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COLUMBIA FILM SCHOOL STUDENT PROFILE: Patrick Clement - Screenwriting & Directing MFA

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"I went to Columbia because I wanted to be a better storyteller and understanding structure... and I do think my storytelling
has gotten better and more complex and deeper and I'm really grateful to Columbia.... they delivered exactly what I expected them to deliver."


Recently I had the pleasure talking with long time forum member @Patrick Clement who is currently in his fourth year at Columbia's Screenwriting & Directing MFA program. Patrick has been a very active member of the forums and we had a great talk on his experience at Columbia so far.

Columbia MFA - A Five Year Program

"It's 70 to 80 hours a week if you do it right... if you're actually like spending time writing your scripts and doing what you're supposed to do, which I tried my best to do, then you're probably putting in 70 or 80 hours a week."

Columbia is a 2 year program with an additional 3 years in order to do your two thesis films. "I mean it sounds long, but for me five years of work, we need a five years because students can be lazy you know...they wanted the students to take their time. But for me it was great because I get to work for five years straight,... I haven't had any off time so that's good.."

The program is extremely intense. Patrick says that he's sometimes asked if you can do a full-time job AND go to Columbia. In short... that's a negative. "It's 70 to 80 hours a week if you do it right... if you're actually like spending time writing your scripts and doing what you're supposed to do, which I tried my best to do, then you're probably putting in 70 or 80 hours a week."

"The first year, is loaded with more production classes... You take four courses, the school schedules them for you, so you actually don't get to pick any of your classes in the first year. They schedule you around because the producers, the writers, and the directors share the same classes in the first year and for the most part like 75% of your classes are going to have producers and writers and directors it it.

In the Directing class
(the Producers are in too), you're doing three three to five minute shooting exercises per semester... So pretty much like every other week we're screening projects in class and the classes are about a dozen people. So there's a dozen people shooting three exercises per semester. So it's like, not only do you shoot three exercises, but you're also watching almost 40 exercises.

But you also doing the Directing Actors class where you are also required to do I think two to three in-class exercises. So that means you're bringing a scene in and you're casting actors to come in to read a scene in front of the class and then professors are giving you some critiques.... and then there's the Screenwriting class where you're doing I think two to three short scripts each semester too. And then you're also working on other people's stuff. It's not just the time that you need to put towards your stuff but time that that you would need to put towards helping your classmates with their stuff... And then Columbia does do sort of larger projects in the first year.... So at the end of the first semester there is this three to five minute short end of first semester project, which is meant to be taken a little more seriously. And then there's an end of first year 8 to 12 minute project...It's pretty full man."


Patrick is now back in Kansas working on his second thesis. "I was in New York for three years and now I don't have any more class time... I have a thesis class but I Skype that so you don't have to be in New York and then I will be here for a year and then I'll be back in LA in November. I mean technically, even my third year I didn't have to be in New York but most people choose to stick around for that third year because there's like a revisions class... Guinevere Turner who co-wrote the American Psycho movie and she just co-wrote a movie on the Charlie Manson girls, she taught a script revision class so I stuck around because I wanted to take that class. But some people leave New York after two years... a lot of people in my class are already back home or international or a lot of them are in Los Angeles."

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On the set of Fair and Square Max.

Columbia strengths - An auteur setting - and a school for storytellers...

"You know, if you want to do 3D or VR filmmaking, Columbia is probably not for you... like Chapman apparently has beautiful facilities....if you go to USC you're going to work in the VR lab or whatever... Well Columbia doesn't have any of that shit."

The Writing and Directing students share classes for the first year and then in the second year they choose their concentration. "So at Columbia the program is just structured more hard to be a little more of an auteur setting for people that are writing and directing and producing and developing their own material. After the first year you have to declare a concentration - you have to declare whether you're going to do directing or screenwriting and that also affects your thesis. So like I think the writers have to submit two pieces of writing and then they have an optional short film that they can shoot. The directors have to only do a short film."

Patrick says that Columbia was a good fit for him because "it is mostly a story and writing school and I think it met my expectations of that. There was a lot of writing, there was a lot of discussions of like a story and character... and where they sort of have the lack of resources... is they don't really have a sound stage... they don't have all the newest toys. You know, if you want to do 3D or VR filmmaking, Columbia is probably not for you... like Chapman apparently has beautiful facilities....if you go to USC you're going to work in the VR lab or whatever... Well Columbia doesn't have any of that shit.

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Columbia University is one of the most prestigious universities in the world. So there are always talks and forums and screenings.
This is CU Film MFA professor (and my faculty advisor) screening his film 99 Homes and discussing global housing markets with economist Joseph Stiglitz.

"They have classrooms and professors that talk constantly about story. And I think it was the right place for me because I do think that I improved on a weakness... and it delivered what I expected to deliver. You know, a lot of people were like, "We don't have a sound booth to record our ADR!" Like I don't give a shit about that stuff. I really didn't care so I had nothing to complain about because it was constantly about like story and plot and characters and so it definitely did what I needed it to do.

And I think is why [Columbia's] had the success that it has because with the democratization of equipment and gear, everybody can shoot something amazing... Story is all that matters. It's all that ever mattered."


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Class sizes are small. No more than 12 students.

While researching schools to apply to Patrick watched the thesis films from all of the top schools. "...like multiple years, as many as I could find. And there were some schools that are very popular... that like the thesis films looked good. They were amazing... shot on LXs have professional scores and stuff...but a lot of times the stories are fucking weak. The Columbia thesis films despite the lack of production polish that many of them had constantly... I felt like the stories were more compelling and deeper, richer. So that was a good indicator to me."


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Columbia really encourages students to connect their life experiences with their class work.
So I filmed by end-of-first-year project in southwestern Kansas. We won some nice awards.

On Columbia's weaknesses...

"So you kind of finish and they just kind of kick you out into the wilds... But you know, again, maybe that's purposeful, you know,
it is a New York City University and probably they want to toughen you up and make your own way."

Patrick said that the main weakness of the school is that you're a little bit on your own and there isn't much career outreach or a broad alumni network. "There isn't really the help for graduating, finding work, and the alumni network is very weak. Um, so as long as you understand that going in then you shouldn't be surprised but... for the most part it's not as robust as I think as I would've liked it today.

"It's a very large class. Uh, it's 75 students a year... So it's about 25 producers and about 50 writer/directors. And the main office staff, the support staff, it's like four or five people that manage the entire film department, not including faculty or staff. And I think the reason why those [enrollment] numbers are so big is because the film department has to exist off of student enrollment because there's no help from the central university.


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Columbia is in the Upper Westside of Manhattan in an area called Morningside Heights.
This was the view outside my apartment building on w 112th Street. Not bad :)

"And so like there's no alumni outreach office. There's like one person that does like four jobs and so basically that trickles down to the students. Ultimately at Columbia, once you've graduated, if you're not... and I don't want to sound cynical... if you're not a student that say a faculty member's taken a shine to then you're pretty much on your own.... So you kind of finish and they just kind of kick you out into the wilds.... that's probably a little more pessimistic than it is the reality and what it is... but with job placement you're kind of on your own. But you know, again, maybe that's purposeful, you know, it is a New York City University and probably they want to toughen you up and make your own way."

It's the old cliche - film school is what you make of it. :) Maybe it's a cliche for a reason?

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I extensively storyboard, heres a frame match. Lots of my classmates like to be more impulsive and instinctual on set. I like to plan.
CU allows students to find their own way, but encourages them to try different ways of working in the first two years of class study.

On Setting Expectations

" I think a lot of people think that getting into one of the top five film schools is like the end that is the goal and it's just not.... That's just something on the way to a goal...
I didn't think just getting into Columbia was going to make me. It's just another thing that will get me to where I want to go."

In terms of advice for current film school applicants the main advice that Patrick kept coming back to was a reminder that film school is not the end goal... it's just part of the path. Or one of the paths.

"I think that some people have like rose colored glasses about what it means to go into like a top five film schools. So the expectations are higher... At Columbia you're going to end up spending a quarter of a million dollars to get a degree from Columbia. That's what it costs. That's including your tuition costs and the living expenses. That's your five year. Yeah, so I think we just have a higher expectation of what Columbia should deliver. But then my counter argument to that is to just have realistic expectations and I think a lot of people think that getting into one of the top five film schools is like the end that is the goal and it's just not.... and it's the same thing I tell my actor friends, they all think "Oh, as soon as I get in the Union I've made it." Well, that's not the goal. That's just something on the way to a goal. Yeah. So that's how I felt about Grad school too. I didn't think just getting into Columbia was going to make me. It's just another thing that will get me to where I want to go. Um, so you know, if people have realistic expectations and they've done their work then they're going to land where they're, where they're supposed to land."

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FASM frames using locations and framing to reinforce the evolution of a friendship.
I chose to use my CU projects to explore ideas and techniques, even if the overall film suffered because of it.

"I see a lot of students [on the forums] feeling like two things... One is that getting into Grad School is going to make their career. It's just not true. Whether you get in or don't get in... It really isn't an indictment of how talented you are or yourself as a filmmaker. But also like, you know when I did my interviews I just decided that I was going to be myself and that's the only way to find the right fit. I know it sounds weird, but like all I did was be myself and I figured that I didn't get in it wasn't a good fit. So like that was how I knew that if I did get in somewhere and I accepted and I applied and got in... it had to be a good fit on both sides of the table. So like if it's not a good fit then.... A great example... Chapman. I was on the fence about it... I applied... and I didn't get an interview... Well obviously it wasn't a good fit. Why would I be bummed about that? Because Chapman thinks I'm not a good fit so I just move on. I interviewed at NYU but I didn't think it was exactly the right fit and I got wait-listed... so they didn't think I was a good fit either so I didn't really feel bummed about it at all.

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Nearly half of my class was international students. I met a wonderful human and talented filmmaker Donggyun Han from South Korea. I
think we will be friends for a very long time. This is him in Kansas, experiencing an "American breakfast."

"I mean not, not to be too esoteric... but I mean aren't we all just kind of floating around in the universe and then eventually we're just going to land where we're supposed to land I think? Honestly like do the footwork... put one foot in front of the other... and we try to stay true and honest and try not to hurt other people...Then eventually we're going to land and go where we were supposed to go... We're not all supposed to Scorsese... So I don't know man. I guess I just, maybe I have a different view of that, but like eventually we ended up where we're supposed to go as long as we keep doing the work. So hopefully kids will take it easy. I mean I think in the age of, you know, a lot of noise with a lot of people are making stuff... even at the top at the top ten film schools it's going to be at least 200 thesis films that come out of those schools every year. Not including short films that are coming out of other places... So there's a lot of noise and a lot of people are trying to get attention so I see why like Film School is just a way to sort of rise above the noise. But it's not the only way and I see a lot of stress from people [on the forums] and I wish they would just sort of not be as stressed about it. It's just life man. Not getting into film school is not the end of the world.

I mean if getting into Grad school is just your goal. You can get into grad school and then what? It's like it's sort of like when a cat tries to catch a bird for the first time... it gets it in it's mouth and it's like wait a minute... I don't know what the fuck to do now. So it's just having a bigger view of your life and your career I think will really help you in the right direction."



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In our orientation the faculty told us we would meet people we will work with for the rest of our lives. I laughed a little.
But in my second year I got to know Catherine Kosiba, a Producing Concentrate from Austin and we worked on my Directing 4 and Non-Thesis films together.
She's an incredible talent. Steady, level-headed and I'd be so lucky to work with her again. This is us, cold on the set of 'Three Corner House.'

Final thoughts on Columbia

Patrick definitely feels like Columbia has been good for him. "I went to Columbia because I wanted to be a better storyteller and understanding structure and being able to just figure out what a story was and how it works and how to draw more... But having said that...aside from all the things that maybe could have been better at worse... I'll tell you that I got out of it exactly what I wanted it to deliver.. which is I think my ability to tell more complex interesting stories has gotten drastically better. So again, I do think my storytelling has gotten better and more complex and deeper and I'm really grateful to Columbia for being able.... they delivered exactly what I expected them to deliver."

So I had a great talk with Patrick... and in asking for any last minute advice he gave this gem which he said definitely had to be in the article. "Everyone should drop acid at least once in their lifetime...I mean if you haven't gotten in a bar fight, dropped acid, and hitchhiked somewhere... I mean, what's the point of living?"

Put simply... live life. I've only hitchhiked... does that mean I have to do the other ones now? :)

I hope everyone has enjoyed this interview. Patrick is usually available on the forums and is always extremely helpful if you have other questions.
About author
Chris W
BU COM 1999 Graduate. Currently working as a Film & TV editor and producer in Los Angeles. Founded Studentfilms.com in 1998 (from which the film school forums were spun off into FilmSchool.org in 2014).

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Thanks Chris!
 

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