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6 2. Making the Most of Film School ONCE, IT WAS TRENDY TO be an art student. If you were a male student, the thing was to appear in a long, black coat, sport a fifteenfoot -long, red scarf, wear a beret, and smoke a pipe. For women, fish-net stockings helped, along with an assortment of peasant blouses culled from grandmother’s bottom drawer or an elegant secondhand boutique on Manhattan’s upper East Side. It was also vital that your fingers be stained and that you moved with a certain lassitude and insouciance that gave a hint of the cellars and ateliers of Montparnasse and beyond. That is all passé. Today the vital thing is to be a film student. While denims and running shoes are necessary for both sexes, dress can vary from T-shirts to dress shirts and ties. The vital thing is to carry your film tripod with a swagger. You have to let the world know you’re a film student, not a plodding law or accountancy nerd, and you’re bound for fame and fortune in Hollywood and beyond. Film schools or universities, colleges, and departments that include film in their curricula represent a growth industry. Pity the country that doesn’t have its own national film school! In the United States, over a hundred institutions of higher learning provide courses in film and filmmaking. Australia, a huge country with a small population has over twenty state-university providers of film. Singapore, with less than five million inhabitants, boasts of over ten centers teaching professional filmmaking. In the old days, there was only one or two serious ways to enter the film profession, by junior work in a film or TV studio or apprenticeship in a film house. Today, with fingers beckoning from everywhere, Making the Most of Film School / 7 doors wide open, and advertisements assaulting prospective students from every magazine, it’s easier than ever to go to film (and television) programs throughout the world. But are the time, effort, and expense well spent and worth it? The Benefits of a Documentary Program The first and key benefit of a good school is that it can provide you with technical skills in photography, editing, writing, and directing that are difficult, but not impossible, to master alone. Yes, with your PD 100 and your Final Cut Pro, you can go out and shoot your own films. It is much better in the long run, however, if someone teaches you how to master these tools in depth and use them with some art, craft, and skill. A good program should do exactly that. Furthermore, the good department can provide you with a wide variety of film equipment to play around with so that you experience all different kinds of editing machines and can handle 16 mm and 35 mm cameras as well as their low-cost video brothers and sisters. An offshoot of all this is the chance to learn composite filmmaking. Of necessity, during the two or three years in the department, you’ll be pushed into working on a variety of films, some standard, some experimental , and undertaking multiple tasks. One day, you’ll act as cameraperson , the next as editor, while the following week you’ll do sound or be asked to write a script. This is all to the good. The process also teaches survival skills. Often, in an underequipped program, you have to battle for a camera, plead for extra editing time, or argue the case why your film should be chosen for production instead of that of another student’s. Sounds terrible, doesn’t it, but you might as well learn early that survival in the industry isn’t for the meek and the mild but for those with strength, passion, and fire in the belly. Outside of giving you technical skills and allowing you to familiarize yourself with the tools of the trade, the best film departments (and from now, I use this to include TV studies as well) can and should give an excellent media education. This means they instruct thoroughly in the way media works. They teach about the nature of broadcasting and industry structures in film and TV, both locally and throughout the world. This wider view can be of immense help in understanding the world after film school. 8 / Making the Most of Film School Film Departments and Documentary Where the film department concentrates on documentary as a serious element of its...


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