Online video communities are emerging as ideal places for unknown and often untrained artists to display their work. The Vancouver Film School (VFS) took advantage of this pool of young talent by holding an online competition, in conjunction with YouTube, to award scholarships to three aspiring moviemakers. The winners—Christopher Harrell, Stefan Ramirez Pérez and Jorge Rolando Canedo Estrada—can look forward to a great year spent honing their skills under the direction of accomplished faculty at a school that prizes hands-on experience and produces artists who have the creative vision as well as the technical knowledge they need to gain a foothold in the industry.
MovieMaker spoke with VFS’ director of marketing, Stephen Webster, to find out more about the competition and the opportunities that await the three winners.
Jessica Wall (MM): You chose to partner with YouTube for your recent scholarship competition. What makes the company such a great partner for a school like VFS?
Stephen Webster (SW): We established the VFS channel on YouTube in 2006. Since then, it’s become the number one school channel on YouTube; the videos we’ve posted have combined for nearly 20 million views and 22,000 people have subscribed to the channel. The scholarship competition was very much about giving something back to that loyal, established fan base.
There is a lot of talent on YouTube, and those self-taught young artists and designers make great VFS students because we’re able to take that foundation, broaden their knowledge, hone their existing skills and give them the professional network they need to really succeed, online or off.
Over time, we’ve developed a great relationship with YouTube. They appreciate the quality and quantity of content we provide and have been very supportive along the way, so we really welcomed the chance to work together on providing this opportunity to our viewers.
MM: In your YouTube Scholarship Challenge, VFS was responsible for narrowing down hundreds of applicants to just 10 on which the YouTube community then voted. What specific qualities were you looking for in the winners?
SW: It was a monumental task selecting 10 finalists out of hundreds of entries. All submissions were graded on creativity, relevance to program—in this case, whichever VFS program the entrant chose—technical execution and overall impression. Most of all, we wanted 10 finalists who we’d be happy to have at VFS, because we knew that once we handed the reins over to the YouTube community, anything could happen.
As it turned out, we didn’t have anything to worry about. The high number of amazing submissions guaranteed we’d end up with three great scholarship students. The hard part was narrowing a very long “short list” down to just 10. It took a lot of sweat, debate and late nights, and it came down to the intangibles that a student needs to make the absolute most of a year at VFS: Passion, dedication and ingenuity. We can’t wait to see what the three winners will be able to do once they’re here.
MM: On your Website you say that VFS offers a one-year equivalent to a four-year education at other schools. What differences in its teaching philosophy account for this ability to teach students what they need to know in just one year?
SW: Our students work incredibly hard. That’s the reality of the industries they’re hoping to break into, and we attract a particularly driven kind of student.
Every program’s curriculum is very carefully crafted—and continually updated—to make the most of the year. Courses build off one another in a sequential and highly customized manner, unlike the mish-mash of electives you see in most four-year programs. And since instructors are working professionals, they know exactly what information students need, because they’re in the real world right now. Tenured academics don’t often have that advantage.
MM: VFS is known to emphasize a hands-on approach rather than a theoretical one. What benefits do you feel the hands-on approach offers students?
SW: Theory is absolutely important. It’s an underpinning: It gives us context and a framework. Students learn theory and history at VFS. But what good is all that if you can’t apply it?
We recently spoke to Syd Field, the screenwriting guru, and asked him what the most important thing for an aspiring screenwriter was. Syd practically created the idea of screenwriting theory, but his answer was still, “Write, write, write, write, write.” That applies to all disciplines.
Theory alone never resulted in a great film, reel or portfolio.
MM: Vancouver has become a choice shooting location for many moviemakers; what opportunities does the local film industry offer to students at VFS?
SW: Film productions have long come here because they know they can find talented, professional crew here, and VFS has been a big part of filling that talent pool since the school was founded in 1987. Because our faculty work in the industry, they’re often a student’s best reference upon graduation and a means to break in.
It’s more than just live action film and TV, too; there’s a booming animation and visual effects industry here, and Vancouver’s also a world hub of video game development. That offers a wide range of opportunities for students with a variety of skills and backgrounds.
MM: The three winners of the YouTube Scholarship Challenge come from Germany, the United States and Mexico, and 50 percent of VFS students come from outside Canada. In what ways is this large international population an asset to the school?
SW: The large international population of the school is such a huge asset to VFS that we’ve opened offices in India, Korea, Taiwan and Mexico with full-time advisors to help students in those regions come to VFS.
The exchange of ideas, cultures and influences are vital to aspiring artists. This geographic diversity ensures that students here are getting different perspectives all the time. There’s a great deal of talent out there, just looking for a place to come together.
Our students are together for a year or less, but they bond quickly—they form tight relationships. That’s the beginning of their professional network, and the international student population means that network is a worldwide one. Vancouver is a great place to start a career, but these industries aren’t bound by geography—they’re global. Having connections all over the world is a huge asset to alumni.
MM: The winners of the YouTube Scholarship Challenge are, for the most part, self-taught. Often self-taught moviemakers are very independent and have their own way of doing things. What is the balance between individual freedom and VFS-taught methods in the classroom?
SW: Students in all programs have plenty of chances to flex their creative muscles, to develop their own projects and tell their own stories. But that’s only part of what it means to be a filmmaker or designer; film is collaborative and design work is often client-driven. We believe in giving students room to explore but also the challenge of working within certain limitations and collaborating with fellow students who may or may not have the exact same vision. That’s a crucial part of creative growth and it’s the reality of the industry, so it’s important for students to have that real-world experience along with plenty of creative freedom.
Visit http://www.vfs.com for more information.