For most moviemakers, a career as a successful Hollywood
producer would be enough to satisfy the creative urge. But for Jerry
Sherlock, executive producer on John McTiernan’s The Hunt for
Red October and a number of other Hollywood hits, the desire
to teach the craft of moviemaking was always a lingering desire.
He acted on that desire 10 years ago when he founded the New York
Originally located in Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Film
Center, the NYFA has since grown into its own building in historic
Tammany Hall. Many of the original faculty, including Sherlock himself,
are still with the Academy-and they come from some of the country’s
most prestigious film programs, including NYU, USC, UCLA, AFI, Stanford
and Harvard. But what makes NYFA’s program unique from other film
Jennifer Wood (MM): What made you decide
to start your own film school in New York, a city where competition
is tough? Were you trying to provide students with something you
thought was missing from other programs?
Jerry Sherlock (JS): New York is the natural
home for an international film school-there’s a story on every corner.
In many ways the intensive nature of the school matches the intensity
of the city.
We provide people the means to make their own films.
In many schools students merely study film, but they don’t work
with film hands-on, or else they work on group projects. At the
Academy, every student starts working with the cameras on Day One,
and by the end of the first week each student begins directing their
MM: Who are your students?
JS: Our students are a very eclectic group
ranging from Buddhist nuns to Wall Street brokers and college students.
MM: You require that all students take part
in the entire moviemaking process, from writing and producing their
films to directing and editing them. Do you think such a hands-on
approach benefits an individual who is just looking to direct or
just looking to write?
JS: In our program, students quickly come to
understand how all of the fundamental crafts of filmmaking are interwoven
and inform each other. For example, to direct you need to understand
lighting, lenses, editing, screenwriting, etc. You could be a cinematographer
that creates a beautiful set of images, but if those images do not
edit together, you haven’t done your job correctly.
MM: You offer four-week, six-week, eight-week
and one-year long programs. Do you think that students can effectively
learn to make a movie in each of these allotted time periods?
JS: Not only can students learn to make films
in four, six or eight weeks, they will actually direct their own
films in the workshop. The difference between the length of the
workshops is in the time allotted and the complexity of the final
film projects. The one-year is by far the most comprehensive, and
students work with 16mm film, 35mm film and digital.
MM: Do you think it’s true that everyone
has a story to tell?
JS: We are of the philosophy that those who
desire to make films have a story to tell. We can teach you certain
things, but you have to bring the talent and the vision for your
MM: Digital technology has made it easier
for more individuals to become moviemakers. Do you think that first-time
moviemakers should ‘go digital,’ or do you believe students should
still first become proficient with film?
JS: The quality of film is still far superior
to digital, though our students work with both formats for different
purposes. However, once shooting both formats, almost all of our
students choose to shoot film on their final projects because the
image quality is so much greater. We believe the best way to learn
editing is hands-on-to physically cut the film. But once they have
learned the craft of editing in this manner, many students edit
their final projects digitally on our Apple G4 Final Cut Pro editing
MM: What is expected of students as far
as prior education-and are individual aspirations considered?
JS: Our workshops are open enrollment-we don’t
judge whether our students have talent or not before they come to
our program. We make every effort to impress upon our students the
difficulty of the course and the workload involved in directing
their own films. Then we leave it to the students to make the determination
if they have what it takes.
MM: Only in the one-year program does NYFA
incorporate film history, which many consider essential to the study
of film in general. What are your feelings on the role of film history
in film education?
JS: We believe [that] film history and theory
are extremely important, but that is not the purpose of our workshops.
Even in our one-year program, where we study film history, we approach
it from the point of view of the craft of the filmmakers involved,
i.e. we discuss how a certain lighting effect was achieved, or why
the filmmaker edited the scene in a certain way.
MM: If you were to recommend a "crash
course" in film history for prospective students that consisted
of 10 movie essentials, which films would you recommend?
JS: Some films/directors I would recommend
would be: The 400 Blows by François Truffaut; Tunes
of Glory by Ronald Neame; Paths of Glory by Stanley Kubrick; Raise the Red Lantern by Zhang Yimou; The Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa; Seven Beauties by Lina Wertmüller; Notorious by Alfred Hitchcock; La Strada by Federico
Fellini; M by Fritz Lang; and Citizen Kane by Orson
MM: What does 2002 look like for the NYFA?
JS: In addition to our year-round workshops
in New York City and at Universal Studios, Hollywood, in 2002 we
will be offering workshops at the Harvard Faculty Club, Princeton
University, King’s College London (year-round as of June, 2002),
The French National Film School (La Femis) in Paris, France; Mexico
City; Toronto, Canada; Shanghai, China; Taipei, Taiwan; and Tokyo,
We are also offering a special summer Digital Filmmaking
Workshop, workshops in 3-D Animation, and Feature Screenwriting
workshops in New York City and Los Angeles.