Washington, DC location which offers opportunities for internships
Friendly campus atmosphere
No portfolio requirement
Only one required film production course
Some important film topics that aren't offered at AU like cinematography courses
Not enough hands on training on the equipment
Not enough film facilities or equipment on campus
I apologize for the very long post, but I have a lot of things to say about the Film and Media Arts department at AU.
I am EXTREMELY unhappy with the undergraduate Film and Media Arts program at American University and I mean that in the most respectful way.
I say that I'm unhappy because there simply wasn't enough hands on training in my courses so that when I graduated, I could make short films, documentaries and even know how to do basic video shooting and video editing. I took one required film course, Comm 331, and we didn't even have to use a film slate in our projects when we shot short films in groups.
It could have been that one professor that I had that wasn't a great teacher and maybe relied on theory too much, but I think I should have come away with more knowledge of film production. The fact that there is no film portfolio requirement confuses me. It's like an art major not having to create a portfolio of their paintings and drawings before they graduate. I think there is nothing good about that and how does a university know a student can be successful in their chosen career field if they don't have to do a portfolio or a senior thesis as a requirement in order for them to graduate? I think the curriculum has a lot of holes in it that need to be filled in for the sake of the students.
I also have to acknowledge that AU isn't exactly known for their film program so I shouldn't be too surprised that it's not on par with universities that are higher ranked overall and are touted for their film departments like UCLA, NYU and USC.
Because I have experienced the program at AU, I am just sharing my experience to those who are thinking about applying as a Film and Media Arts major. If you plan to study film at AU, PLEASE choose your professors wisely. I only took one professor so I can't talk about anyone else, but I came away with little knowledge from the professor I took. And I don't think only one production course should be required. I think there needs to be at least two production courses required with a lot of different aspects covered. It's also weird that the professor didn't chaperone us when we did film shoots at least for the first time when we did it for the class. It was very independent learning and theory based, which is not appropriate for something technical like shooting a film in my opinion.
It was embarrassing as a graduate when I moved to NYC and had interviews at film production houses only for them to see right away that I was inexperienced with operating the video camera and do video editing. I didn't even have knowledge of some industry standard equipment names.
I actually learned how to do video shooting and editing when I went to graduate school at another university, which was ranked higher overall than AU and I studied journalism. I didn't even study film in graduate school and I came away with more training in video shooting and editing. It shouldn't be this way. And I mention that the other university was ranked higher because I do think rankings show the value of the courses students will take.
I feel sad that I still don't know how to do narrative films because of my experiences at AU. I feel cheated because I spent a lot of money at AU and I can't even do a basic short film or a professional documentary.
So, I recommend that if you go to AU, be prepared for the lack of hands on training in the film department. I'm sure the other departments at AU are fine. I took gen ed courses in other departments and they were fine. But, I feel like the film department is extremely lacking as far as hands on training and focuses too much on theory.
I don't mean to sound bitter or bash AU, I'm just being very honest and straightforward because I want people to know about my personal experience as a way to provide insight.
If I could do it all over again and planned to study film, I would have chosen a different university that had better film resources and facilities with a hands on learning approach.
Your college decision and major are one of the most important decisions that you will make in your life. Please choose wisely.
On a positive note, I did meet very nice people at AU. I was very happy there. The students in general are extremely welcoming and caring and the faculty do care about the students. But, the film courses I took were not industry standard in my opinion.
AU's SOC Department focuses on famous faculty and alumni as a draw, which is misleading. A school shouldn't advertise these people as a way to persuade people that prospective students will learn so much in film if the teaching process doesn't display this. Some alumni of any university can learn most of their craft on their own without the help of the university.
You just really got to do your research not only in your major because you might change that when you start university, but do research on the entire department that you are interested in so you can have a good perspective on what to expect when you take classes.
I am hoping there is a way for me to learn narrative film production in the future because I yearn to still know how to do this professionally.
Again, I apologize if I sound bitter or severely critical of my review of the program. I know it's hard to read tone when someone is writing a post. It's more of me coming from an honest place instead of an angry place. I am disappointed though and that is obvious in my post.
Good set up if you want to make docs about politics or social issues
Great faculty support for documentary/political/nature/wildlife filmmaking
Faculty can be a good resource for finding work/projects
Not great for narrative production
No portfolio requirement, classmates are on different levels
Grad and undergrad classes are combined
Your internship/work opportunities are limited in DC (compared to NY or LA)
I came into American University being quite averse to politics and government, and I always wanted to focus entirely on narrative film production. My other choice, NYU, would probably have been a better fit, but AU gave me better financial options and I could knock out a year at AU coming in with AP and community college credits. I finished AU in 3 years with minimal debt.
During my time, I was able to find the resources and crews to make narrative films happen, but it sometimes felt like an uphill battle. By the time I graduated, I warmed to documentary filmmaking and became more politically and socially interested. Most of my classmates, whether in the film department, in SOC or in the whole university seemed extremely passionate about politics, government and social issues. A lot of people in the film department were there because they saw it as a way to make their voice heard within these topics. The doc program, especially the Center for Environmental Filmmaking, is very strong. Combine that with being in the Nation's Capital and you're really in the right place for the right thing. Again, probably not for me. But some folks thrived on it. But you do end up looking for internships and work opportunities in the city that you go to school in, and DC doesn't have a lot going on for your average student.
The film department felt like a carousel at times. The older professors who were tenured seemed out of touch with the current scene; they had been tenured and working for the university for so long that the indie struggle seemed very much lost on them. Younger, adjunct professors were barely graduated from the same classes they were teaching, and could provide even less perspective. The boast of the film department is a two-time Oscar winner in sound; yet his classes are primarily a vehicle for him to talk about his experiences and his awards. He barely taught the class I took with him and though his anecdotes were amusing and at times insightful, it was certainly not worth more than just the check mark I received for the class.
In the end, I'll leave you with this: you get what you put in. I went to school with some amazingly talented people. Some people did great work while at school, some people did great work after school. Some people are still in DC and some are in NY or LA. Some are elsewhere. The most ambitious people have left DC. No school is a guarantee of success or failure, but if you have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish, then you can really tailor your school experience to your ambitions. And I think that's true for any (film) school experience. Good luck.