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Cinematography and Film School Training


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#1 Jayson Knight

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Posted 06 August 2009 - 04:43 PM

Hello all. I've been lurking around these forums for a few days reading as many posts as I can about getting a formal education in cinematography and film in general. My story is an interesting one, and I'll attempt to give a high overview before I ask the million dollar question.

I am the product of 2 highly creative parents, a graphic designer and a commercial photographer who both did quite well as commercial artists. In high school I studied art and painting extensively and there was never a doubt in my mind I would also head off to art school. I was accepted to SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) right out of high school, but decided to take some time off and travel for a bit.

Upon returning to the states, I decided that the starving artist lifestyle didn’t suit me, and I made the decision to chase the money and pursue a degree in computer science since those grads made pretty good money at the time. I’ve always thought it a bit cruel to sit 18-20 year olds down and make them choose a career path, but that’s what I chose in the face of it all, even though I knew something in the arts would better suit me. And by god, I was right. Fast forward to now, and I know I made the wrong choice as I was beyond stifled creatively, and sitting at a desk is a miserable experience. I was laid off a little over a year ago and am back in school in the UNC system working towards a B.S. Biology degree and was thinking of medical school. It wasn't until a few weeks ago when started pulling my hair out again out of frustration over how bored I am with my classes that I finally decided to say screw it completely and have made the decision to get back to my roots and pursue something in the commercial arts.

Growing up the son of a photographer, I pretty much absorbed everything I could about the medium, but definitely know I want to pursue a career in films rather than stills. I wish I had made this decision my first go round, but better late than never.

I've been doing my own research on film schools based on some of the advice given in these forums, as well as just my own looking around. I don't have a reel or a portfolio of anything film related, so my search is limited to schools who don't require those materials. I have great grades, about a 3.65 in mostly math/science courses. My university does offer a minor in film which I'll be declaring this Fall.

My timeframe to enroll in some sort of film oriented school is Fall '10, which will be my Senior year from an hours standpoint. So based on all of this, and as promised, here is the million dollar question: Which film schools would be the best for me to look into? I realize it's a loaded question of course. At the top of my short list are Columbia College (Chicago), Chapman (LA), Art Center and Brooks (LA), UCLA (this of course will be a HUGE reach, but I have nothing to lose right?), and FSU. Columbia really seems to have an amazing Cine program, and the location is phenomenal. It's a bit pricey, but since I'll only be there 2 years it's doable.

My goals for breaking into the film industry are to work with actual film. While I appreciate digital, it's not my first choice. It has IMO taken a lot of the creativity out of the stills world, so I imagine it'll be similar in the film realm. It's probably worth mentioning that I'm just as interested in directing as I am DoP'ing and would like exposure to both.

So, there's my huge wall of text. I'm happy to have found a site like this and look forward to reading more about the world of cinematography!

Edited by Jayson Knight, 06 August 2009 - 04:44 PM.

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#2 Jayson Knight

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Posted 11 August 2009 - 06:31 PM

I'm surprised I haven't received any responses yet, these seemed to be fairly high volume forums. Regardless I'm not in a huge hurry.

After doing some more research, I have very quickly eliminated Columbia College from my list. Too expensive, and I've read some fairly sketchy things about their overall dedication to academics.


After reading some more posts on this forum, it would appear that some of the CUNY/SUNY schools have great DP programs, and they are much more affordable to boot. Can anyone speak to Brooklyn vs Purchase vs Hunter vs City? They seem much more up my alley from an environmental perspective as well.

Edited by Jayson Knight, 11 August 2009 - 06:35 PM.

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#3 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 11 August 2009 - 09:10 PM

I'm surprised I haven't received any responses yet, these seemed to be fairly high volume forums. Regardless I'm not in a huge hurry.

After doing some more research, I have very quickly eliminated Columbia College from my list. Too expensive, and I've read some fairly sketchy things about their overall dedication to academics.


After reading some more posts on this forum, it would appear that some of the CUNY/SUNY schools have great DP programs, and they are much more affordable to boot. Can anyone speak to Brooklyn vs Purchase vs Hunter vs City? They seem much more up my alley from an environmental perspective as well.



If you're hell-bent on going to school for this, it's not my place to stop you. BUT, given that you seem to have at least a basic background in photography, I'm not 100% convinced that you need to invest the money and time into a University setting.

The alternative? Perhaps some shorter, less expensive LIGHTING workshops. As you may already know, most of the DP's work is lighting. Of course the point is to capture the scene on film, but most of that part of the process involves knowing the filmstocks you wish to use (and that will vary depending upon the projects and scenes and times of day) and the parameters for each of the stocks. That's something you really can learn on your own and isn't something you're likely to learn broadly at a filmschool. For likely less money than you'll spend on tuition and supplies, you can likely rent a camera package cheaply and buy shortends for testing then process and print the tests.

A formal workshop may help you with the lighting and learning to expose the film and give you access to the gear (camera and lights and grip and electric and filmstock) in a way that a University might not as many are going to digital for cost reasons.

The best thing to do is contact all the schools you're interested in and get in touch with the department head and let them know precisely what you're interested in. It's likely that you'll quickly cross many off the list because they don't offer what you want. Visit the rental houses, like Panavision, or whatever is in your area and ask for info regarding workshops. Make enough friends and you may get a package out for free for testing purposes. Once you feel comfortable enough with basic lighting and exposure, offer yourself up as a DP for a student production. That way, you're getting to shoot a short film that someone ELSE is paying for. You get the experience you'd get anyway and you're not paying for it.

Also take a look at the many books that are out there, some written by uses here at cinematography.com. A list is available elsewhere on this site. Also take a look at the many industry resources listed on the forum section of http://www.realfilmcareer.com. You'll find LOTS of internet sites plus books, magazines and a couple movies that aren't only funny, but are fairly accurate regarding what a real day on a set is like. You can find that "story" in the book "What I Really Want to Do: On Set in Hollywood" as part of the job is the technical aspects but a lot of it is knowing the working protocol to navigate and build a viable career.

For the worlds most comprehensive list of filmschools and workshops, visit http://www.realfilmcareer.com and click on the "Filmschools" link at the top.

There are A LOT of resources out there that are far less expensive than a formal school will be, so I urge you to check those out first before deciding to drop a pretty penny on a school that may or may not give you the education you need.

Good luck!
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#4 Rob Vogt

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Posted 12 August 2009 - 04:40 PM

I know a lot of people who are highly qualified who went to Hunter, but haven't heard much about the school itself. Same with Purchase, but I haven't met anyone who's been to Brooklyn or City college for film. PS a SUNY or CUNY school may be cheaper, but keep an eye on the out of state tuition since your profile says NC. If I were you I'd seriously consider UNC school of the arts, they have a very reputable film program with many of the students winning a ton of awards and so on. Plus the in-state tuition is really great.
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#5 Scott Fritzshall

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Posted 12 August 2009 - 07:04 PM

I went to Columbia College Chicago, if it's any help. You're right that their actual academics are pretty lousy, which is why you should definitely have at least a few years of general studies or a degree from somewhere else. Their cinematography program is, however, really good, and has been turning out a lot of really talented, dedicated people lately. It is, however, fairly pricey, and living in Chicago can be pretty expensive as well. The other thing is that, assuming you've got all of your gen-ed requirements taken care of, you can complete the Cinematography curriculum in 2 years and graduate, but in order to get the most out of the program, you'll want to take all of the advanced classes as well, and that will take another year. That's what I did- I had nearly all of my gen-eds filled from a different school, and it took me 3 years to graduate. The Core classes took the first year (I think they might be streamlining these a bit now, though), and the advanced classes took 2 more years.

Overall I'm pretty happy with what I was able to get out of it. I'm currently in a job that I was recommended for by one of my teachers, and it seems like most of the people I had classes with are out here in LA as well, working in the industry in various capacities. You do have to be very self-motivated to do well at Columbia, though- it's very easy to graduate with no useful skills, knowledge, or connections, unfortunately. But if you put a lot into it and pursue your own opportunities as hard as you can, Columbia can really be a useful enabler.

Brian is pretty much right, though, that you don't really need to go to film school to work in film. It's probably likely that if you're the sort of self-motivated person who would do well in film school and use it to get a job, you're probably the sort of self-motivated person who would be able to get a job without going to film school. For myself, I feel it was the right choice because I wanted to immerse myself in filmmaking and just learn everything I could, and meet other like-minded people. It's hard for me to say what's right for you, however I will say that most of the students who did really well were those in situations such as yours- a few years older, had tried other things already, and had come to Columbia determined to get the most out of it.
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Visual Products

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Willys Widgets

Opal

Aerial Filmworks

FJS International, LLC