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What Film School is Right for You?

I was 21 when I did my first cartwheel. That’s a little late, I know, but I could never quite figure it out. Every time I tried, I just fell over halfway through.

Walking home from a party, I told a friend this, and he became obsessed with teaching me how to do a proper cartwheel. We did it over and over and I never got it.

Finally, I said I just didn’t understand what I was doing with my legs, where they were supposed to go and when. My friend patiently explained that my lead leg was to go completely vertical, and only then would I swing the back leg as hard as I could, and that momentum would carry my body the rest of the way over.

I immediately got it right. My friend couldn’t believe that you could explain your way into a cartwheel.

If you guessed that I’m an uncoordinated nerd, you’re right. If you’d guessed that I’m analytical, then you’d have guessed the point of this story.

People acquire skills different ways. Some people learn best by simply doing. Others, like me, have to really understand something before they can do it.  This applies to film as much as anything else. Luckily, there are different kinds of film schools for people who learn differently.

USC, UCLA and NYU are full universities, where you get a full degree. There’s a lot of theory and history. You do take practical classes, but fewer than you might imagine.

These schools tend to focus on above-the-line, and ignore the hundred or so other crew members required to make a serious movie. A friend of mine has a degree from the oldest and arguable most prestigious film school in the world, yet had to go to LACC post-graduation to take a fucking cinematography class.

(There are other universities, like UT or Syracuse, with less name recognition in the industry, but still respectable. In many ways, these other schools try harder to help their graduates. USC just kicks you out of the nest, and says, “Congratulations, you’re a Trojan! You can fly now!” Judging by all the Lucases, Zemeckises, Singers, and Wellses, they may be right; I may just be a loser for not having made something of myself by now.)

On the other end of the spectrum are schools like AFI and Full Sail. These are more like trade schools or, if you want to be snooty, conservatories. They’re all about the hands-on.

I met a couple of grips my age who’d gone to Full Sail. They were smart guys who certainly knew their way around a C-stand, but they had no idea what the Kuleshov Effect is.

There’s also the New York Film academy, which I’m kinda on the fence about. An old grip I know said his son took a course there, and it was basically summer camp for film nerds. On the other hand, a coordinator friend of mine went there, and she’s one of the better coordinators I’ve worked for.

So, there you go. Hopefully, these last few posts will help you decide.

Happy New Year!

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6 Responses

  1. Great post! Deciding on which film school to go to is very difficult because they all vary greatly. I think the hardest decision is deciding to go to New York City for independent filmmaking or California for major motion pictures. Keep up the great work and check us out – New York Film Academy! 🙂

  2. that’s really crazy. There’s always a struggle of conflict for many people whether to choose a trade school or a “prestigious” film program at a post-graduate school.

    I almost got accepted into Yale last year for playwriting and I got rejected, but fuck it all. I don’t need that crap.

  3. I met a couple of grips my age who’d gone to Full Sail. They were smart guys who certainly knew their way around a C-stand, but they had no idea what the Kuleshov Effect is

    Oh for pete’s sake. I live in a flyover state and even I know what the Kuleshov Effect is!

    Once when I was browsing around in a library I came across what looked like a pretty good book that looked like it was designed to help you figure out which film school to go do:

    It was aimed for graduate film schools only, but perhaps there are other books of this ilk.

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