Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Do I Smell a SCAM???: Film "Schools"

Filmmaking is expensive. VERY expensive. Even learning how to be a filmmaker can be expensive. In this post, I'm not addressing university film schools like USC, NYU, or UCLA. These schools not only provide real degrees, they have a proven track record. Even if you attend for the alumni database, they are worth the money. You also get financial aid at these places which--at least in theory--levels the playing field between students of different socio-economical backgrounds.

I'm talking about those unaccredited afternoon classes that cost more per unit than any class at the above schools. I've never attended any of these "classes" personally, but a Google search brings up many unfortunate, but reliable sources. These programs, which can cost as much as a used car, claim to give you the "real deal" on making it in the film industry. Obviously, this is a marketing ploy, given that many wannabe filmmakers believe university-based programs are largely theory-based. While film theory plays a large part in university-based models, film programs at "The Big Three" are known for their hands-on approach to filmmaking, as well as the academia. That's what makes USC, NYU, and UCLA the Harvard, Yale, and Princeton of the field.

So, the dodgy programs sucker you into believing that university-based programs are archaic, theory-laden, and super-exclusive. And that they offer the alternative. As long as you have a valid credit card, you're in. The Usual Suspects that raise eyebrows: LA Feature Film Academy, Vancouver Film School, Academy of Cinema and Television, Film Connection, and 2-day Film School (highly debated, seems like his videos and books are better received).

Warning signs:
1. For-profit status: Yeah, one can argue that all colleges and universities are for profit. But universities offer much more for the money. Like alumni functions, larger access to equipment, ball games, and meal plans.

2. No degrees given: If the program doesn't offer any degrees of any kind, your money might be better served taking film courses at LA City College.

3. Degrees given for little coursework: 10-month master degrees are rare. In fact, both NYU and USC's MFA programs are three years.

4. Strangely high acceptance rate: Just like the Industry, very few attend real film school. Ideally, anything above a 50% acceptance rate (that is not a community college) should be reconsidered.

5. School boasts that your favorite filmmaker "attended": Most likely not, or it's a moot point all together. For example, 2-day Film School claims Spike Lee started his career there. While he may have signed-up, Spike Lee also has an MFA from Tisch at NYU. NYU wins that debate.

6. Financial aid is unexplainable: Got a student loan package but never filled out the FAFSA? Run away.

7. Recruiters use hard-sell tactics: It is the job of the recruiter to make you want to attend. However, a "how-can-we-get-you-to-come-here" approach is a red flag.

8. School reminds you that it's "not a scam": Again, most university programs rarely care if you call their programs scams. If this is an FAQ question on the program's website, reconsider.

While it's true that not everyone can and will visit the Ivory Towers of Higher Learning, you might be better off visiting your local library than attending these high-priced programs.

Happy Filmmaking.

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