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Best Film School In LA?


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#1 Alexander P

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Posted 02 March 2011 - 09:58 PM

I've been researching different film schools in LA to pursue Neducation and traiNing in cimematography.
I'm a little bit older than most students (31) and have worked as an editor. Mid life career change yes.

Would love to get some recommendations from the experts here. I've heard great things about AFI but not sure
if that's somewhere I would be expected since I don't have a cinematography reel?

One school that caught my eye was LA film Academy at Universal. Thanks in advance.
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#2 Bruce Taylor

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Posted 02 March 2011 - 10:24 PM

You can always check out the film department at LACC. Robert Elswit went there, he got an Academy Award for cinematography. And it's so cheap you might as well call it free.
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#3 M Joel W

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 03:02 AM

AFI.

Elswit ALSO studied at USC and AFI if I'm not mistaken.

For cinematography, AFI is the best school there is. Bar none.
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#4 Bruce Taylor

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 02:06 PM

AFI.

Elswit ALSO studied at USC and AFI if I'm not mistaken.

For cinematography, AFI is the best school there is. Bar none.


Joel,

I would bet you're correct, I doubt that Mr. Elswit's education stopped at the community college level. It was, however, a starting point for him and many other very successful filmmakers that cost almost nothing.

My point was really that I hate to see people spend a LOT of money on programs of dubious value, and frankly I think most of the for-profit schools are a poor value.

USC and AFI are two of the best film schools in the world. They are not for profit, and both have a highly competitive admissions process-- the success rate of their students will be much much greater than that of schools like the LA Film Academy where the entrance requirements are primarily the ability to pay their tuition.
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#5 M Joel W

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 03:31 PM

Definitely true; I'm going for an MFA next fall and, as money is a big concern to me, likely won't be attending an LA program.

But the truth is, if you know you want to be a DP and you know you want the best education, AFI is it.

Personally, I'm deciding between FSU (if I get in) and UT Austin to learn both cinematography and directing. Very different programs, but both are state schools and more affordable than their glossier brethren. If you're not tied to living in LA and money is an issue for you, both might be worth looking into.

I've also heard good things about SCAD and Full Sail, but, not having the money to afford them, didn't even consider them as options.

Edited by M Joel Wauhkonen, 03 March 2011 - 03:35 PM.

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#6 Alexander P

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 04:40 PM

Joel,

I would bet you're correct, I doubt that Mr. Elswit's education stopped at the community college level. It was, however, a starting point for him and many other very successful filmmakers that cost almost nothing.

My point was really that I hate to see people spend a LOT of money on programs of dubious value, and frankly I think most of the for-profit schools are a poor value.

USC and AFI are two of the best film schools in the world. They are not for profit, and both have a highly competitive admissions process-- the success rate of their students will be much much greater than that of schools like the LA Film Academy where the entrance requirements are primarily the ability to pay their tuition.



Don't you need a great show reel to get into AFI?
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#7 Bruce Taylor

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 04:46 PM

Just a thought here, if you really want to work in LA after you go to school (and this is where the majority of production takes place, that's just a fact), go to school in LA because when you or your classmates get jobs you'll network where the jobs are.
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#8 M Joel W

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 05:01 PM

Just a thought here, if you really want to work in LA after you go to school (and this is where the majority of production takes place, that's just a fact), go to school in LA because when you or your classmates get jobs you'll network where the jobs are.


Not an option for me personally since I can't afford the better schools in LA, nor could I get into them, chances are. If I do get into Austin and FSU, would you recommend not attending based on location? If neither school will land me a job in film I've still got time to look elsewhere. UCLA is too competitive (and expensive) and I can't think of any other really strong state schools in LA. This may just be my lack of knowledge on the subject.

As for AFI, I sent my reel (which is pretty mediocre) to faculty and they said it was worth applying (before I decided I didn't want a 100% cinematography program), so while you do need a reel and some experience form what I understand, I don't think it needs to be amazing.

Edited by M Joel Wauhkonen, 03 March 2011 - 05:03 PM.

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#9 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 07:41 PM

If neither school will land me a job in film I've still got time to look elsewhere.



The key statement is above. You should be aware that NO school will "land you a job." It doesn't work that way. At best, you'll leave film school with three things:

1) more knowledge/skill regarding what you want to do than when you began
2) MAYBE some classmates who you keep in touch with who will hire you or who you will hire after school
3) Debt


Oh, and #4 would be some type of diploma, but nobody cares about that so it's not important.

Almost everything you need to know can be learned at home from the myriad of books and DVDs that are available for far less money than you'll spend at a formal school. A school can give you hands-on experience with "real" tools (cameras, lights, accessories) on "real" sets on student productions, but the key to truly learning how to light or edit or anything else is to just do it a lot and for a long time. A formal school can give you a foundation that you will have to build upon on your own over time as your career progresses.

So, before you commit to any kind of formal filmschool, really think about what it is you PRECISELY have as a career goal and then go to a school ONLY IF that school will help you learn the things you need to reach your goals.
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#10 M Joel W

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 09:09 PM

I've been lighting for a few years and my progress has slowed to virtually nothing. Same material, same approach, similar results. I also want to learn to block/stage/cover a scene. Am I barking up the wrong tree? I know a job isn't guaranteed, but I think my limited abilities are what's keeping me from finding more work and are certainly what's making my work less fulfilling for me. I get what you're saying about the issue with alums in other cities, though.

Edited by M Joel Wauhkonen, 03 March 2011 - 09:10 PM.

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#11 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 09:26 PM

I also want to learn to block/stage/cover a scene. Am I barking up the wrong tree?



So, you want to be a Director instead of DP?
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#12 M Joel W

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 09:54 PM

So, you want to be a Director instead of DP?


I applied as a DP and will probably end up working as one. But if I'm not mistaken, getting proper coverage and maintaining a consistent eye line are responsibilities of both directors and DPs. Certainly blocking is the director's job but the DP needs to understand what function the blocking serves. It's been tough for me not being able to understand how coverage will edit together, as that informs everything from screen direction to the order in which you shoot. So whether or not I ever work as a director, I certainly want to learn the skills needed for the job. I wouldn't want to direct unless I knew how to DP and vice versa.

Edited by M Joel Wauhkonen, 03 March 2011 - 09:55 PM.

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#13 Austin Schmidt

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 10:08 PM

There are several important factors to consider when looking at film schools. Many have been touched on above. People believe that attending a “top” film school will guarantee them a job as DP after they graduate. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Whether you attend AFI or your local community college, the road to becoming a working DP is exactly the same and is always difficult. Can going to film school improve your chances? You bet. But almost all films schools offer the same basic education. Only so many things can be taught in a classroom. Most of the learning happens on set and is up to an individual to self-educate. Schools like AFI, USC, and NYU are great however, they teach from the same books and use the same equipment as every other film school. The location of your potential school is very important because that is the city you will more then likely begin looking for work after graduation. While in school it is important to cultivate relationships with other filmmakers, rental houses etc. and become part of the local film community. It doesn’t really help to attend a film school in Utah then move immediately to New York. You will have lost and or/wasted a lot of time by doing so. If you want to work in Florida, attend a school in Florida. If you want to work in LA, then educate yourself in LA.

Like I said there are many important factors to consider. I recommend you look at a book I have recently published that discusses these as well as many other elements to guide young cinematography students towards their goal to becoming a working cinematographer. It will shed light on a lot of the mysteries surrounding the occupation and help you focus your goals in the direction that best fits you. It is called “So You Want To Become a Cinematographer? … Life Behind The Lens”. It is available at Amazon.

Edited by Austin Schmidt, 03 March 2011 - 10:09 PM.

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#14 M Joel W

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 10:20 PM

I want to end up in LA. I believe FSU and Austin are the only schools at which I might be admitted. I don't have a strong enough background to get into NYU/USC, etc. and cannot afford that kind of debt, either. What should I do? Both schools claim they move the vast majority of their graduates to LA, so maybe I can still work it out?

Also, what textbooks did you read while at NYU/AFI? I've read most of the common ones and found few helpful.

Edited by M Joel Wauhkonen, 03 March 2011 - 10:20 PM.

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#15 Austin Schmidt

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 10:39 PM

I recommend you apply to all the ones you want whether you think you will be accepted or not and decide once you are admitted. The worst they can say is "no". Thats something you'll have to get used to throughout your career. AFI said no to me twice before I was admitted. There are many other good schools in LA to consider. Do some research and you will find lots of options. Remember, the film school doesn't make a student. You get out of it what you put in. A school that claims they move most of their students to LA is false. A school has very little to do with their students after graduation. I attended NYU, AFI and FAMU in Prague. Very few of my fellow students still work in the industry. And the ones who still do all found different ways to create a living from their education.

The books I recommend are:

Cinematography: Theory and Practice – by Blain Brown: The title is self-explanatory. Brown skillfully addresses theoretical practices when visually telling a story. He also speaks on the technology used to tell that story such as optics, light, photochemical processes, and equipment. This book has been my bible.

Practical Cinematography – by Paul Wheeler: Similar to Brown’s yet different, as Wheeler is a British cinematographer and his take on specific topics is sometimes different. This exemplifies how our craft is based on personal preference and experience rather than technical data.

Cinematography: Third Edition - Kris Malkiewicz and M. David Mullen: A technical book as well, similar to the two above. All present the same knowledge, just present in a different way that may make more sense depending on the reader.

Masters of Light – by Dennis Schaefer and Larry Salvato: A compilation of interviews with several famous and influential cinematographers such as Conrad Hall, Haskell Wexler, Gordon Willis and Owen Roizman. Each cinematographer offers detailed insight about his career path, philosophy and technical approach to specific films.

Every Frame a Rembrandt – by Andrew Laszlo, ASC: Laszlo relives five different productions from his career, recounting the process of each from pre-production to post.

Reflections: Twenty-One Cinematographers at Work – by Benjamin Bergery: Provides detailed techniques in the form of illustrations, diagrams, still frame reproductions and knowledge of twenty of the most honored cinematographers. This is a personal favorite and must-read for any aspiring student.

New Cinematographers – by Alex Ballinger: Contains extended studies of six young major cinematographers in today’s Hollywood system. The book evaluates each cinematographer’s films, up to the book’s current publication date.

I know it sounds like I am shamelessly plugging my book, but I highly recommend reading it since it was written for individuals like yourself. I spent four years writing about the entire process I took to becoming a working cinematographer. There is no book available that discusses such a wide range of topics useful to a young cinematographer.

Why you say you found few helpful, what do you mean by this? What are you expecting to learn from them?
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#16 M Joel W

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 11:29 PM

I haven't read most of those books. I'll pick them up. Most of the books I've read on cinematography have either been hopelessly basic or hopelessly specific. I get that it's hard to find the happy medium but like "here's a car interior, how do you we light it for these moods;" "here's the corner of a white-walled room with the camera pointing straight at it and nowhere to rig stuff; how do we deal with it;" "here's ext. forest night; how do we light it for these moods;" etc. with simple diagrams would be amazing. I haven't found much like that. ASC articles are wonderful but I can't apply those lessons to such small videos as my own. I have also found books on directing to either be too theoretical or too specific, written as though by movie fans and not working directors.

As for schools, well, the application deadline for next fall has passed and I think those are the only two schools I may get into, having sent in applications to a few places. They were also among my top choices going into all this. I don't want to spend as much money as NYU costs. Don't have it. Can't justify it. Not going to spend years building up my reel until I can get in.

Here is my directing and lighting work. You can see I still have a ways to go and am all over the place in terms of aptitude, from ghastly beginner at directing to having some skills lighting.

Edited by M Joel Wauhkonen, 03 March 2011 - 11:31 PM.

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#17 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 03 March 2011 - 11:49 PM

Another piece of advice is that you invest as much time as possible EDITING. Not just telling someone else where to put shots, but actually get in there and push the buttons yourself. Editing your own footage as well as footage from others will teach you immeasurable amounts about what works and what doesn't.
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#18 Bruce Taylor

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Posted 04 March 2011 - 12:46 AM

Joel, you're getting quite an education on the industry here. You're a lucky fellow, Brian and Austin offer excellent, true advice.

Austin provided the book list you'll find at any school, these are the standard texts for the field. You should read and study all that material.

You don't feel your reel is up to snuff? It's not very good? (I checked it out and it's much better than many I've seen) Go out and make yourself one you're more proud of. Cinematography is an activity-- you have to DO it.

But if you don't have the drive to go out and get yourself moving forward on your own... don't. Save your energy and do something that's easier.

When I went back to school to slide back into movies I started with a basic cinematography course at Los Angeles City College. The professor spent the first 15 minutes of class telling the 30 or so students that they would never work in the film industry, they would waste their time in his classroom, and if they really wanted to train for a paying job that requires some creativity they should go to Pasadena and enroll in the Cordon Bleu cooking school, as they have 100% job placement of their students upon graduation. It was a surprise, but if that short speech turned off 30 wannabe filmmakers he did them a favor, there are so many obstacles to success in the industry. If you can discourage yourself with any form of "I can't," find something else to do.
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#19 Hal Smith

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Posted 04 March 2011 - 03:25 AM

No one has mentioned teaching quality. I'd worry about that first and spend a lot of time asking graduates how helpful the faculty had been in helping them achieve their goals.

I got a first rate Master's Degree education at a second rate school because my department (Physics) was staffed by several MIT Physics PhD's using my school as a test bed for a new curriculum. I got an MIT education for a city college price.
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#20 M Joel W

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Posted 04 March 2011 - 03:35 PM

Thanks all. Going to get every last one of those books and keep all this in mind as I visit different schools.
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