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Some MFA Cinematography program questions


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#1 Esther Kim

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Posted 18 July 2018 - 08:44 AM

Hey everyone,

 

I would like to go to film school because I have the means to do so and the structure would be beneficial to me. But I'm open to not going if there is a better route. I know that going to film school is a topic that doesn't have a clear answer but I'd love your thoughts on a couple of questions I have.

 

1. I'm curious what your thoughts are on what to look for in a film school for a cinematography MFA - schools like USC and NYU are well known but I wonder if concentrating in cinematography during ones 2nd year takes away from developing your skills as a cinematographer than if you go to a school where you concentrate in that from the start (like Chapman).

 

2. How important is the reputation and connectedness of the school itself? I have heard that internships are important for film school students but at the same time I don't really know if internships are that important for aspiring cinematographers. It seems like aspiring cinematographers should just shoot and work on as many projects as possible. So, is it just important to go to a school that teaches you well and gets you a decent reel, or do the connections that big name schools like NYU offer matter? If you are in a city like NYC or LA, couldn't you network sufficiently without the school anyway?

 

3. Do you know anything about Feirstein School of Cinema (CUNY Brooklyn's new film school)? I have an interview with them tomorrow and it seems like a cool program because it's in NYC and focuses more on indie filmmaking. At the same time I am hesitant because the school is new and not much is known about its program or graduates. 

 

Things are a bit up in the air - I might go to film school, I might wait, I might not go at all but if you have any answers to these questions I'd appreciate it! 


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#2 Ryan Emanuel

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Posted 18 July 2018 - 09:51 AM

I dropped out of the Feirstein Cinematography program.  It really depends what level your at and what your trying to get out of it.  Feirstein is not really catered to people with industry experience.  Its more of an introduction to filmmaking even though its a MFA.  The pace of the program accommodates first time filmmakers so if your looking for a fast pace it might not be the right place.  


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#3 Esther Kim

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Posted 18 July 2018 - 09:58 AM

ignore this response!

Edited by Esther Kim, 18 July 2018 - 10:01 AM.

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#4 Esther Kim

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Posted 18 July 2018 - 10:00 AM

I dropped out of the Feirstein Cinematography program.  It really depends what level your at and what your trying to get out of it.  Feirstein is not really catered to people with industry experience.  Its more of an introduction to filmmaking even though its a MFA.  The pace of the program accommodates first time filmmakers so if your looking for a fast pace it might not be the right place.  


Hey Ryan, thanks for the response! I am pretty new to film and cinematography so I'd prefer some background training. I also learn better in more laid back environments. A school like AFI is a bit too advanced for me. Do you think Feirstein is a good program for someone who is just starting out?
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#5 Matt Thomas

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Posted 18 July 2018 - 11:47 AM

I didn't go to film school, nor am I some big shot that should be giving advice from the top of the industry.

 

That being said my general thoughts on going to school these days are, unless you're a specialized lawyer or doctor to where a degree is your ticket into a career, don't go for higher education. Cinematography, photography, anything that has the word art connected to it is better pursued by time and dedication to craft. 

 

Odds are you can find an entry level something in the industry just by showing up with the same enthusiasm you're showing the universities during interviews. If I could go back and redo my education I wouldn't much rather spent the years in the bowels of the industry (getting paid at that..) than on the sidelines. 

 

You're probably going to hear a bunch of responses like this but there's no cut formula to your dream in cinematography, no matter what that dream may be. 

 

High School > Graphic Design & Commercial Arts Degree > PA (and a **(obscenity removed)** ton of hustling) > In House Agency Videographer > DP > ????


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#6 Ryan Emanuel

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Posted 18 July 2018 - 06:22 PM

Matt, I'm sorry but dedication to the craft matters as much as a degree.   All that matters in the long run is who knows you and who is going to hire you.  Theres tons of working professionals that don't really have a passion for film but know how to network.  This is a fake it til you make it industry, nothing more nothing less. 

 

Esther the biggest question for you is why do you want to go.  You can learn more about filmmaking on set PAing than at film school. I knew more than some of the professors by just reading. To me the only reason to go is that you are willing to gamble $100,000 that the directors and producers in your class will have careers and you can form relationships with them.  The truth is one out of 25 directors in film school will be a director, most will be something else.  Cinematographers have it easier to pay back loans because they can gaff or key grip or AC, but if you jump straight into crew jobs you'd be in the same place with no debt.  

 

At the end of the day is really more of a personality question than a talent question.  Are you personable enough that an experienced director would want to work with you more than an experienced dp?  Then film school could very well be worth it if you are a beginner.  If you go that route just know relationships is all that matters, what you learn in the classroom is pretty useless in comparison.  

 

If you knew a experienced dp, they could probably teach you everything about cinematography in 3 weeks, but an MFA at brooklyn college is 3 years and you'll know less.  Definitely don't go if your only incentive is to learn. 


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#7 Esther Kim

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Posted 18 July 2018 - 08:40 PM

Matt, I'm sorry but dedication to the craft matters as much as a degree.   All that matters in the long run is who knows you and who is going to hire you.  Theres tons of working professionals that don't really have a passion for film but know how to network.  This is a fake it til you make it industry, nothing more nothing less. 
 
Esther the biggest question for you is why do you want to go.  You can learn more about filmmaking on set PAing than at film school. I knew more than some of the professors by just reading. To me the only reason to go is that you are willing to gamble $100,000 that the directors and producers in your class will have careers and you can form relationships with them.  The truth is one out of 25 directors in film school will be a director, most will be something else.  Cinematographers have it easier to pay back loans because they can gaff or key grip or AC, but if you jump straight into crew jobs you'd be in the same place with no debt.  
 
At the end of the day is really more of a personality question than a talent question.  Are you personable enough that an experienced director would want to work with you more than an experienced dp?  Then film school could very well be worth it if you are a beginner.  If you go that route just know relationships is all that matters, what you learn in the classroom is pretty useless in comparison.  
 
If you knew a experienced dp, they could probably teach you everything about cinematography in 3 weeks, but an MFA at brooklyn college is 3 years and you'll know less.  Definitely don't go if your only incentive is to learn. 


I suppose I forgot to add that my goal is both to learn and to move back to the US. I am in Korea and as I am not a native here it doesn't make much sense to try and build my career here. Most expat filmmakers here are hobbyists and do not make a living doing film. This is a good place to practice but not to meet people who are reallly good and are good contacts.

PAing sounds great. However isn't it pretty hard to financially sustain yourself doing that?

I think the concern other than learning is having some financial comfort. At this point if I go to school I would have 3 years of just learning and not having to think about my expenses (I will not have debt). If I moved back to the US without school I would have to work side jobs while PAing which would be tougher.
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#8 Ryan Emanuel

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Posted 19 July 2018 - 11:21 AM

It is hard at first, but if your good it'll take 1-2 years before your financial sound if you start crewing.  DIT jobs are easy to get so are grip and 2nd AC, the important thing is to learn the ropes fast so people will rehire you. Don't PA if you want to be a cinematographer, different departments.

 

The hard 1-2 years is usually easier than 3 years of film school before you can work and over 100,000 in debt even at feirstein.  You'll have to finance your own films which is not listed in the costs.  But if you want comfort, film school will provide that.  Most people just have the debt looming over them and don't make as much money in the industry as people who didn't go to school.


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#9 Giacomo Girolamo

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Posted 19 July 2018 - 12:02 PM

Nobody is going to ask you which school did you go. People are interest in your work, in what responsible you are and if you could get the job done. You get better by working a lot (in different kinds of projects) and all the time, because this craft forget easy and you need to keep on with the new technologies.

 

Saying this, school is good to "practice" in a safe environment, to get access to equipment that probably you can't buy or rent by your own, and most important, to get contacts and meet people with your same interest.

And some people, really need a "education system" to tell him what to learn, in which order, and in this or that way. Other people feels constrain and prefer learn what they want and kinda discover they own way. Is not any way better that another, but people is different and have different needs.

 

You can be a great cinematographer, but is not depend if you go or not to the cine school. Try to find what works for you and more important, no matter if you choose the school or not, you really need to do things (and work whenever you can, even for free) ALL the time. Is the only way that you really are going to learn the craft and more important, discover if this type of life is what you want for you.

 

 

Best of lucks!


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