Aug 16, 2007

Writer/Director Kevin Smith Discusses Working in Hollywood

A very funny discussion about working with Jon Peters, writing drafts of the new SUPERMAN movie, and dealing with film director Tim Burton.

Aug 9, 2007

Breaking the Bank: Film School Tuition 2007-8 and How To Beat It

Egads! Film school costs are up again, costing as much as the average American's take-home salary for a whole year. The numbers for a top west-coast and a top east-coast film program:

New York University, Tisch School of the Arts (NYU) Tuition and Fees (Per Semester)

  • Full-time Tuition, 12-18 point flat rate, per term: $17,397
  • Nonreturnable Registration and Services Fee: $943
  • Film Production Lab and Insurance Fee: $448
  • Cinema Studies Projection Fee (per point): $12.25
  • Photo Lab and Insurance Fee: $310

University of Southern California, (USC) Tuition and Fees (Per 2 Semesters)

Based on the 2007-2008 academic year, the following are estimated two-semester costs at USC for a full-time undergraduate (taking 12-18 units each semester) living in university housing:

  • $35,212 Tuition
  • $598 Mandatory fees
  • $10,858 Room and board
  • $750 Books and supplies
  • $1,600 Personal and Miscellaneous
  • $580 Transportation
  • $49,598 Total (add $144 for your very first semester at USC orientation fee)
If your funds are liquid and these costs are not a problem, by all means consider going. If you are stretching your budget to the limit and considering going into heavy student loan debt, proceed with caution. I have a friend who has been out of film school for ten years and is still drowning in student loan debt.

Consider: What else could I do with $50,000 per year that would give me practical film experience? Make movies. Some possibilities:

Buy a $3500 HD video camera and shoot short films with friends. Have them chip in for the time they use the camera.

Buy a $3500 or better HD video camera and $10,000 worth of fancy, fancy lights (you could get a serious lighting kit for this amount of money) and then post on Craigslist, etc., that you will rent the equipment out to students. Suddenly, you've created your own film school!

Rent a camera and lights and shoot a short video and your budget can be under $1000.

ULTIMATE CHALLENGE: Buy a camera and rent or buy lights and shoot a feature film. This will immediately give you a better education than film any $150,000 film school education because in most film schools, you will NEVER make a feature film. If you work on a feature at some point while in school, odds are it will NOT be directed by, written by, or edited by you. So, if in three years time, you shoot three $50,000 feature films, you are far beyond the film school pack in terms of practical experience (even if it's mostly by trial and error) and film ownership (you will own your films). And you will have just as many filmic friends as you would have made in film school, but these will be actual HARD WORKING people who want to make movies, not just students trying to make a passing grade.

Am I oversimplifying this? Not really. I've done both -- gone to school and worked on indie film sets. I personally think the current cost of three or four year film programs is ridiculous and exclusive. It doesn't have to be that way.

If you really want a taste of film school and some technical experience in an educational setting, I would suggest the more condensed & pocketbook friendly film programs (like summer film classes or adult education programs). Then follow up one of these programs by making a few films with the people you met in these programs. In the end, you'll have a lot more money to play with when you make your own films.

Aug 7, 2007

Should I Go To a Famous Film School?

I was lucky enough to get admitted to a famous film school (graduate program) and stick around long enough to get an MFA degree. It was a three-year program that stretched into five years for reasons of running out of money in the middle, and having to take the additional time to complete a thesis film (nearly impossible to finish within the third year of school).

There are many film schools around these days, but the big four remain, as always, USC, NYU, UCLA, and Columbia University. It is generally considered more prestigious (and possibly less expensive) to attend them as a Graduate student rather than as an Undergrad. NYU, for example, accepts approximately 1000 undergrad film students per year, but only 50 grad students. Competition for the grad programs can be ruthless -- but don't despair! There are many alternatives, which we will eventually look at. But first:

Film School PROS:

  • You can tell everyone you went to a famous film school.
  • Sometimes you have famous alumni visit and talk about filmmaking.
  • You can witness first-hand the struggles of your artistic peers and quickly realize there are no geniuses -- well, very few.
  • You will be forced to adhere to deadlines and finish your films (or fail the class). This is a not-to-be-underestimated benefit to all procrastinators out there (we know who we are).
  • You may find an instructor particularly inspiring (this is the rare exception, though, in my own experience).
  • You can tell everyone you went to a famous film school.
  • You get to live in a metropolis for awhile (if you haven't yet).
  • You get to drink microbrews and talk about movies all the time. All the time.
  • You can tell everyone you went to a famous film school.

Film School CONS:

  • A three-year grad program runs about $100,000 and up, not including film costs.
  • It takes over three years to complete when you could be shooting your own films.
  • Working on other students' films because you "owe" them can be really draining, especially when they aren't as knowledgable as you.
  • Many film school professors don't try very hard.
  • Film school, like any institution is very political and professors play favorites with certain students, which has nothing to do with the student's level of talent.
  • Many students come from very wealthy families and this can be a little disheartening if you are scraping to get funds together for your own films (especially after paying over 30K tuition per year).
  • A degree in film is worthless unless you want to eventually teach film or consult. Unlike other academic degrees, a film degree -- like any art degree -- does not mean higher pay on future jobs. Granted, you are probably not interested in going to film school for the actual diploma, but more for the experience of being in film school atmosphere.
In a future posting, I'll look at film school alternatives -- yes, you can can have your celluloid (or video tape) and eat it, too! Good luck to all.

B. Nathan