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Many Film School Questions


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#1 Brady Nemeth

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Posted 29 May 2006 - 06:59 PM

I've known what I have wanted to do for quite some time now (cinemetography), but almost done with my junior year in high school, i'm finally faced with the decision of where to go from here. I think a quick summary of what i've done so far might help out.

I first realized that I loved film/TV when I worked on my middle school TV show in 6th grade in MD. I moved to western MA, where there isn't much of anything. Our school is on the verge of being taken down and built again, so our classes are limited, but i've taken pretty much anything involving film (still photography, and video). Essentially, with the position i'm in, there isn't a whole lot that I can do without dishing out tons of money.

Back to all of my questions about schools to go to after high school. I've had tons of questions to ask for a while now, and it looks like I finally found a great place to ask them. Feel free to answer as many or as little as you want.

1. Is a 4 year University even worth it? I've heard from some people in "the business" that most people don't care whether you've gone to school or not, they just care about the knowledge that you carry.

2. How do I get into a tough school like NYU or USC? One thing that has constantly boggled my mind is that how do people aspiring to work with cinematography get into great schools like these. I don't think that people in film are dumb, but certainly they can't all be extremely smart to get into schools like these.

3. How much "previous knowledge" should I have (or did you have) when going to school for cinematography? I have very little knowledge itself of cameras used in the industry, or other things of that nature because there aren't many places in my area to find these things out. One thing that I do think will help me is my tech theater experience working with lighting, sound, prop building, etc.

4. How interchangeable are working with TV/Film/Live Theater? If I dive a bit deeper into cinematography and realize that it may not be right for me, how easy it to change over to TV Broadcasting, or something else like that?

5. Is Hofstra University a good choice? I've been looking at Hofstra for a while now, but i'm realizing while browsing around the forum that I don't see them mentioned much. I only have around a 3.0 in high school, so my options are somewhat limited.

Well, i don't want to write more questions as this point, so the amount of writing turns people off from reading this thread, but i'm sure i'll come up with more as some of my questions get answered. Thanks!
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#2 Rik Andino

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Posted 03 June 2006 - 01:39 AM

1. Is a 4 year University even worth it?

2. How do I get into a tough school like NYU or USC?

3. How much "previous knowledge" should I have (or did you have) when going to school for cinematography?

4. How interchangeable are working with TV/Film/Live Theater?

5. Is Hofstra University a good choice?


1) Is it necessary? No... Is it worth it? Depends.
College isn't just about learning a career.
There are many things you can learn in college that won't be necessarily used in your career.
If you want to get the full college experience go to an accredited university...
Go study four years and maybe more if you have too. You'll get an education (& I think that's worth it)
It'll also help you when you want to get that masters degree (for whatever reason...)

2) Just apply and hope you've got what it takes...usually they take the best students
And they usually look for folks who are excelling in the field.
If you want to go to the good schools you can always do it in grad...
I feel that NYU grad film school is much better than NYU's undergraduate film school...
So go to a regular undergraduate school then apply for the big ones for graduate school.

3) Well most people honestly have very little, some have more than others...
but the point of going to filmschool is to learn to make films
Sometimes it's better to go in with a blank slate that way it's easier to learn.
But you don't have to wait till your classes start to read up on theories and practice with a camera.
You can take some iniative and go and learn a few things on your own.

4) It's not as interchangeable as one would expect--
but with a little work you can learn the tricks in all three industries and crossover....

5) Hostra has a pretty decent film program...
I've known a few folks who went there and they had a good experience--
It teaches you the basics, they teach you the technical aspect
And they teach you how to shoot film not just video (which is more important than people think)
However it ain't cheap--my friend is still complaining about how much student loans he's got to pay
I'm kinda glad I went to a CUNY (they're much cheaper).


Well anyways
Good Luck
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#3 Maximilian Schmige

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Posted 28 June 2006 - 02:04 AM

1. In the film business people will hier you for your talent not for your degree. A degree from a known film school will only get you an entry job much easier. I would say you have three option.

One, you go to a school that has good production facilities for film or photography (very important) or you go to a good university get a degree in something related to it like Art History, Film Studies, etc. and then apply for grad school to get the technical knowledge.

The third option is always you skip all of this and go directly to find a job on a movie set and somehow learn by doing.

It's your decision. That's why they all say there is no one way to get into the film business.

2. For schools like USC you will need a high GPA for sure. This is because you will be doing a lot of other classes then film for your GE requirements and they want to be sure you can do those ones, too. It is very competitive and as an entry student with most likely no experience they have all the reasons not to accept you. MFA is of course different. By then they want to see your creative talent and your seriousness.
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#4 Douglas Hunter

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Posted 18 July 2006 - 08:03 PM

I think you are too narrow in your focus too soon, a couple of points:

1) Getting into USC requires no previous flim experience but it does require a lot of writing and a broad range of interests. When USC students ask why USC doesn't allow students to choose a specific track such as cinematography or why there aren't courses on topics such as After Effects or green screen shooting the answer is: This is not a trade school. USC is looking for potential students who will become serious film makers after graduation. That being said USC does turn out alot of DPs who are quite good at what they do, and the training offered there is wonderful, but its the wrong school for you if you are focused on one thing only, don't have any interest in directing, etc.

2) Being a DP is a competitive field but in a way that I, for one, don't like. There are tons of people in LA with a DP reel out seeking work, so it competitive by sheer volume, which is not so bad if you are talented, unless the people doing the hiring don't really know what they are looking at when they look at your reel, which I think is often the case here in LA. So there is a large number of people going for a small number of jobs and the people doing the hiring don't necessairly know what they are looking for. If you are o.k. with that jump in the water is great.

3) Going to a good film school is a great advantage if you know how to use it when you get out. The USC degree makes it easier to get your first job and then you need to kick ass and apply everything you learned, find jobs that can use your broad range of knowledge and skills, and you need to be a great person who is fun to work with, fast, skilled, organized etc. I'm sort of amazed a how quickly one can rise up the ranks if they did well at a top school. On the other hand, you could skip paying all that money, which is a real consideration, and give yourself 4 - 6 years to work up from PA to DP, which certainly can happen and is a good way to do it for some people.

4) Grades don't matter as much as you might think, film school is not a traditional academic program, its an arts program. Your application needs to show that you have a real comitment, a unique point of view, and enough life experience to tell a story or two, grist for the mill that is.
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#5 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 19 July 2006 - 01:55 AM

1. Is a 4 year University even worth it? I've heard from some people in "the business" that most people don't care whether you've gone to school or not, they just care about the knowledge that you carry.

If you want to be on the "Crew," then not necessarily. As "glamorous" as the movie biz seems to be, it is essentially just a factory with blue collar workers. The caveat is that these are highly specialized workers. Nobody is just drilling in a bolt. Working Below the Line is essentially learning a Trade, like plumbing or electrical. There is some creativity involved on some levels, but mostly you won't learn how to do any of it from a four year film school.

That said, there are other benefits to going to a university than just learning bits and pieces about a Trade. By getting a higher education you develop better work habits, learn how to prioritize and be more efficient. You learn how to communicate with others which is a HUGE part of working in the movie business. If you can't effectively communicate in a set environment, it doesn't matter how much technical skill you possess.

Just my opinion, but I would never recommend a film degree to anyone (off the record). By all means, take film courses as a minor or as electives, but a film degree itself is fairly useless. Instead, take other art classes, history, sociology, or other humanities. Anyone can learn how to illuminate a set, but real artful lighting and composition comes from taking the time to learn about the stories that you want to photograph. Take this example...imagine you're the Director interviewing DPs for a job. The film is about the Revolutionary War. Several candidates come in, each with more than adequate experience and technical skill, but only one can sit with you and discuss the history surrounding the script. This DP has a breadth of knowledge about the topic itself and may be able to apply that to his approach to lighting and shot composition. Wouldn't you rather hire that guy?

3. How much "previous knowledge" should I have (or did you have) when going to school for cinematography? I have very little knowledge itself of cameras used in the industry, or other things of that nature because there aren't many places in my area to find these things out. One thing that I do think will help me is my tech theater experience working with lighting, sound, prop building, etc.

You've heard this before, but nothing beats doing it yourself. If you have the opportunity, find a professional cameraman in your area and ask if you can tag along for a few days. Offer to carry all the heavy stuff. Arrive on time and stay until the bitter end each day. Pay attention to everything and ask questions without being annoying. What you want to look for is where he puts his key light. Where is his backlight? What did he do with the backgrounds? What kind of lights did he use? How far away from the subject did he put his camera? Find out why he did it that way on one shot but changed it for the next.

Watch movies you like and pay attention to the lighting. Figure out where the DP put his lights and emulate that on your own on a smaller scale. It doesn't take a lot of time to figure out the basics.

The problem with theater lighting, in my opinion, is that it doesnt' carry over very practically for motion picture or video applications. Theater and anything for a camera are two very different arenas.


4. How interchangeable are working with TV/Film/Live Theater? If I dive a bit deeper into cinematography and realize that it may not be right for me, how easy it to change over to TV Broadcasting, or something else like that?

The primary differences are in regard to protocols. First, theater is just radically different in almost every way, so anything you learn there won't directly translate over to TV or Film.

Lighting a person or room for TV and Film is essentially the same thing. The only true difference is that each "box" has different needs. A traditional video camera doesn't have the same exposure latitude that film stock does, so you have to light and compose shots with that limitation in mind. The bigger difference is that the working protocols are radically different. Film sets are highly specialized environments. A film set has a separate department for every job. In video, all of those jobs are done by just two or three people. You also don't have as much time or money in video, but you are still expected to turn out high quality work, just like the film guys. So you learn how to work quickly in small spaces with very little, but make everyone happy. Film people who try to cross over to video have a difficult if not impossible time succeeding with that.
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#6 Ethan Lyu

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Posted 23 July 2006 - 05:40 PM

1. Is a 4 year University even worth it? I've heard from some people in "the business" that most people don't care whether you've gone to school or not, they just care about the knowledge that you carry.

IF DP is what you are goin to become, general 4 year with a general major is not so helpful.
As a student director when I'm looking for a DP, ALL I care is he knows enough about camera and lighting
and able to communicate well with me and understand what I want to show on screen.

2. How do I get into a tough school like NYU or USC? One thing that has constantly boggled my mind is that how do people aspiring to work with cinematography get into great schools like these. I don't think that people in film are dumb, but certainly they can't all be extremely smart to get into schools like these.
Look at Chris Doyle, DP for Wong Kar Wai, he never went to film school and learned it as it goes.
Going to big school gets you to meet "big" directors who might make it in future - and use you as DP. But unless you got lots of $$$, I think big schools won't give you talent that you don't have.


3. How much "previous knowledge" should I have (or did you have) when going to school for cinematography? I have very little knowledge itself of cameras used in the industry, or other things of that nature because there aren't many places in my area to find these things out. One thing that I do think will help me is my tech theater experience working with lighting, sound, prop building, etc.

Just like a baseball/basketball player, everyone got their strong/weak point. You maximize on those.

5. Is Hofstra University a good choice? I've been looking at Hofstra for a while now, but i'm realizing while browsing around the forum that I don't see them mentioned much. I only have around a 3.0 in high school, so my options are somewhat limited.

As long as you know your stuff, personally as a director, I really don't care which school. You portfolio does.
People like NYC, LA cause those are the 2 cities that got most business going on. So if you go to school located there, you are strategically located to meet more people etc.
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#7 Dan Horstman

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Posted 08 August 2006 - 01:48 PM

Unfortunately any degree that says Bachelor of the Arts is pretty much useless for getting a "real job" I have a BA and it hasn't done a thing for me. But the friends I made in school (University of Maryland Baltimore County) were totally worth the money. It is a good way to build a network of peers to look at your work and to work with. It is also a good safe environment where you can take chances, experiment, make mistakes and learn. Then after school is done you can help each other make films while you work on getting a "real job" and then while you work on getting an "industry job"

But the thing I would look for in a Film Program is how much equipment do they have compared to the number of students. UMBC had a bunch of different cameras and editing suites (enough that each level of classes moved up to the next level of cameras and editing equipment), so it wasn't hard to get the gear you needed for your project. And if you worked in the equipment cage, you could check out equipment over the summer and winter breaks.

That is a very important thing about film school. Don't JUST make projects for your classes, then you will become dependent on deadlines to motivate you in making films...when you finish school and have no pending deadlines you won't make films...I've seen it happen to a lot of people I went to school with and have fought with it myself.
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#8 Richard Boddington

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Posted 08 August 2006 - 09:02 PM

As for USC no one has mentioned the cost. Go onto their web site and look at the tuition schedule, realistically it will cost you $250,000.00 to graduate from USC.

http://www.usc.edu/a...53/tuition.html

You'll note that is says tuition per semester is: $15,729.00. Assuming eight semesters to graduate that's, $125, 832.00 in tuition alone!!! You still have to pay for rent, food, books, etc.

It is a private school, not state subsidized. USC is where the rich and powerful in Hollywood often send their kids. If you do not come from a wealthy family, I think you need to face reality and forget USC. There's no way you could even borrow enough or get enough in grant money to cover the whole cost.

R,
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#9 Patrick McGowan

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Posted 08 August 2006 - 09:31 PM

I am going to Fitchburg State College. It is in Massachusetts and offers a really great program. It is by all means an awful looking school with a large population of drunk idiots, but I have the oppourtunity to work with film and video. The school has an Aaton A-Minima for advanced film and JVC-HD100u for advanced video. They also have pretty up-to-date Avid editing facilities.

I think if you really want to be a cinematographer you should try to get yourself on some productions and maybe try to find some local AC work. Look at nefilm.com for stuff in MA. You are very young and you have some time to think about what you want to do.

Fitchburg is at the opposite of the spectrum from USC but it might not be a bad idea for someone with a 3.0 GPA. Sorry, just being honest.
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#10 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 08 August 2006 - 11:35 PM

To add one more bit of wisdom that you can take or ignore...when I first moved out to LA from Ohio, I was working with a Producer/Writer who told me one of the more important things I've kept lingering in the back of my mind. He said that it's the things that you do when you're not "working" that will take you where you want to go. The unfortunate part of getting where you want to go in this business is that in order to get ahead, you have to essentially take time off from your regular job to go pursue the thing you want the most. The stereotype is the Actor who works as a waiter but gets time off to go audition. The same concept holds true for many people on the crew. A great many Camera Assistants and Operators who work regularly on high budget projects take the time between shows to go shoot small no-budget films. If nothing else, they gain experience and build a reel. The hope is that they also meet the "right" people in the process and can move their career ahead a step or two.

So higher education is important for many reasons, but the curriculum itself isn't likely to take you anywhere. It's what you do above and beyond, whether it is technical in nature or political, that will make you stand out from the crowd. Choose a school that teaches more than nuts & bolts filmmaking. That stuff you can get when you start working on a set. Use that environment to learn how to communicate with others, how to prioritize and organize when time and resources are limited. A college education is designed to be different than a mere trade school. Do the work, but find ways to excel outside of class. It's something you'll have to do when you reach the "real world."
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#11 Douglas Hunter

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Posted 09 August 2006 - 01:26 PM

As for USC no one has mentioned the cost. Go onto their web site and look at the tuition schedule, realistically it will cost you $250,000.00 to graduate from USC. . . .


Some people spend that much on their thesis film alone.

It is a private school, not state subsidized. USC is where the rich and powerful in Hollywood often send their kids. If you do not come from a wealthy family, I think you need to face reality and forget USC. There's no way you could even borrow enough or get enough in grant money to cover the whole cost.


Not everyone at USC is rich and powerful, and no matter how much power you have it is still difficult to just "send" one's kids to the film school, you need more than just famous parents. In my class there was a 40 year old single mom, a few people from working class backgrounds, and some over seas students with very limited resources. Then there was me, I arrived after spending 10 years as a dirt bag full time rock climber and had no cash at all, my wife worked full time while I was in school and we spent a fortune on day care but we made it. Plenty of people get through the program there without rich families. Although I think it would be a lot cheaper to do the undergram film program than the grad program. I would say the biggest uniting factor in my class is that nearly everyone came from an elite undergraduate school.
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#12 Howard Phillips

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Posted 13 August 2006 - 11:20 PM

As the Associate Director of a Digital Filmmaking Program, I may be a bit biased; so I'll just add to the many wise words of advice posted here, and suggest that working in a school environment does offer you a time of concentrated access to both equipment and to crews. When you're hired, esp at the beginning stages, you will not have this access. You will of course be offered the real-world experience, and if you're lucky, some mentoring (hopefullly!), but it's pretty unlikely you'll have as much access to the range of equipment and even 'crew' (classmates) that you will in a school environment. Even if the "crews" you work with in school are bumbling beginners, in time these will become your assciates and usually friends, your first network of what is likey to become your own "linked-in" associates. In the case of our program at CDIA at BU, we've stripped teaching down to the 'vochie' (vo-tec) style, focussing on the crafts, the techniques, the day-to-day requirements of filmmaking. Other programs, especiallly the 4-year ones, balance a lot of theory, aesthetic learning, history, maybe even some semiotics, while we've created more of a streamlined, mentoring and crafts-based program. All these have value for different learning styles, in my opinion. Whether a degree or certificate in filmmaking "matters" is tough to answer - but being able to concentrate on the learning in a supportive environment is a very unique and a powerful opportunity, one that is unlike anything that will follow in real-life filmmaking. I'd definitely suggest exploring education, take the time to find something that matches your interests and learning style. Good luck, roll up your sleeves and dive in!

Howard Phillips
CDIA at BU
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