Located in Denver, Colorado Film School (CFS) is quickly rising as a unique, affordable film school. At CFS, young moviemakers have an immersive, hands-on education (with access to cutting-edge equipment, soundstages, post-production facilities and world-class faculty), as well as the opportunity to learn from some of the most respected moviemakers in the industry (past guest speakers at CFS include Spike Lee, Wim Wenders, John Sayles and Albert Maysles). CFS also has the distinction of being the only film school to have students provide coverage (reading and evaluating scripts) for International Creative Management (ICM), one of the world’s largest talent and literary agencies.
MM recently caught up with Frederic Lahey, director of Colorado Film School, to find out what CFS has to offer students, as well as what exciting developments are on the horion.
Kyle Rupprecht (MM): How does Colorado Film School (CFS) differ from other film schools? What makes it stand out?
Frederic Lahey (FL): Colorado Film School was independently identified by International Cinematographer¹s Guild Magazine in an unsolicited review of film schools as one of the leading film schools in the nation. We are aggressively hands-on in our instructional methods, making over 1,000 student films per year, yet our greatest emphasis is on story and story structure. A recent visiting artist, who happens to teach at Columbia University¹s Graduate Film Program, told our Regis BFA seniors that their work was at least the equal of the work of the Columbia MFA graduate students. As Columbia students and alumni have a strong presence at the highly selective Sundance Film Festival each year, the quality of our student work sets us apart as well.
We have a dedicated professional faculty, with small class sizes, coupled with a strong visiting artist program. We have strong industry connections from the Starz Denver Film Festival to International Creative Management (ICM) in LA. Our students have access to an excellent equipment inventory in a beautiful, dedicated facility through a custom equipment access software that ties script quality to production budgets in a way that mimics real world experience.
Finally, the Colorado Film School is one of the most affordable film schools in the world, whether students hail from our own state, get a WUE discount, or come from Europe and Asia. Leveraging costs with our Regis University partners creates efficiencies that lead to tremendous student cost advantages coupled with superb facilities, faculty and access.
MM: What are some of the qualities you look for when considering a student’s application?
FL: Focus and dedication to grow, learn, and become an accomplished storyteller. Additionally, we value open-mindedness, critical engagement and a desire to improve our industry and our world.
MM: Ideally, once a student has graduated, what are some of the important tools you hope they’ve learned at CFS?
FL: Besides their discipline-specific tools for our five major tracks (Writing/Directing, Writing/Producing, Cinematography/Videography, Post Production and Acting for the Screen), all CFS graduates should be creative problem solvers and accomplished storytellers. A well-trained filmmaker should be able to approach any challenge in any industry or environment with an impressive and unique toolkit that involves situational summary, establishment of goals, application of analytics, planning for accomplishment, sober assessment and product distribution. It is our goal
to graduate well-trained filmmakers who will continue to develop their powers of expression as writers, directors, producers, actors, editors, cinematographers, artists, agents, analysts and executives.
MM: What makes Colorado an ideal setting for a film school? What is the local moviemaking community like?
FL: Colorado has a tremendous diversity of “looks” in close proximity, from downtown Denver to our fifty 14,000-plus foot mountain peaks. Liberty Media is headquartered here, along with their Starz Entertainment company. Comcast has a large production and uplink facility here, and the Creative Industries sector of the economy is the 5th largest employment sector in the state. The Denver/Boulder corridor is one of the fastest developing high-tech/creative hubs in the world. Production here is everything from feature films (micro-budget to major motion pictures) to High Noon productions, with some 30-plus series being shot for the Food Network, Discovery, HGTV, Animal Planet, to video creation for web series and a host of video for the web applications.
Colorado established the first film commission in the US, has a strong Colorado Film Video Association, broadwriting circles, acting groups, talent agencies, strong music scene and all the indie hotbed indicators. The film commission has just been moved into the newly created Creative Industries sectors of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, and the Media Leaders Roundtable has a quarterly breakfast meeting, while the Executive Committee meets more regularly than that.
MM: You’ve had some very high-profile guests recently, including Oscar-winning cinematographer Mauro Fiore (Avatar), screenwriter Michael C. Martin (Brooklyn’s Finest) and director Ramin Bahrani (Goodbye Solo). How do you think your students benefit from listening/interacting with these accomplished moviemakers?
FL: Our Regis seniors in the BFA program sat down over three days on separate occasions with both Mauro and Ramin and had their reels and Advanced Production test shoots critiqued by them. This gave our students the ability to know where they stand in terms of the international industry standards. The Regis seniors also had the opportunity to shoot with Michael C. Martin on test shoot for his latest project over two weekends.
Mauro Fiore helped DP the first day¹s shoot. This gave our students a genuine entry into the professional world, that should help them transition from CFS to the film industry. Meanwhile, Post majors in an Advanced Effects class taught by Ed Kramer (11 years at ILM as a Sequence Supervisor) had Douglas Trumbull stop by to chat after they had just studied his contributions to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Blade Runner.
MM: CFS is currently developing a number of its courses to be made available online to meet the needs of new partners who want to open CFS branches around the globe, including Dubai, India and the Dominican Republic. How
does this expansion affect CFS? Do you have any other plans for the future?
FL: I have always resisted the online education model because film is such a collaborative medium that one needs a real film community to create a proper training environment. When we were contacted by ISM in Dubai to develop their Film Academy (their other educational partners include the London School of Economics and the University of South Wales), a way around creating a prohibitively high-cost program was to export our curriculum and teaching through the development of online content with the understanding that they would create the labs, the equipment cage, the screening rooms, and meeting spaces and commons facilities that could create genuine community.
We will periodically fly in faculty so that there is real human contact, even as we mount a dedicated video server to deliver courses and evaluate student work in all its stages of development. The Dominican Republic has just passed an initiative to promote local and international film production there, so we are designing another CFS branch like the Dubai operation to deliver high-quality affordable film education that has full US regional academic accreditation.
By looking at our curriculum through this lens, we have found ways that we can continue to tweak and improve our curricular delivery in Denver. For example, we have now put over 30GB of teaching materials (not including films) on our local server for our Production I and Post I delivery that is indexed to teaching day, learning concept and student skill. This way, all eight of our faculty who teach Production I or Post I can link and share the content they use for teaching, thereby raising the resources available to all our faculty, and enriching the student experience.
As we develop more and more of our curriculum, we intend to make our “common core” courses available for selective delivery to high schools throughout the US who are interested in developing film and media studies programs for college credit. We know these programs are being developed throughout the US, but frequently high school faculty don¹t have the experience and credentials to deliver professional training at the college level. This way,
we can partner with schools to help improve film education and media literacy on a national level.
For more information, please visit www.coloradofilmschool.net.