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I attended this summer program in 2019. I wanted to try out directing in an environment where I would get feedback on my work and where I could feel safe trying out things -- ie: a school environment. But I wasn't ready to commit to an MFA, having only ever co-directed one short film once.
On the other hand, I did have quite a bit of film experience already, having worked camera on small shoots, script supervised a feature and a few shorts, and worked as a Post PA and Assistant Editor on big budget, union shows. I knew my way around a set, I just had not directed.
Most summer programs take you through the filmmaking process once through, from script to final edit, but this programs lets you do it three times: once with a group-developed, almost improvised scene/short; once with your own silent scene/short; and finally with your own dialog scene/short. That's a huge advantage, because you get to learn from your mistakes and put the new knowledge into action immediately. And you get to try different things.
The lead instructor -- Udayan Prasad -- is fantastic. He's a great working director who clearly loves teaching and has lots of experience as a teacher and on set. He doesn't condescend, he gives you honest feedback, he is never rude, he doesn't play favorites.
The class has 12 students and you all crew each others simple shoots and exercises at first, with additional help of TAs. Editors are provided for all exercises, mostly MA students -- I thought our editors were great. For your final project, professional actors, a DP, and a sound recordist come in to work on your piece. And they are indeed pros, I was delighted by the quality of the people who agreed to be in our little school projects. A real treat.
You'll have multiple classes on acting and directing actors. You'll also have a class on coverage and camera angles; classes on storytelling, on POV.
You will also have sessions with other professionals: Screenwriter, Cinematographer, Editor, Production Designer, Composer/Sound Mixer. Everyone was really solid, caring, knew their stuff backwards and forwards, was seasoned. The Screenwriting, Cinematography, and Editing instructors stick around for your film projects to give insight as you work on them and feedback once you present the final. Their involvement is really great.
Our class was maybe 1/3 people working in the film industry already, many others currently or recently in film school, and a few who had not studied film or worked in it, but were interested in pivoting into film / directing. Ages from 21 to 42 I think. Many different backgrounds and experience levels and I think we all got a lot out of it. This may be the rare class that serves experienced people as well as novices.
Having said that, if you have already directed a few short films, feel comfortable working with actors, and understand the process from idea to script to casting to shoot to edit, then this may not be as useful. Are Udayan's insights about story really good? Yeah they are! But if you have made a bunch of shorts already, those insights alone may not be worth the price.
Which brings me to the one con: It is an expensive course. I had plenty of savings and I decided to dedicated a calculated chunk of them to this. When you add cost of airfare to/from London, housing, and food (none of which are included in tuition), it gets extra expensive. Tuition, airfare & local transport, lodging (with an extra week), food (extra week), and incidentals came just under US$9,000. You could take the same budget and make a short film on your own. I wanted the instruction, so I chose this, but I think finances should be taken into account before committing to an expensive 3-week course like this one.
I'm glad I took this class. I learned I do love directing, I love being on set with actors, and I have a long way to go before I'm really really good. I also learned to look at film in a different way, to question its visual and aural choices more. Finally, I learned how much I love the scripting part of it and am now applying to Screenwriting MFAs. For me, this course served its purpose and then some.
*Please take this with a grain of salt, as I went to NU over a decade ago. While I was there:
Classes in film theory and screenwriting were great
Professors were also good and caring
The major was called Radio/TV/Film and offered various certificates (for example, in Sound Design) - but it was quite difficult to achieve certificates in your 4 years there because not all courses were always offered
Extensive film "cage" where you could rent out equipment fairly regularly
Extracurriculars / few film grants for film students felt very "insider-y" and at times nepotistic (upper classmen who ran and allotted student film grants seemed very much to just give it to underclassmen "friends")
Not much diversity in the student body or in the major
Didn't particularly feel prepared for post-graduation by the School of Communications or the university
Major itself does not have much of a technical / production focus. I would say it leaned more toward film theory/media studies and screenwriting.
I did have a good experience with their Financial Aid, which made it possible for me to attend an otherwise very expensive school. It is a very high academically achieving student body, so if you want to explore another double major, etc. in addition to a film degree, this would be a great school to attend and learn. I'd caution though that it might be difficult to get a job in the film/tv industries unless you can snag internships in LA/NY during the summers (also very costly), because the School of Comms doesn't necessarily prepare you very well for a post-grad professional career. Ultimately, your journey is very much up to you and what you make of your time while in school and the years following.
I was enrolled in the 1-year Direction certificate course in the TV wing in the session 2018-19. Following are the pros and cons that I observed/experienced:
1. Huge and Active Alumni Network.
FTII alumni are everywhere, from all the film industries to advertising, to documentary films, to government film organizations. It is often extremely easy to connect to them too. The departments often call them over for workshops and sessions. I had the privilege to attend an Acting session by Vinay Pathak, Directing ground realities by Abhishek Chaubey, Screenplay writing by Kiran Yadnyopavit, Non-Fiction Films by Sankalp Meshram, Documentary filmmaking by Jasmine Kaur and Avinash Roy, Dialogue writing by Manasvi Sharma, Camera Lensing by Tribhuvan Babu, all in the span of a year. And apart from these, so many of them are just often visiting/hanging out at the campus.
2. NFAI in close proximity, Daily Screenings.
At FTII, daily screenings are a ritual. You don't miss it. Nobody misses it. National Film Archive of India happens to be at a stone's throw from the campus and almost half of the screenings happen there, the other half at the Main theatre on the campus. Films range from Satyajit Ray's classics to contemporary indie, to world classics, to French new wave, to week-long Asian cinema screenings, to Indian regional gems, to Irani cinema followed by long discussions, and documentaries that at times end up brewing political trouble.
Oh and FTII lot takes screenings very seriously, no phones, no murmurs, no food inside the theatre. You'll be asked to leave if you don't abide by the rules.
3. Award-winning films and filmmakers.
Nearly every year FTII films win at the National Film Awards, get shown at numerous international film festivals, and Cannes' student film winner this year, in 2020 is an FTII production called CatDog.
4. Extremely affordable.
For an Indian national, you pay INR 1.5 lacs, which frankly, is peanuts as compared to other film schools in the country. The amount covers your tuition fee and hostel fee. For foreign nationals, the price is higher but still remains on the lower end when compared to other CILECT film schools. Technically your projects are also financed from the same amount.
You live in the cultural capital of Maharashtra, in the greenest and one of the most beautiful parts of the city. The city itself happens to be an education hub, so hope to meet people from almost all states, if not also countries. Extremely safe, quite cheap to live in too. A lot to explore in every way possible.
1. Slow, very slow.
FTII comes under the IB Ministry of the Government of India. Every purchase/change/decision has to be approved by the ministry before it is acted upon. Too much red tape to make sense of. A certain set of equipment requested by a certain batch was actually made available in the next year. Improper scheduling of course exercises often stretches them for months more than they were supposed to be.
2. Lack of a formal work/placement division
Because of the alumni network and the brand that FTII is, in the Indian film scenario, work is never impossible to find. It however can be very tough if you're not very good at marketing yourself. Lack of a formal hiring situation means that it's the word of mouth that gets or doesn't get you any work.
3. Interdepartmental issues.
A lot of issues between the TV and Film departments at administrative levels and often tangle things up.
4. Fitting in
You might feel out of place if you haven't mugged up every single detail about every single critically acclaimed film in the world and can't drop names. I did, so did a lot of other classmates who had grown up on a steady diet of commercial films. However, a lot of times, people are quite literally just dropping names, and know nothing. At others, the discussion will open the door to new films.
4/5, recommended if you get through, because hey, the intake is 10 per course, with a rigorous week-long orientation and interview session. However, if you're an Indian national, definitely explore the place, go talk to existing students, get an idea of how the place functions (also because it has a very set way of working and you either fit in or you don't), and then decide if it is the place for you or not. Explore your options at SRFTI too.
Great instructors who actually care about you and your work!
As an undergrad, you can work closely with MFA students and MFA projects.
No tracks, so choose classes as you wish/interest
Plenty of opportunities to get on set (student sets, MFA sets, TSTV, Women in Film, DKA, etc.)
SXSW and Austin Film Festival (the Screenwriter's festival) are home to Austin, TX!
You own your projects
Some notable alumni but nothing compared to the numbers of USC/AFI/NYU
Matthew McConaughey's Script to Screen class
Very affordable compared to other top film schools
Although equipment is good, during peak shooting times it's difficult to get the best equipment. (Plan ahead!)
Good internships are lacking. You should probably spend your summer interning in LA/NY, if you can.
Sometimes it's hard to get into the classes you want/need.
I would say overall UT's film school is a great choice! It is rated #11 on THR's Top Film School List in the U.S. Sure it's nowhere near LA or NY but it's a great place to be. Some perks include Austin being home to SXSW, Austin Film Festival, and ATX Television Festival. These festivals are great to have in your backyard. The first two are probably the better internships to land in Austin that are film-related (I don't know about ATX).
As an undergrad, your first four (Lower Level) classes in the major are media studies based. The last of these four allows you to get your hands on equipment for the first time. So keep in mind: just because you're in a Lower Level course doesn't mean you can't go find opportunities to hop on set --> upperclassmen sets, TSTV, etc. The experience you have is what you make of it.
After completing your Lower Level courses, you are free to take almost any Upper Level or production courses (some have pre-reqs). UT has no specific tracks, so you can take classes in whatever you're interested in.
I was not a grad student but I worked on many grad sets and many of the students are your TA's. Grad cohorts are usually 12 students. For grad students, in your first year you make a short documentary (KA) your first semester, and a short narrative (KB) in your second semester. Your second year is devoted to your pre-thesis. Your third year is spent working on your thesis. Many grad films are selected for regional film festivals and even some more highly regarded film fests.
Facilities-wise: UT has five large soundstages, a few editing labs, good but sometimes older equipment to checkout, nice looking classrooms and lecture halls.
In terms of finding talent/actors, you might be a bit limited compared to LA or NYC. However, you can still find good talent from Austin, Dallas, and Houston area. UT has a great reputation in Austin for upholding professional sets. We are taught to run our sets like the unions but without actually being union-sanctioned.
UT has opportunities to study "abroad" in LA and NY with their UTLA and UTNYC programs!
The only issues I find with UT are lack of equipment during peak shooting times. You really need to plan ahead. Spring semester is usually hectic because it's when undergrad thesis films shoot. Also, some of the equipment might seem a bit outdated, specifically some of the cameras available. The higher end cameras are typically reserved for grad students. There are a couple rental houses in Austin if you want to pay for other equipment. Also, the editing labs are always full in the last two months of the semester. Everyone is trying to finish up their final projects. But you can also edit on your own laptop if you wish.
Okay now that you've read to the end: I'll spill on Matthew McConaughey's class. It is a highly competitive class, seniors and juniors (if they're lucky) usually. It is primarily taught by a UT instructor with an occasional appearance from Matthew himself (if his schedule allows). You sign multiple NDAs because the materials you study are actual materials from the films that Matthew has been in. Usually the films are current. This is a class that bridges the stuff you learn in class to practical, real world filmmaking. It's really cool! Usually it's marketed to students who want to be producers but I think it's helpful for any student who's interested.
Complete program, value, great professors, always stuff to do, responsiveness
Covid times not the schools fault
Columbia College Chicago is not only one of America's best film schools it is also one of the most affordable. The program is advertised as 2 years online but can be as long as you want it to be. They respect storytelling above all else and are extremely supportive. The communication with the head of the program is also really strong and if somebody doesn't have an answer for you they will quickly direct you to the right place. I have yet to step foot on campus because of covid but my learning has not been hindered. Once again the affordability is king for CCC if you look at The Hollywood Reporter best film school list CCC is a fraction of the cost compared to the other top film schools. I cant imagine you get a better education elsewhere and if you do it's not by a wide enough margin to make up the cost difference. Trying to find the right grad school is a near impossible task with the amount of options available, I am lucky I my place and if you attend I'm sure you'll feel the same.
Came in as both a transfer and commuter, so my experience was really lessened by that fact.
Your time and success here is really up to you. Students, in my experience, are given a good amount of independence to do whatever they want. This lets driven students excel, but on the flip side the ones that are less so are free to drag everyone else in the group down (and all film stuff is group work).
Most professors are eccentrics. That has its ups and downs when it comes to classroom learning; but at the very least they're all good and understanding people who want to see their students succeed.
I highly recommend dorming and it is super important you get to know your classmates (especially those in other Comm Media Majors like acting). Get involved with as many student productions as you can!
The required internship program at the end is okay too. Once again, you need to push and advocate for yourself to get into a good internship.
Knowledgeable Instructors (Work/worked in the Industry. Some also teach at NYU Tisch)
Poor On-Campus Amenities/Campus Is Aging Poorly
I want to start off by mentioning that I came to Purchase as a transfer student from another liberal arts college and screenwriting program. This program is very much a "you get what you put in" deal. I was a student who put my all into the program, and in return I felt like I graduated with an excellent amount of knowledge in screenwriting and playwriting.
The professors are really knowledgeable and most still work in the industry. The head of the program, along with all of the professors and instructors, actually care about you as an individual. They gave great feedback and didn't mind staying after class to talk when I had questions, or just wanted advice, on anything from relevant work to your career outside of the school. They offer a variety of electives to choose from outside of the required courses, such as Television Writing, Bookwriting for the Musical, and Documentary Writing. They do work you quite a bit, helping you build from ten page screenplays in Screenwriting I to 30 page in Screenwriting II and 60 page screenplays in Screenwriting III. In your final year, you write a thesis of either a full-length play or a feature length screenplay that has to be approved and graded for you to graduate, but I've never heard of someone not finishing it.
The school itself is kind of falling apart, but they did just put in a new student dorm. I didn't live in it, so I can't review it, but I think it was generally well-liked. They also just put in a new Film & Theatre Building that looks great. I didn't get to have any classes in it because I was in my last semester, but it is brand new! There's a Starbucks on campus that takes meal swipes, three other different places to get food from with meal swipes or cash. They have dorms that accommodate different needs and financial abilities. It's also located right next to the Connecticut/New York border, so sometimes it feels like you're in the middle of nowhere. The school offers free shuttle buses daily, at different times (some days it was once an hour, others it was once every twenty minutes. I forgot the actual schedule.) that takes you to the nearest city of White Plains. There's malls, grocery shopping, a Target, and a train station that gets you to Grand Central in Manhattan.
There's plenty of internship opportunities in Manhattan if you want to do that commute once or twice a week. I did it in my senior year and I think the experience was worth it. I would just recommend that you intern somewhere in Midtown. I interned in Soho and it made my commute longer. Good news is you can work on scripts while riding from GC to White Plains. They also have Purchase Television on campus where you can intern. It's pretty laid back depending on who runs it. I think you have to be a sophomore or junior to receive credit from it.
All in all, the quality of my education was excellent. If you're looking for a cheaper alternative to NYU, or are a NYS resident, you should consider this program. Put your all into it, and think wide open!