Preparing for a career in the film industry...

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Adam Lenhardt, Feb 12, 2003.

  1. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Executive Producer

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    I plan on having a career in the film industry, particularly something to do with the camera. However, the time is rapidly approaching when I need to apply to film schools or colleges or universities.

    I was wondering if people who currently have careers in film production or are in the middle of an education in film could provide the basics of what I need to do. For instance, many film schools reccommend a portfolio of works. What kind of things should I work on for that? What film schools are worthwhile?

    Any help in this matter would be appreciated.
     
  2. Michael Pakula

    Michael Pakula Second Unit

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    Well for the portfolio part you basicaly need
    to include pieces of your work. So if your into
    Filmmaking than you should include some films
    shorts which is about roughly 15-20 min. If you
    want to get into writing than include some of
    your writing.



    -Mike
     
  3. Adam_S

    Adam_S Producer

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    I'm at USC right now, not in the production program... YET!

    basically USC will not accept any video information, the portfolio they want submitted to them, is a more a resumé, a written summary of all your creative endeavors. List anything that's artistic, from art projects, films, still photography, any competitions entered and won, anything written that's published, any internships, volunteer work etc... heck if you've participated in any of the HTF challenges (sound and vision, 1930s, AFI) you could list those as well. They say that they're not looking for exclusively film crazy applicants that have nothing but film, but a more rounded application showing a diverse creative interest and a drive to achieve things. NYU, I believe, is more interested in what you've accomplished filmically already. I don't know about UCLA. There are also good film schools in Texas, and other places around the country, but I recommend you choose places that have entire SCHOOLS devoted to cinema, and not a mere department.

    USC is great btw, not only is it one of the best film schools around (with an excellent undergrad program, the grad students are not the only ones that get to do interesting things), but you're also in LA and it's very easy to get to places like the Egyptian theater (best line up of a classic and recent film available), the Arclight/Cinerama dome complex (the best multiplex ever made), the El Capitan, the Nuart, and more are available here. Not to mention the greatest place on campus, the cinema library (where I spend a LOT of my free time).

    Adam
     
  4. Michael Pakula

    Michael Pakula Second Unit

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    Chapman is sopposed to be good and thats most likely
    where Im going to go when I graduate in about a year.
    UCLA is also sopposed to be very good. NYU is another
    one too. Columbia I hear has a good program too but
    I believe the film program their is a graduate school
    program so Im out of luck. Dartmouth is another too.

    -Mike
     
  5. Michael Pakula

    Michael Pakula Second Unit

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    hmm Ive heard about USC before. I will have to check it
    out. Didn't Brett Ratner go there or something?

    -Mike
     
  6. Thi Them

    Thi Them Producer

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    USC is probably most famous for George Lucas.

    Chapman is good and it's supposed to get a lot better, currently building their own studio.

    ~T
     
  7. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

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    You don't say Adam, but I presume that you are interested in an undergraduate program.

    Do not put aside the idea of a general BA as an undergrad--something like English, for example. Include some electives in writing and comparative lit. And a couple of film courses that will allow you a modest portfolio.

    A year or two in the work place. Some writing on the side. Then apply at the graduate level to a film school. A finish there with an MFA will see you as well placed as possible. (and yes I know that this is yet another 3 years)
     
  8. Seth_S

    Seth_S Second Unit

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    Being a one time film major, here's some advice:

    Don't waste your undergraduate education in a concentrated film program. Best thing to do is go to a good school and become a film studies major. A few reasons why: in today's industry, having a masters degree and going to grad school is becoming increasingly more important. So if you're very serious about pursuing a career in film, you're going to want to get a masters in it, and a lot of the work you do at the graduate level is what you would do as an undergrad film major, only condensed into a smaller amount of time. A lot of the major filmmakers today really didn't start studying film untill grad school.

    As for applying to film schools, the most important things are grades and SATs. Don't be fooled into thinking that schools will accept you because you're a "brilliant" young filmmaker. Most programs assume that if you're smart, then you have the potential to be highly creative. For instance, most of the people I know who have been accepted into competitive programs like NYU had a fair portfolio, but a 3.6 to 4.0 GPA.

    Another thing too look out for is the size of a program and the amount of equipment. While NYU grad is excellent, NYU undergrad isn't all it's hyped up to be. At NYU undergrad, you are in no way guaranteed that you will get to direct a 16mm film. It's very possible for you to go there and end up doing little production.

    Here's my personal experience:

    I wanted a film program where I was guaranteed to do 16mm work and I didn't have to compete with 50-100 other students for equipment (which faculty and grad students hog at all schools). So I applied to Syracuse University where there were only 10 film majors per class (a few hundred applied) and you get to start making sync-sound 16mm films by the first semester sophomore year. After the first semester there, I quickly realized that this program would only set me up to have a career in film, and if I didn't want that later in life, i would be wasting 4 years of college. So I transferred to Cornell University, and began attending Cornell sophomore year as a film studies major (more of an American Studies major though). Best choice I've ever made. I have so many more options for post graduation than I would have had if I remained a hardcore film major. Furthermore, being an undergrad film major doesn't really give you a leg up for getting into grad school. The most important factors are your GPA and coming from a good school. Not to sound too much like a cynic, but if you ever work on the east cost, the name of your school is important. I definitely get different treatment from strangers when I tell them I go to Cornell instead of Syracuse now (I have some stories if you really want).

    My advice in short:
    Try and get into the best undergrad school you can and major in film studies. That way you get a broad education, but at the same time still get to take some production classes as well as screen writing ones. Film classes tend to be very hard to get into, but being a film major will get you into all of them. You'll leave school with a strong foundation in film and with a lot of options. It's also easy to dual major with film studies because it overlaps with so many other majors.

    (sorry for the rushed msg, I have a lot of work tonight, but wanted to reply)
     
  9. Adam_S

    Adam_S Producer

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    heh, the day I major in English is the day I shoot myself Lew. I just can't put up with all the BS and elitist crap from both the film department and the the English department (english department is worse imo, at least the film department acknowledges that Genres exist). Right now I have a difficult problem unfortunately, I know I will major in film, possibly do grad school as well (when you're 100% dependent on financial aid for both undergrad and grad school, grad school looks less and less appealing, however USC has the second best financial aid in the country and it looks like that even though by the time I graduate expected attendence cost will be $40,000 a year, I'll only have about 10-12 thousand dollars of debt/student loans, that could easily double for two years pursuing a grad degree).

    anyway my problem is that I want to major in film, minor in advertising, sculpture, or music recording, probably two of those, and a double major with a business degree would be nice as well (though I can settle for an advertising minor). I'd declare any major before I declare english!

    You'll work in 16mm by the end of your junior year at least at USC. right now I believe that in the first set of production classes you do high end minidv stuff (like one step below the cameras soderbergh used on full frontal), and do your final project in 16mm though I may be mistaken there. most all your senior and junior year production classes are in 16mm or high end digital. I wouldn't be surprised if USC had some 35 mm cameras for grad student stuff. I know that the grad animation school shoots lots of stuff in 35mm. grad work at USC is mainly shooting full length movies. I don't know that I'll stay on for a grad degree if I can get some good interneships over the next several summers.

    Adam
     
  10. Seth_S

    Seth_S Second Unit

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    Adam_S,

    If money is tight, you're not going to like how much working with 16mm costs.

    Also, not getting to work with 16mm till the end of junior year strikes me as a bit absurd. Getting to work with that format is one of the primary reasons there are specialty film schools.



    While I obviously can't speak for how things are run at USC, most schools have a bunch of 16mm cameras that the undergrad and grad schools split. A certain number are supposed to be held aside for undergrad at all times, but often that doesn't happen. I've been told that at NYU for instance, it's cut throat competition to get your hands on a 16mm camera because the grad students hog them. Basically when you start working with 16mm, you want to either get a job in "the cage", or know someone who works in it.


    Have you thought about majoring in buisiness, working a few years after undergad, and then go to grad school?
     
  11. Bob Movies

    Bob Movies Stunt Coordinator

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    Hi Adam,

    I’m currently in my final semester of Ryerson University’s four-year film program in Toronto. In October 2002 I went to a student conference in Hollywood and I got to meet people from different film schools all over the United States and learn a bit about the programs there.

    As far as portfolios go, it’s absolutely vital to have a good one. You are accepted based on your portfolio. Every film school gets a large number of applicants for a small number of spots (at Ryerson it was something like 1500 applicants for 49 spots, and it’s higher at other schools.) As Adam pointed out, you can’t submit videos or films that you’ve made, so what should you include? My portfolio consisted of photography, writing samples, and graphic design elements. If you’re looking to go into cinematography, then a portfolio with strong photography seems like a good idea.

    The best thing to do is contact the schools that you’re interested in and see what their admissions departments recommend. I’d also try to talk with someone at the school and take a tour of the place to find out what it’s like there. Some schools are more theory based, which you’ll want to stay away from. Of course there’s theory to cinematography, but you need to learn it by doing it, and the best way is to go and shoot as many student films as you possibly can. Film vs. video is important, you should try to be shooting film in my opinion. I think it would be terrible to pay a bunch of money to go to a school only to find that you’ll be shooting projects on a camcorder that you could have borrowed from your aunt.

    A school with AMAZING film facilities is Florida State University, check them out, it’s not to be believed.

    Film school is kind of a weird place. No matter where you go, you need to be working on projects all the time, for yourself. Once you start shooting, you’re basically working on shows, trying to build up a demo reel, and trying to get experience. Read as many books and technical manuals as you possibly can – I’ll send a list if you’re interested.

    Film costs a ton to shoot on, but it's the best way to do it. From what I've heard, almost every school has less equipment than the students would like, but I wouldn't sweat that too much, since you can rent it for prices that aren't too high (16mm equipment). People shoot on DV to save money, but their stuff will never look as good as film. That's why being a Director of Photography is great - you work on other people's movies, they take on most of the expenses, and you still get to work with the medium.

    Sorry I’m rambling, but it’s late... Let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll be happy to tell you about any of my own experiences.

    Bob

    P.S. For Michael Pakula – You might want to do your undergraduate degree in Canada, and then do your master’s at one of the US schools. The MFA programs are really the ones where you get to do the real stuff, and paying for six years of university in the United States seems too expensive to imagine!
     
  12. AaronJB

    AaronJB Second Unit

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    Columbia College in Chicago might be worth considering, too.
     
  13. Vince Maskeeper

    Vince Maskeeper Producer

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    Does anyone have a list of schools offering a masters film program? I really don't want to move to NYC or LA, and it seems all the masters film programs are in NY and SoCal (and I think myabe BYU has one).

    -Vince
     
  14. Seth_S

    Seth_S Second Unit

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    Vince Maskeeper,

    Most major schools have a masters film program. They aren't exclusive in anyway to NYC or SoCal schools.
     
  15. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

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  16. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

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  17. Seth_S

    Seth_S Second Unit

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    Exactly. Like I said before, having a masters degree is becoming increasingly more important.
     
  18. Adam_S

    Adam_S Producer

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    To reply quickly since I have a 9AM class.

    Part of the reason you may not get to do 16mm until your junior year is because USC requires the following gen eds from those in either of the film tracks

    16 hours of Gen eds (i'm in the honors programs, so we have harder but more interesting classes, taught by the good professors with a max class size of 35. last semester I had to read: The Aeneid, Medea, Civilization and its discontents, Ovid's Metamorphosis, The Orlando Furioso, Hamlet, Midsummer nights..., Much Ado about Nothing, Paradise Lost and Invisible cities for one class, and Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Weber, Marx/Engels, Rawls, and Nozick for another class, but I had four units of writing as well, any way those two classes knocked out eight hours of gen eds)
    8 hours of writing (took four last semester have four this semester)
    12 hours of foreign language (tested out of four, working on Span II now)
    4 hour natural science theme (like physics, chemistry, oceanography etc)
    4 hours humanity theme (taking this now, Overview of East Asian Society and Culture)
    4 hours of Diversity requirement (some class like Race, Class, and Gender in American Film).

    That's 44 units required for your General education, and you earn your undergraduate film production, writing, or critical studies degree on top of that

    In my case I've done the following
    last semester:
    8 hours gen eds
    4 hours writing
    4 hours intro to cinema (required for all film departments majors and minors)
    this semester:
    4 hours gen ed
    4 hours writing
    4 hours spanish
    4 hours humanity theme
    2 hours Intl Cinema II (required of Critical Studies and Film Production Majors)
    next semester:
    4 hours of gen eds
    4 hours natural science theme
    4 hours of spanish
    4 hours elective (george lucas and hte star wars phenomenon (how can I miss a class lucas is already scheduled for will be showing all five films in 35 mm along with flash gordon kurasawa, american grafitti, films influenced by star wars etc, all in 35mm?))
    2 hours of Intl Cinema I (see above about required)

    that's an average of 17 and 1/3 units a semester and I haven't even gotten to the film production courses yet. I suppose I can just kick around and not learn how to think instead? It's basically not expected that you'll be getting into the film production courses until the second semester of your sophmore year, as most people wnat to get all their gen eds out of the way as fast as possible and focus on film (at least that's what I'll be doing) after that It'll be nonstop film courses for two and half years. In my case, minoring in advertising, I can fill in the nearly two extra semesters I'd have with those 24 required units, as well as take just about as many filmi courses that I like.

    And I am learning to think by the way, but I think if I go into English I'll learn how not to think, but only regurgitate about how great shit like James Joyce is. I wouldn't mind majoring in religion, but I want to major in film, I haven't checked to see how important a grad degree is, but it would be total agony for me to wait another two oor three years in pursuit of that! I want to be making films now, dammit! it's already tough having to wait another three years at the very least before I'm in the industry, but at the same time I console myself because I'm learning such an enormous lot.
    and You'll appreciate this Lew, but the other thing that has gotten me thinking on my own more than just about anything since I started college (been working so hard that its sometimes been hard), has been the 1930's challenge. This is become an independent stufy for me, I'm evaluating every movie on my own without any one else's opinions or expectations weighing down on me, which is absolutely wonderful and exhilerating, I'm also adding to my film knowledge, and I find that the more movies I watch, the more I desire to watch movies and understand them, to crave to make them. [​IMG] For me this is not some idealistic pipe dream. I know I'm not a genius, I know I have tons to learn and almost everybody knows more than I do; this is a career I'm extrodinarily serious about, I see it as a craft, and I'm only learning the basics of how you hold the wood in your hand, and haven't even picked up a knife yet to actually begin shaping it. and I will not fail at this. [​IMG]

    Someone mentioned books or materials to read, pour them on, I'm always interested in new reading material, I'll devour it happily and absorb all I can.

    I must correct one wrong assumption. At USC directors don't direct their own scripts, we're realistic here. The screenwriting schools students submit their own scripts a producer chooses it (possibly with a director though I'm unclear there), puts together a team (assigns roles, we are in classes after all), and then the film is shot. this is the upper (junior and above) level film production classes, it's expected you'll take it twice, because Producer and Director are only second year (seniors) students in this particular class. I think you make two twenty-thirty minute films in the course of the semester.

    Adam

    Adam
     
  19. Bob Movies

    Bob Movies Stunt Coordinator

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    Here are some good books that I've read over the last few years. I recommend them highly. I'll post another list when I can think of more.

    General / Directing
    The Filmmaker's Handbook (very good overall info)
    Film Directing Shot By Shot
    Film Directing Cinematic Motion
    The complete uncensored guide to independant filmmaking
    Making Movies by Sidney Lumet
    On Directing by David Mamet
    Directing the documentary

    Camera
    The ASC Manual (8th edition)
    The Camera Assistant, a complete professional handbook

    Writing
    How not to write a screenplay
    Zen and the art of screenwriting, vol. 1 and 2
    The Screenwriter's Bible

    Magazines
    American Cinematographer (a must!)
    Creative Screenwriting
    Scr(i)pt

    For fellow Canadians there's a 3-book series produced by the academy of Canadian Cinema and Television. The books are:

    Telling It
    Making It
    Selling It

    They're great books on screenwriting, producing, and selling a finished film in the Canadian market.
     
  20. Seth_S

    Seth_S Second Unit

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    Get into DV. All you need is a camera and a fairly fast computer. Tape is a lot cheaper than film (and there are no processing fees), and there are no processing fees. Furthermore, the entire process isn't nearly as time consuming (you don't have to spend 2 hours setting up lights for a single shot) and you don't need a very large crew. It may not be film, but it's a lot easier to get your hands on DV equipment than a 16mm camera.
     

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