Friday, August 8, 2008

Back to School - Everything You Need to Know About Film Schools in Hollywood

student film at the los angeles film school
I've been getting a lot of emails requesting advice that I might have pertaining to "good film schools" or if there was any type of method to a "nobody gets hurt" experience when coming out to Hollywood. The funny this is, I don't consider myself to be the authority on making adequate educational decisions. As a matter of fact, I was sort of a bad student but only to a certain degree. Don't get it twisted : )

So before I explode with my hypothesis on the matter, let me explain the type of person I am.

Plain and simple, I react from the gut. I make decisions based on a simplistic theory, which can be interpreted as blind mathematics i.e. "is X better then Y?". That's pretty much the basis to my infallible logic. I'm the "I'll just iron out the details later" type of bloke.

There's upsides as well as some more obvious downsides to this type of decision making. Let's take a look at the scale. It's only fair : )

The Good
  • You're open to all types of new discoveries. There is also a tendency (for me, at least) to become more adventurous in life.
  • An undeniable sense of freedom, which contributes greatly to your outlook on certain situations.
  • A better understanding of self.
The Bad
  • Possible animosity from family and friends due to your sudden departure. Everyone you know, in some way or another wants to support you but might feel alienated if you leave without their feelings in mind.
  • When choosing X over Y, what are you leaving behind? Consider the consequences of your actions.
The Ugly
  • When chasing a dream or following an ambition, people will follow you and respect you for your courage, they might even cheer for you...of course, this is all until you fail. You can't blame them either because who still wants to hear about your new exciting life plan after you've already been through the entire playbook. If you're anything like me, it gets old. I've failed more then the times allotted to. So, in turn there's sacrifice. But you deal with it.
    It is on our failures that we base a new and different and better success.
Okay, so now that we got that out of the way. Let's talk about schools. If you're looking to pick up a degree in fine arts then stick to the no-brainers; USC, UCLA and CHAPMAN UNIVERSITY (just to name a few). Hell, USC has one of the top film programs in the country next to NYU. Just ask George Lucas and Judd Apatow.

Remember, getting accepted to these schools are tough enough as it is, so make sure you have all your prerequisites on full blast. Also be warned, you will not be able to pick up a camera and start filming until a year's worth of courses in theory. But then again, don't let me stop you, these schools are prestigious and well renowned but sluggish and highly competitive and maybe even a little pretentious for the aspiring filmmaker who just wants to shoot something already!

-----

UPDATE FROM A READER: In regards to this sentence in your post -- "Also be warned, you will not be able to pick up a camera and start filming until a year's worth of courses in theory."


At USC (where I run the editing department) graduate students shoot and edit in their very first semester. But, because the program is pretty intensive and a huge time-sucker, the undergrads get most of their school requirements out of the way before starting the production program in their third semester. Once they do that, they're shooting and editing from the beginning.

It doesn't make sense for us to teach theory without practice, so everyone is working from the moment they start the program.

I'm not sure but I believe that NYU works the same way.

- Norman

----- Thank you Norman, this entry is intended to inform, apologies for the mix up. Now back to the post : ) -----


FUNNY STORY: I was once told by most of my instructors, that here in Hollywood, nobody cares about the school you graduated from. A degree in filmmaking is just another expensive wallflower to hang up on your mantle to make your parents proud. The main focus here is talent and experience. It's a tough cookie to swallow but the advice was coming from none other then USC and NYU graduates, so I guess they knew the routine. You have to respect that.

So logically you'll want to get to a school that'll give you an immersive hands-on experience. So you can build your resume, create short films, crew on other projects and write screenplays without the restraints of overbearing class schedules. In other words, you'll have the chance to "fast track" or expedite your learning process and get to the core of this career; WORK!

the los angeles film school theater
For this choice there's the infamous conservatory choices. AFI, THE LOS ANGELES FILM SCHOOL and THE NEW YORK FILM ACADEMY (which is located in Hollywood, go figure). All of these institutes promise a full on "all inclusive experience" and are all conveniently located within miles of each other. Some of these school's now even offer associate degree programs. So ya got the best of both worlds. The equipment is free to use, as long as you pass a simple test on the mechanics of whichever camera you'd like to take out and destroy (sd, hd, blu-ray, 16mm, 35mm) you'll also be looking at about a $30,000 to $50,000 tuition for a one-year certificate program. Which in my opinion is the way to go.

new york film
Now which school is right for me? Well that's really up to you. Do some research, I jumped in as fast as I could and I made some mistakes here and there yet I don't regret a single moment. The people I've met and the information I've absorbed has been indispensable compared to my enormous loan interest rate. Don't worry, I was only kidding about the interest rate, but not really : )

Just make sure you get to keep the rights to all the films you make. This is a biggie so make sure to inquire about that. Also ask about the quality of their equipment and if they update and clean the gear regularly. I knew a guy who spent $10,000 on his thesis project only to find out later that the 16mm camera he took out had scratched all of his film!!! Making the footage unusable. I mean, the cinematographer should of ran a scratch test but still, these things are not supposed to happen.

afi conservatory
*I almost forgot, here's a tidbit of information, if you are planning to tour the schools from a different state or country then inquire about them paying for your way back. Surprisingly enough some of them will, grant it if you sign up for the program. Also try to make them waive the initial application fee which can be anywhere from $100 to $200. Doesn't really take much to do this, just say you can't afford it.

When it comes to housing, just make sure you don't pay through the nose like I did. I went with the first place that accepted my credit and wound up paying $1650 a month for a tiny one bedroom. The location was prime - on Hollywood Blvd - but overall you need to save. Life in Hollywood is expensive! I later discovered that down the street, the one bedroom flats were going for $1200 and with more searching I even found an $1100 dollar two bedroom on Melrose!!! Unfortunately I signed a fat contract so I was locked in at my place. Oh well. I threw so many parties, it's not even funny. Good times.

So to sum it all up, go with your gut and make it out to Hollywood, just make sure you get the most out of your experience by studying the land and being smart about the logistics. Hollywood is an exciting place to be when it comes to film, you'll see advanced screenings, maybe run into celebrities, attend premieres, meet industry professionals, eat great food, enjoy the insane LA nightlife. Seriously, nobody sleeps. My city screams so enjoy it to the fullest.

Remember to network, network, network and network. Be kind and genuine because "real deal people" can see right through a fake, just as it goes in real life. Also don't be afraid to fail, you'll learn through your mistakes.

So listen to your heart but be smart. Any questions or, if you've already made it out here and need a friend, don't hesitate to email me, stay tuned to the blog.

John Darko
johndarko1@gmail.com

ANOTHER UPDATE: The reader who informed us about the updated content is none other then Norm Hollyn.

Norm Hollyn is a long-time film, television and music editor including
Sophie's Choice (1982), The Cotton Club (1984), Heathers (1989), Fame (1980) and Oliver Stone's Wild Palms (1993). He teaches courses in production and advanced editing at USC.

He is the author of the standard editing textbook, The Film Editing Room Handbook, and has been published in many magazines and journals. He lectures both nationally and internationally.

Norm is also a contributing member to the blogosphere, you can find his blog site here. Tell em' I sent ya.

P.S.

Thanks for reading. I've been so busy lately that's it's been tough to keep up with my e-mails but I gotta tell you, they all inspire me to follow through with the updates. So, if I have not yet responded to your e-mail, just give me a few days and I'll try my best to get around to all of them. Also a huge thank you to the 340 + people who have added me on linkedin.com over the last two weeks.


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14 comments:

Jaden Devile said...

thank you so much for the information. i read your email this morning, thanks for all the help. hopefully my family will help with the cost of the ticket. i will take you up on the offer. i love this blog.

Anonymous said...

I'LL THINK I'M GOING WITH THE LA FILM SCHOOL. SEEMED TO WORK OUT FOR YOU. THANKS JOHN

Amir said...

amazing post! but i go to nyfa in new york.i will be in hollywood soon. see you!!!

Karen (Warners) said...

Fantastic post John. Let's get together soon. We need to talk about future projects. Keep inspiring, you are great at it. You deserve a bigger audience Mister.

Anonymous said...

KEEP EM COMING

Norman said...

Just a small nit in an otherwise fantastic post.

In regards to this sentence in your post -- "Also be warned, you will not be able to pick up a camera and start filming until a year's worth of courses in theory."

At USC (where I run the editing department) graduate students shoot and edit in their very first semester. But, because the program is pretty intensive and a huge time-sucker, the undergrads get most of their school requirements out of the way before starting the production program in their third semester. Once they do that, they're shooting and editing from the beginning.

It doesn't make sense for us to teach theory without practice, so everyone is working from the moment they start the program.

I'm not sure but I believe that NYU works the same way.

John Darko said...

Thank you Norman for the information.

I also majored in editing, the majority of the time we used the Avid Nitrus and Adrenaline systems. I also figured I'd pick up my FCP cert from Apple as well, seeing that I have been using FCP long before I even knew about Avid. I've always been a mac guy, go figure.

Either way I enjoy editing on both platforms. Recently, with the help the help of a student discount, I picked up Media Composer for $299!!! What a steal.

I've just updated the entry including the information you have supplied. Sorry for the mix up, was only speaking from what I've heard.

Everything I post is intended to inform, so thank you for the added knowledge. It's an honor.

Also thank you to everybody else for reading the article.

CHEERS!!!

Jeremy said...

John you are on a hot streak dude. I can't believe it man.

Router Bench said...

Very Interesting, I think I should point my daughter at this, They both hope to do the whole Hollywood thing.

katie said...

Thank you for answering my email. I love the site John.

BookingAlong said...

You are starting a blog for antisocial people? Saw your Twitter update. I'm not antisocial, just up to my neck in deadlines with the Olympics and all. By the way, if you ever get a yen to explore rare or hard to find documentaries, let me know. Got some great suggestions :)

Lakshmi Mareddy said...

John,
A nice and interesting article. Im now thinking of coming out of the closet and actually writing :) Thanks for the inspiration...

Anonymous said...

Whatever you do don't go to the L.A. Film School. I Just dropped out. The place is falling apart and I don't want to pay back a grip of loans for something I won't benefit from. It's the blind leading the blind. The whole staff is upset on how management is treating them. If they can't take care of their staff how can they take care of their students. The place looks great but it's like a hot blond woman who can't offer a man anything. The L.A. Film School has nothing to offer.

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