I studied in the MFA cine program for one year and deferred due to the corona virus, but decided not to return to the program, mainly due to disillusionment with the quality of the classes.
The first semester, everyone is required to take a class called "Story". To be blunt the class was kind of a joke. It involved reading stories like The Tell Tale Heart and the Oedipus myth, stories which basically every high school American is exposed to at some point. The homework was also pretty mind numbing and reminiscent of high school busy work, which makes you wonder why graduate students are being subjected to it. Furthermore, why are cine students forced to take an acting class their second year?
The only classes that I thought were useful were the ones specific to my discipline--cinematography. And that's the problem with Chapman's MFA program for production-- it should actually be a condensed two year degree like AFI. I would have loved to have taken all the cine classes, ignored the rest, and graduated much sooner and cheaper, but unfortunately that's the con of a curriculum that's predetermined.
Based on my experience of the program it's designed more for students who haven't had much prior production experience.
Unfortunately, I don't think Chapman does a very good job of preparing those students who do have less experience than others. The first semester cine students are required to make a project called a 3-2-1, yet are given pretty much zero instruction in the very basics of lighting. Two cine students dropped out right after the first semester because they realized it makes no sense to pay all that money for lessons that weren't even given. People go to film school to be taught and instructed in an organized way, not to figure everything out on their own. That's what YouTube is for. During the second semester, lighting was finally covered in more detail... after over 20K had already been spent by every student.
The philosophy at Chapman is actually that students are supposed to get most of their hands on practical knowledge by volunteering on student sets. Which is fine. That's why I dropped out. Because why pay money to work on sets when I can work on sets for free without paying? And that's the problem. The students I've worked under certainly know things that I've learned from, but there's no way of knowing what it is you don't know unless you actually have an experienced professor teaching you. Maybe more of that happens in the second year, but I didn't care to risk all that money to find out.
The second, and possibly most important, issue that I believe holds Chapman back is the quality of the students they admit. Networking is a huge part of film school, so if your classmates aren't that special, then you're in trouble. I'm not speaking about my fellow cine students, but mainly the quality of the directing students. Many seemed to have a working knowledge of cinema limited to Marvel and Christopher Nolan. Which I guess is fine if you want to try to make films like those. Others liked to spout trite and poorly reasoned regurgitations of the latest pop woke tropes, which I suppose is also fine if you want to direct Coke commercials. But if you want to make meaningful independent cinema... well, there weren't too many unique, truly authentic voices to be found in that bunch.
I know someone who attends AFI, and based on what I've heard the gulf between the quality of students at AFI and Chapman isn't very close. The resumes of the AFI students knock those of the Chapman students out of the park. Many have already shot, edited, or directed a feature, and many have legitimately impressive connections (connections are definitely not required to gain admission though). If you want to surround yourself with people very likely to be successful, you'll have a much better shot at AFI.
Demographically, most of the students in the whole graduate program (not just MFA cine) are white or international Chinese students. A very small percentage are black, and I'm not really sure what accounts for this disparity other than that Orange County itself has a very small black population, and black students probably prefer attending programs in LA where there is a much bigger local black population. The high number of international Chinese students makes networking somewhat difficult, as there can unfortunately be a bit of a language and cultural barrier. This group is kind of cliquey, probably because it streamlines things for them to work with those who speak the same native language. But they're also very good at connecting with fellow Chinese students at the other big schools like USC and AFI.
Honestly, I don't like referring to Chapman as a film school. They are currently phasing out all their film cameras, and much of the interest and excitement attending students have appears to be focused on digital TV production more than anything else. It is definitely not a cinema lover's school, although I was lucky to meet a few like minded people there. While I was disappointed overall, I'm glad I went for the one year I did. I learned some things I didn't know about cinematography before, and made some connections with people I will be working with in the future. But for those who want the best MFA experience, I suggest looking elsewhere.
As far as application details / materials are concerned, the following documents were part of submission:
- A Personal Statement
- Portfolio of a few works done till date
- A Photography Portfolio ( Optional)
- Link to a project that you have worked on, in any capacity (DoP / Director /...
London Film School - MA Filmmaking
Oct 15, 2020
Interview Notification Date
Nov 22, 2020
Nov 25, 2020
Decision Notification Date
Dec 15, 2020
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