What to expect from Film School

When it comes to the film industry, it's not what you know, but rather who you know.

Mike Keesling wishes someone had shared that tidbit of advice with him when he first tried to break into the business.

Keesling hit the pavement, knocking on doors and practically begging for his big break in the film industry. When he finally got it, he embarrassed himself on his very first day by not understanding what another crew member meant by asking him what kind of "flag" he wanted to use.

"I thought he meant an actual flag, like the American flag," Keesling said, laughing at his mistake.

In actuality, a flag is either a large black cloth that is used on a frame during a shoot to keep light out or it can be a small piece of tape used in the cutting room as a sort of bookmark, making it easier to find that shot again.

Keesling said he doesn't want to see others who are trying to break into the industry make the same kind of mistake, which is why he is a huge supporter of the proper training.

What is a Film School?

Like other programs, students can opt to attend a four-year program at a college or university that teaches the fundamentals of film making. Four-year programs generally focus on the art of filmmaking, which includes theory, history and the aesthetics of filmmaking.

While Keesling said a four-year program has its merits, programs like his at The Film Connection tend to offer more help to students who want to make crucial contacts in the film industry. The Film Connection has programs in both Los Angeles and New York City.

"There is a time and place for book learning," he said. We don't just thrust you out there with no experience."

However, The Film Connection offers a more hands-on aspect for its students, introducing them to the real world of filmmaking. Students at a traditional four-year program often spend their time working on their own film, at their own pace. At The Film Connection, students are paired with a mentor, who is a working professional in the film industry. Students must complete the work of a filmmaker on a real-time schedule.

"Traditional film school students work on a film in a traditional school, so if something goes wrong, no big deal," said Keesling. "But real life film has deadlines and mishaps and you cannot duplicate that real-world experience anywhere but in the real world."

The course at The Film Connection lasts just six months, but it is very intensive, Keesling warns.

Three of those months are used to help the student get comfortable with doing the job and learning all the terminology and skills associated with the business. The last three months are used to have the student work on an actual project.

Students who are going through the program can do so while still working another job or attending other schooling.

"Our program allows them to be in the position that they can work around other schooling or even a job."

Glen Tedham, a senior producing instructor at the Vancouver Film School in Vancouver, British Columbia, said his school's program is very similar to that of The Film Connection.

Students who attend the school's one-year program will leave with a diploma in film production. They will learn the aspects of directing, cinematography, producing, editing and writing.

"But we teach the fundamentals from a hands-on perspective," Tedham said. "They learn while they do, while they create."

During the yearlong program, students will create a total of six films---two documentaries and four dramas. Each film is 10 minutes in length.

Everyone who works at the film school is in the film industry, so students have the opportunity to make valuable contacts, Tedham said. That is one of the major appeals of his program, he said. The other is its length.

"There is no time for outside jobs or anything else with this program, because it is very intense," he said. "This will be their life for a year."

Neither Tedham nor Keesling thought online degree programs for filmmaking are a good idea.

"I don't know how you can learn filmmaking without making a film," said Tedham. "You need to be in the room doing it."

Keesling said by working online, you lose the ability to make valuable connections in the industry.

Choosing a Film School

Like other schools and programs, those for the film industry also can be accredited by agencies that determine if they are of good quality. Both The Film Connection and the Vancouver Film School are accredited programs.

Video schools that receive accreditation offer the confidence that their programs have been examined by filmmaking professionals and are of superior quality. They also insure students who attend them are more likely to qualify for financial aid.

The only independent body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for visual arts programs is the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. It generally accredits four-year programs.

In addition, there are six U.S. regional accrediting organizations. They are: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges and the Middle State Association of Colleges and Schools.

Tedham said students should consider a few other things when selecting a program.

"Is the program focused on the art of filmmaking, or focused on physical production?" he said. "At our school, the focus is on the physical production. It's one thing to talk about it, but it's quite another to actually do it."

"Classroom-only programs don't teach the connection skills," said Keesling. "It helps to have connections in the business, because that's how you get work. Four-year programs have their roles, but they also cost a lot of time and money.

"We're in the dream business . . . when you finish your six months, if you have an idea for a film, you will walk out of here with all the skills you need to do it right."

Skills of Filmmakers

Not everyone is cut out for a career in the film industry. Passion and reliability are two of the biggest qualities one should posses in order to have a successful career in the film industry.

"If the crew calls at 7 a.m. and you show up at 7:30, you've messed up," said Keesling. "You have to be ready to roll at all times."

The film industry consists of long hours, with 12 to 14 work hours in a day considered the norm.

"And one of the biggest lessons I learned is you have to check your ego at the door," said Keesling.

Quality of work also is important, as well as being able to get the big picture and being able to anticipate the next move.

"If you have something ready before the director or another crew member needs it because you were able to anticipate it, then you become invaluable."

Tedham said tenacity, creative thinking and the desire to collaborate with others also are important characteristics of the business.

"Unlike most other arts, this isn't a solo mission," he said. "Nobody makes a movie by themselves."

Job Market

Even during tough economic times, the film industry is still in high demand. It was during the Great Depression that many film companies came into existence.

"When people are trying to get cheap or even free entertainment, they turn to movies and television programs," said Tedham. "In general, film and TV do well during a recession because it's cheap entertainment."

Keesling said there is a high rate of turnover in the industry, so there will always be jobs. However, everyone has to start at the bottom and work their way up.

"This industry does promote from within," Keesling said. "A college degree means nothing, a resume is nothing. What really matters is did someone recommend you and can you get the job done right?"

Tedham agreed.

"While it's true that the cream tends to rise to the top, the reality of this business is that regardless of which film school you came from, you're going to have to start at the bottom," he said.


Article by Shari Berg, SmartSchoolFinder.com