Still wondering whether or not film school is the right
choice for you? Here, the heads of some of the country’s top film
education programs—New York Film Academy’s Jerry Sherlock and Michael
Young, Vancouver Film School’s Marty Hasselbach, AFI’s JJ Jackman,
UCLA’s Stephanie Moore, Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Charlie Humphrey,
Digital Media Education Center’s Jaime Fowler and Academy of Art’s
Dr. Elisa Stephens—conclude their roundtable discussion.
Jennifer Wood (MM): What is the most important
piece of advice you’d give a student debating whether or not to
enter a film education program?
Jerry Sherlock & Michael Young (NYFA): The
difficulty for many people deciding whether to go to film school
lies in the fact that they may only know that they love films, and
have no idea if they have any aptitude in making them. They consider
film school to be the place to find out, and they are mostly correct.
The problem lies in the fact that it can take a year
or more before students get a chance to make a film in some film
schools, by which time they may get too entrenched in the routine
of what they’re doing to really step back and consider whether they
have the desire, talent and drive to justify the extraordinary commitment
that a long-term program represents.
Those who are uncertain about their abilities, or
about whether they will enjoy the filmmaking process, should do
anything possible to get some hands-on experience prior to making
a big commitment. It is possible to produce a small film outside
of school; however, working alone and without instruction may stack
the deck against success.
Another possibility is volunteering to work on someone
else’s student film. This will provide a glimpse of the filmmaking
process, but won’t provide any answers as to the individual’s abilities.
The best test may be a short intensive program that
allows a person to make a film, like the programs at the New York
Film Academy, where each student makes four short films in eight
weeks, or seven films in the one-year program.
Marty Hasselbach (MH): When weighing the pros
and cons of different programs, keep in mind the opportunity as
well as the financial costs. Compressed one-year programs like those
offered at VFS may have higher tuition, but graduates from these
accelerated curriculum will also have the benefit of three additional
years of industry experience (and income) by the time they would
have graduated from a four-year degree program.
JJ Jackman (JJ): There are as many ways to
make a film as there are people ready to teach it, and it behooves
anyone interested in film school to do as much research as they
can on the various programs. Go to the school, get a feel for the
environment, talk to students currently in the program, see if the
“personality” of the school fits in with the way you’re most comfortable
being taught. There are so many incredible programs out there, to
not do the research is to shoot yourself in the foot before ever
Stephanie Moore (SM): People usually don’t
regret mistakes they’ve made, but what they didn’t do. If you have
the opportunity, and can devote the time and energy to being a film
student, go for it!
Charlie Humphrey (CH): Get a good liberal arts
education first. Read, read, read and then write, write, write.
These are the fundamental skills of good filmmaking.
Elisa Stephens (ES): When you decide to pursue
a profession in film, you are entering a large and difficult industry.
Before making the important decision of whether to enter a film
program, think about what will prepare you best for a successful
career. You must educate yourself on what a film program will offer,
and how this matches up with the current expectations in the industry.
The Academy of Art College helps students succeed in the real world
from day one, because our students have an edge. Every Academy Motion
Pictures student graduates with a demo reel, scripts or portfolio,
industry contacts and the skills and knowledge required for success.
If you do decide to attend film school, enter a program that you
know will offer these benefits.
Jaime Fowler (JF): If you’re not sure what
specific aspect of film you want to study, go to a community college
nearby so that you can look at the variety of different positions
in the industry. Don’t shoot for the top schools or specialized
training until you’ve made up your mind and feel good about that
decision. Not everyone is right for this business.
MM: What is the most important piece of
advice you give to your students who are moving from the classroom
into the industry?
NYFA: However great your talent and lofty your
dreams, the only way to continue making movies when you leave film
school is to be relentless: perseverance, perseverance, perseverance.
MH: Learning the craft of filmmaking is an
evolutionary process, and while film school gives you a solid background
in the fundamentals, your continued desire to learn, to experiment
and to take risks will be key to your success in the workplace.
JJ: Use the connections that you’ve made during
your time in school to help get your career started. Shine in the
classroom, prove yourself to be a collaborative artist, a team player
and a good storyteller. The folks you’re graduating with are quite
possibly the folks you’ll be working with for the rest of your life.
Filmmaking is a huge profession, but it’s also incredibly tiny,
and everybody knows everybody. A good reputation will spread fast,
a bad one even faster.
SM: Stay connected. Maintain your relationships.
The people who are in the industry now were film students a few
years ago… and they knew each other.
CH: Be willing to make any problem your problem.
Exhibit a willingness to take ownership of problems, and follow
through on every detail. Anticipate, but don’t presume. Love what
you do, or get out.
ES: Students should gain hands-on experience
from the first semester they enter film school. Students can only
make a successful transition to the industry if they have ventured
beyond the traditional classroom. The Academy has professional management
and faculty and has invested millions in facilities that are current
with industry standards, because we firmly believe in preparing
students for work. The best advice I can offer is to gain a film
education, like the one offered at the Academy of Art College, that
makes the transition into the industry as seamless as possible.
JF: I suppose that the most important advice
that we give to students is to be persistent. Let people know you’re
in this for real. A lot of people will fax resumes all day. It’s
a waste of paper. Go out and meet people, attend meetings, conventions,
arrange tours and interview as much as possible. But go out and
be a face. And don’t let them forget about you. If they don’t see
you, they’ll never hire you. If they see you twice, they might remember
you. But if they think you aren’t serious, you’ll never get hired.