While Academy of Art University, founded in San Francisco in 1929, is renowned as one of the largest art and design schools in the country, it’s also quickly becoming just as widely recognized for its impressive film program, the School of Motion Pictures and Television. The School is dedicated to fostering a creative, collaborative environment with practical, hands-on training. Academy of Art students are immersed in a broad range of moviemaking skills, using state-of-the-art equipment. After gaining a wealth of experience in various disciplines, students then specialize in one area (for the purpose of portfolio development), becoming a master of their field. An MFA program is also offered for film graduate students, with the opportunity to expand on their individual visions and skill sets as moviemakers.

MM recently caught up with Executive Director of the School of Motion Pictures and Television, Diane Baker (a veteran actress, whose screen credits include The Silence of the Lambs and Marnie), to find out what makes Academy of Art’s film program stand out from the rest.

Kyle Rupprecht (MM): What makes the Academy’s film program stand out from the vast number of other film schools?

Diane Baker (DB): Academy of Art University was founded on the principle that every person should have the opportunity to learn an artistic skill. Other university film programs depend largely on grade point average and money. We are dedicated to hiring working professionals who have the talent to guide students to rewarding futures in the film industry.

We are also different from other film schools in that we still focus on film as a valuable core in our Cinematography classes. The students learn to use super 8, 16mm and 35mm film. Many of our students come to our school specifically because of this fact. We are on the cutting edge of the digital revolution, with at least 50% of our student population working with digital HD and SD cameras.

Our film program prepares our students with professional portfolios. We offer our students the resources to create a professional reputation in the film industry.

MM: How did the film program at the Academy get started? How has it changed over the years?

DB: Over the past seven years, we have built two new soundstages that serve the directing and acting classes. We have full-time production and post-production staff as well as set design and art decorators. We have solidified the curriculum to cover all areas of filmmaking, including the business of selling your films and entertainment practices. We offer courses in Screenwriting (how to tell a story in script form), Directing, Producing, Cinematography, Acting, Editing and Production Design, as well as Sound. We are also developing a Television focus.

MM: What are some of the special events that film majors can look forward to attending?

DB: Every year, Academy of Art University sponsors our Epidemic Student Film Festival where we invite many industry professionals to both see student work and discuss the work with each student.

We have invited many professional filmmakers and regularly invite guest speakers during each semester, including Lewis Horwitz, John Cones, Esq., Neal Baer, Frank Langella, Randal Kleiser, Harry Winer, Marsha Mason, Barry Bostwick, Mike Medavoy, Tippi Hedren, Chris Milk, Michael Goi, Joseph Sargent, Carroll Ballard, Hiro Narita, Robert DiNozzi, Barrie Osborne, Shirley MacLaine, Richard Donner and many more.

Guests invited for December 2010 and Spring semester 2011: writer/director Peter Chelsom, actor Michael Lerner, writer/director Alexander Payne, cinematographer Eduardo Serra and actress/dancer Leslie Caron.

MM: Are there any future plans for the program you can tell us about?

DB: Future plans for the department include more emphasis on television writing and producing, and a class in learning the art of producing a trailer. This class will teach students how to write and produce a short trailer to promote and market their future films. We also will be offering a new course in “Promotion, Marketing and How to Recoup Your Budget.” We are offering a “Play Production” class where students will rehearse a play to perform in our 79 Theater at the end of the semester.

Academy of Art University’s film program is hands-on, and we support and guide our students through the entire process of filmmaking. We believe that “story” is most important for all of those entering the program. Whether you are studying editing, directing, acting or cinematography, you must know how to tell a story. We are essentially communicators. We create both visual stories and stories that combine visuals and sound.

We need the tools and the skills to do this. That’s where our school comes in – we take a holistic approach to making films. Our “Filmmaking for Independents” classes, aka “Collaborative Filmmaking,” are where our students form teams and make an in-class film through the semester. Here is where they learn to communicate to their crew, learn to become a team, which is how the film industry works.

MM: If an aspiring moviemaker is considering attending the Academy but is still undecided, what would you say to convince him or her?

DB: Our film school offers every student the opportunity to forge a professional reputation while they attend school. This will serve them well when they graduate and wish to enter the film industry. For those undecided, we ask them to visit our soundstages, meet our instructors and other students in the program and show them the best of our student work. In other words, we want the student film work to speak for itself.

For more information, please go to http://www.academyart.edu/film-school/index.html.