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For the past year I've been trying to find one pursuit that I can pour all of my passion into and develop as a career. I went to college at a liberal arts university, and double majored in philosophy and history. I had intended to become a philosophy professor, but towards the end of my college experience I became extremely disenchanted with the prospects of being a part of philosophy in academia.

Since that development, my strongest love is music, specifically orchestral works. For over a year now my highest dream has been to conduct a professional symphony orchestra. I regularly attend performances of the New York Philharmonic and I am obsessed with composers such as Brahms, Beethoven, Wagner, and Rachmaninov. I'm also a huge fan of orchestral movie soundtracks, particularly those of John Williams. Just one week ago I had the absolute joy of seeing him conduct the New York Philharmonic, and I can say without exaggeration that it was the best night of my life. I came out of that concert more certain than ever that I would love to be a composer, and a conductor of a professional symphony orchestra.

But sadly, I am several years too late in this. I could still learn how to compose music on my own, but I fear that to reach my true goal I would have needed a degree in music and experience with the music world that I could probably never get now.

This brings me to the topic of this post. My other love is film. At its best, it can be one of the most beautiful mediums of art available. It combines not only the explicit meaning of literature but also the aesthetic beauty of cinematography as well as the heights of excellent music.

But, like with music, achieving a successful career in film would be require a tremendous pursuit. My biggest concern is that I have no firm qualifications for film school. Although, I do have a long obsession with film that includes a lot of personal analysis, and a decent knowledge of aesthetics in the abstract sense from my philosophy background.

What I am wondering is if anyone here has experience either with film school or contemplating the possibility of it. I have had the impression that most film students begin their study right after high school. But, I have located several programs, particularly "immersion programs" that are intended for anyone. For example, there's the NY Film Academy which has a large variety of programs ranging from small workshops to two-three year Masters programs.

Any information or advice would be greatly appreciated!

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What I am wondering is if anyone here has experience either with film school or contemplating the possibility of it. I have had the impression that most film students begin their study right after high school. But, I have located several programs, particularly "immersion programs" that are intended for anyone. For example, there's the NY Film Academy which has a large variety of programs ranging from small workshops to two-three year Masters programs.

Film students generally start their formal training after undergrad, by attending a film grad program. USC, UCLA, AFI, and NYU are examples of schools that have top notch film programs. You can find the requirements for admission by going to the school's respective websites.

You mentioned that you're professionally interested in film, but you didn't mention what sort of career you're looking for in the film industry. Are you interested in directing or cinematography? Producing a film or writing it? Or are you interested in editing? In order to start to launch a career in the film industry, you have to identify exactly what you want to pursue. It could be one of the above or two or any number of combinations.

Also - film school is not necessary to start a career in film. Many directors, screenwriters, and producers have no formal training (although their numbers are declining).

I'm starting my second year of college and I plan to go to graduate film school after graduating. I've spent some time learning the ins and outs of the admission procedures (so I can apply in two years) and would be happy to answer any questions you had. In case you're wondering, I'm primarily interested in screenwriting and direction and am in the middle of a spec script right now. Good luck with whatever you decide to do.

Edited by Myself
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I am not too knowledgeable in the area, but I have a friend who walks, talks, lives and breathes films. He loves the process, the planning, the execution - film is his life. He's going off to Cambridge to study English, but his sights are set on directing or film-creation of some sort. I've asked him before, what does he think the right route is to go into films.

He said that, in the same way that a writer often takes notes about the world around him, or a painter keeps his eyes open and maybe takes some photos so as to paint them later, so a film-maker should just get used to filming the world. A common mistake is often made when people think about photography, that you just stick the camera down and photograph stuff, and that's all there is, and the whole thing is just luck. This is a dreadful mistake to make and it's the same one that people make where they think writing is process of pure inspiration and the luck of what people want to buy at the moment.

What you need to do is get a fundamental understanding of what a film is, how does a director recreate reality, into the constraints of his camera angle? What does he - or, more often, doesn't he - show his audience? How does he evoke an emotion?

The best way to do this, is to just start making films. Get a cheap DV camera and just start making bits of footage. You're in New York, right? New York is a living vessel - you simply cannot walk more than 10 feet before seeing something interesting. You can either just film people acting natural, or capture a beautiful moment, or create a scene with some actors. Let your imagination run wild. Find someone who'll let you use their Mac, and Final Cut and just get editing. See what does and doesn't work, and figure out 'Why?' It's one thing to see it written in a book, 'Never do x, y or z when doing a, b, or c', but it's another thing to try it for yourself, and to learn from mistakes and use that knowledge to further your abilities.

Basically, this'll do three things: a) it'll develop your basic skills; B) it'll build up a portfolio of work, that you can not only show to potential employers or a film school, but to also look back on and remember; c) you'll get to know whether film making is actually for you!

Anyway, I hope this helped and good luck in your ventures. It's a very similar predicament to me at the moment actually, because I'm torn between whether I want to go into Academia when I leave Uni, or whether I want to go into acting, or maybe even if I want to go into marketing (my passion for it has been growing the more promo work I do). The key is, and I learnt this on this very board and applied the principle to my life: Just do something! Keep your eyes and ears open, learn from your success and your mistakes, use all the knowledge you gain from trying, and see where you want to go next.

Edited by Tenure
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I am a current film student in Winter Park, Florida. I'm attending a school called Full Sail. You may have heard of it. It is a private college and I believe it is currently ranked in the top 5 film schools in America. If you are looking for a place to get hands on experience and graduate with a bachelor's in 21 months than you should look in to this school. I personally love this school. I get to work with the best equipment around, and I get to graduate with a bachelor's at 19! They also offer other degree programs besides film, and I believe they are ranked in the top 5 in all the degrees they offer. You should really check this place out.

As far as prerequisites, I believe you only need a high school diploma, but that may have changed.

www.fullsail.com

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My biggest concern is that I have no firm qualifications for film school.

What!? I thought you said you majored in philosophy and history. Those have got to be two of the best things to major in for anyone who's going into any kind of artistic pursuit. (And I bet film schools would think so, too.)

Although, I do have a long obsession with film that includes a lot of personal analysis, and a decent knowledge of aesthetics in the abstract sense from my philosophy background.

Aha, another major qualification - and I'm sure they care about this one.

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I actually have an undergraduate degree in Computer Science, and ended up coming to the conclusion that it really isn't my passion and that being a good programmer isn't something I even want to continue to pursue. I've always secretly wanted to do something more artistic, but was always encouraged to hone my skills in science or "practical" pursuits, so I pushed the thought of having such a career to the back of my mind. Don't get me wrong, I still greatly admire scientists and people that have a passion for such things, but it's not what I want.

Film in particular has definitely been something that greatly impressed me, although I want to make sure that I'm not like a lot of people that just enjoy watching films. This is especially true since I've never been a part of the film-making process. I'm fortunate enough that I have a job where I can do something that keeps me happy (I was able to change roles so I don't program), but I'm starting to take film courses at a local college to see if it's something that really interests me. I've already taken Introduction to Film Studies, and I really enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to my next class, which is on History of Film.

I say go for it! Just start out with a couple of classes, or do what Tenure said, and get a camera and start filming. If I decide on turning this into a career, I plan on transferring my credits to a better school (I live in California, and the credits can be transferred to any UC school). At the very least, I've taken some really fun courses that will raise the sophistication of my film knowledge, and in the best case, I've embarked on a new career.

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  • 5 months later...

Thank you all for your responses! I'm sorry that I never responded to any of them until now.

Does anyone have any experience with or knowledge of the New York Film Academy? It's a school with intensive one and two year programs for directing, screenwriting, acting, etc.

Thanks for your help!

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Thank you all for your responses! I'm sorry that I never responded to any of them until now.

Does anyone have any experience with or knowledge of the New York Film Academy? It's a school with intensive one and two year programs for directing, screenwriting, acting, etc.

Thanks for your help!

I am a graduate of the LA Film School in Hollywood, which is a similar kind of 1-year immersion program, and while I emerged from the school with a lot of practical experience, and two short films I'm proud of, I'm not sure it was the best use of my money.

The eternal question, if you want to become a filmmaker, is whether you should spend your money on film school, or spend your money on making a movie. You spend your money on film school to get experience to make a movie that you will no longer have the money to make when you leave film school.

But here's the dirty secret that film schools (like LA Film School or NY Film Academy) don't want you to know.

There are two components to filmmaking, the technical aspects of production, and the creative, storytelling aspects.

After having gone through this process, I'm convinced that film school is unnecessary, if you are completely self-motivated, driven, and can push yourself without any outside help.

For the first part, if you're smart, and can learn fast, and get along with people, you can learn everything that film schools of this kind can teach you simply by working on film sets.

I see that you live in New Jersey.

I would suggest that before spending tens of thousands of dollars on NYFA, that you first try volunteering to work on film shoots.

Go to Craigslist.com, or mandy.com, and see if there are any small film productions, student films, that you can work on.

There are always productions that need free labor. More so in the NYC area.

Film sets are very hierarchical organizations in which workers typically have very specialized skills and interact with each other in very particular ways. If you don't know what you're doing, it can be intimidating.

If that's the case, then accept the fact that you don't know anything, and go in with the attitude of "I'm willing to do anything, make coffee, do deliveries, anything." Be grateful for any crumb of knowledge that anyone wants to give you and definitely don't go in with any sense of entitlement or that anything is beneath you.

If you're smart and observant, you'll figure out how a film set works, what the difference between a grip and best boy is, why there are several assistant directors, and how to read a call sheet.

Work your ass off, and make yourself utterly indispensable, and you will be called back and asked to work on the next project with more responsibility, and maybe they'll even pay you.

The old saying goes "90% of success is just showing up."

I guarantee you that if you show any kind of reliability and/or competence, you -will- be called back. So many people are in this business for the wrong reasons, and because it doesn't satisfy whatever thing they thought they'd get out of it, they drop out and become unreliable.

Show up. Be competent. You'll have your own network in no time.

If you go to a school like NYFA, they'll show you how a set is organized, how to plan your shots, what the division of labor is, and you'll be working each of these jobs on your fellow students' shoots.

But do you really want to spend 25 to 30k or whatever it is now?

Especially when you can get the experience for free/paid.

What about the creative, storytelling part of filmmaking?

Read some books. Go to any Barnes and Noble and you'll find any number of good books on storytelling, or how to be a good director, or how to work with actors. I would recommend Robert McKee's Story to start, but really, just park yourself in the filmmaking section of Barnes and Noble and start reading.

And then, start writing.

Write some short scripts, anywhere from 3-8 pages in length.

Assuming that you are an aspiring director, you have this ambition because there is something you want to say. So, now's your chance. Don't stop until you have about a dozen of these short scripts.

Buy a camcorder. You can get one for 1/100th of the amount that you'd spend on film school.

Go to your local community theater and find some actors.

Make a movie.

It will be dreadful, but you will have made a movie, and you will know that you can make another one.

Repeat with steadily increasing ambition.

You will have produced more material than if you had gone to film school, and you will not be nearly in as much debt.

What I'm recommending here does not apply for those who appreciate having the lesson plan laid out like a road map, which is a perfectly appropriate process. However, you do pay a premium for that service. I'm of the opinion that quick immersion programs like NYFA and LAFS are just not good enough film schools to deserve that premium.

I have a different opinion about USC and AFI's film programs. They are much better and there's a lot of value to being plugged into their alumni network. But these other schools are just meat grinders, churning out students and taking their tuition money. And if you're a director, be prepared to pay extra for producing your film. You're expected to pay the production costs -on top- of the tuition.

In closing, I'll just say that you owe it to yourself to try working as a volunteer on a film shoot before spending money on film school. If you find that you would rather have a focused course of study and pay for it, then film school is the best way to do that. But you might also discover that there's a better, cheaper alternative, and it might get you to where you want to be even faster.

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But here's the dirty secret that film schools (like LA Film School or NY Film Academy) don't want you to know.

There are two components to filmmaking, the technical aspects of production, and the creative, storytelling aspects.

After having gone through this process, I'm convinced that film school is unnecessary, if you are completely self-motivated, driven, and can push yourself without any outside help.

For the first part, if you're smart, and can learn fast, and get along with people, you can learn everything that film schools of this kind can teach you simply by working on film sets.

I see that you live in New Jersey.

I would suggest that before spending tens of thousands of dollars on NYFA, that you first try volunteering to work on film shoots.

I would have to agree with this, having been exposed to many professionally trained (esp Berklee) musicians and many self-taught musicians, the only overall distinction I can make is that the ones with degrees are more well-connected. This may be a function of having the training and the degree, ie, if someone is thinking of hiring two equally great sounding musicians, but one has a degree (meaning they are pretty much guaranteed to have a core set of skills without testing them), the one with the degree is more likely to get hired. I'm willing to bet the same goes for film work, perhaps even more so, since there is more money to be lost in hiring someone who might not have the proper skills.

There is also nepotism to consider, which tends to be a factor in all industries, but in the entertainment industry where people tend to be more insecure and narcissistic, nepotism plays a big role in what opportunities are available. Of course all of this can be overcome with persistence and discipline. Ayn Rand is a perfect example of someone who never had any connections and was rejected at every turn in the beginning of her career, only to come back and.. well, you know how it ends..

If you're interested in film composing, I would drop a line to Michael Shapiro. He is a successful film composer in LA specializing in live orchestra scoring. He's spoken at TOC at least once. I believe he came late to the game as well, after undergrad if I remember correctly.

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