than those developed for adults.
But don’t get me wrong, the teens that come to these classes are
focused and dedicated and want to learn-and the instructors are
MM: What are some of the biggest changes
you’ve seen in the 15 years since the Vancouver Film School first
opened its doors?
MH: I think that what really stands out about
VFS is the success of our graduates and the school’s international
reputation for excellence. VFS graduates are working in the film,
television and entertainment industries in some very high-profile
jobs. We have grads that have worked on Lord of the Rings, Titanic, The X-Files, Malcolm in the Middle and The Sixth Day. And at studios and production companies
around the world including ILM, Pixar and Digital Domain, Warner
Brothers, NBC, Blast Radius, Totally Hip Software and, of course,
even MovieMaker. (MM Founder Tim Rhys is a graduate of VFS
Our president, James Griffin was in Asia recently
at a coffee shop and as he stood waiting for his coffee, a young
man approached him and introduced himself. He was a VFS graduate,
working in the film and television industry, and he wanted to thank
James, saying that VFS put him on the road to success.
It seems that whenever VFS goes to a trade show or
an event throughout the world, people are coming up to us and telling
us how the year at VFS changed their life for the better. The truth
is they changed their lives by being creative, disciplined and focused
and by making the decision to learn their craft at VFS-a production
house that teaches.