It took me a while to write this review but when I saw there were none from current students I felt it was important to do so. I came to Feirstein two years ago because it was an exciting new program and it was half the price of most NY-based schools. I was looking forward to being part of a diverse group of students and being on a working studio lot. I had a background in the film industry but not in cinematography and was hopeful the next three years would prepare me for a career as a DP.
Firstly, I’d like to just say that the “only film school on a working lot” is a SCAM. You will never actually go on the lot. You will see all sorts of things happening beyond the gates but you will never be allowed through. The school does not facilitate any internships, tours, classes, mentorship programs, on the lot. Nobody from the lot comes to the school. So if that’s something that sounds enticing—it’s a literal scam.
Now, to the school itself: a few weeks into our first semester, the director of the school announced he was leaving. He had built the school up from the beginning and people were upset and surprised. He would only be replaced 2 years later, this past fall. So for two years our school did not have a director. It was a mess—nobody was handling larger issues at the institution and everyone in a leadership position constantly claimed it wasn’t their job to handle those issues.
As a DP in an MFA program, I, along with the rest of my cohort, was surprised to learn we weren’t taking any cinematography classes in the first semester. That got changed after we complained enough for the next year’s cohort.
In the spring semester, we finally got to take ONE practical cinematography course. This course ran concurrently with a workshop for directors in which the DPs from our class would shoot the scenes from the director’s workshop. But the classes were entirely separate so the DPs didn’t have any idea what we were shooting until pre-light the night before. During a pre-light session for one directing student’s class exercise shoot, a few DPs assigned to the camera crew for the exercise showed up one evening to see the student director and another student (a fellow director who was acting in the scene as a favor) blocking the scene. A few minutes into rehearsal, the male director told our classmate to remove her top and bra. She did. The camera team had no idea this was happening and immediately felt uncomfortable — however we were all under the impression that the director had cleared all this with the classmate, professor (who was not on the sound stage), and the administration. When a faculty member happened to walk in on the shoot, he shut it down and immediately reported it. The camera team was in shock to later find out none of it was sanctioned. The next day, I overheard the professor of the class making a joke about taking his clothes off. After bringing in the Dean of Brooklyn College for a meeting that week, we added a nudity and intimacy clause to the student safety rule book that hadn’t yet existed. The only reason this change was made was because a group of a few female students fought their asses off to get it done. The entire ordeal was traumatizing for the student and for the others who were present. These are the kinds of incidents that happen at a school that has no idea what the hell it’s doing.
In the second year, tension between the directors and the other disciplines were constantly being dealt with. The de-facto head of the cinematography department went on sabbatical that fall and nobody replaced her. So there was nobody looking out for the DPs. Due to the track system, a hierarchy exists at the school, in which directors rule all, and everyone else (screenwriters, DPs, editors) is there to “serve their vision.” The directors have incredible department heads that advocate for them. The DPs did not. Directors were continuously putting DPs in unsafe and uncomfortable situations and nobody had our back when we complained.
Due to no leadership at the school, the curriculum often made no sense. In the fall of our second year we had a new professor who kept teaching us basics we had already covered. When we reached out to him and politely informed him that we knew what he was teaching us already, he threw a tantrum. After that, he continued to behave inappropriately and immaturely in class and eventually, the entire cinematography cohort stopped attending class in protest. Finally, the interim director of the school promised us the professor would be fired. We showed up to the next class and he was there. When we asked the interim-director why, he said he was mistaken in how much power he had to fire professors.
In the 4 semesters I spent at Feirstein, I only had one class in which my work was critiqued. That was our first production class for our MOS films. At the end of the semester each 1st year student’s film is critiqued by faculty and although it’s a terrifying experience, it obviously makes you a better filmmaker. Since then, in all of my classes, I have never had my work critiqued. My classmates and I begged for it—we asked every professor for an end of the semester critique of our work and it never happened. What kind of film school doesn’t critique student’s work??
I’m only listing the most egregious issues that I faced in my two years at Feirstein. It has been a complete disaster from start to finish. I can tell you about a couple of great teachers and the incredible equipment room filled with the best gear. And I made friends who I know I can call on for help with any project I work on in the future. But honestly, none of those things were worth the constant stress of being a student there. The student body is incredibly diverse and hardworking and talented. However I can only speak for the cinematography track and that has been a train wreck of an experience for me, and I know that sentiment is shared by many in my cohort. We have not and did not get the attention and eduction we paid for. That’s why I’m leaving and starting over at NYU. I’m so lucky to have that opportunity and the resources to do so. I can only hope that Feirstein gets better with time.
I had a great time here but that was back in the late 90s
Passionate Student Body
Professors are also working in the industry
24/7 access to Post Production (You're gonna need it)
Equipment and stock
A lot of white guys (maybe its different now)
I loved NYU. I was a pre-med student who transferred in 1999 and graduated 2001. I received two scholarships, multiple grants and loans. They had a Director's Series -- where a director would come in and talk about their movie before it was released (i.e. Wes Anderson and Bill Murray came in to talk about Rushmore), student film festivals, 24/7 editing when finals and midterms were looming. I'm friends with many of my classmates today and majority of us are working in the industry. Having the NYU name definitely helps, especially if an alumni in the industry discovers your commonality. It also prepared me for what the industry would be like -- half of them white guys bossing you around, the other half who'll help you out if you have something that's going to help them first. My classmates were similar (only four women in my transfer class) but I don't blame them, it's what was taught. I highly suggest joining the clubs, the work-study was easy (I worked on the 12th floor for the Television Studios for Koqui and the 3rd floor for Drama) and the internships were amazing. My professors cared about my work and were/are working in the industry. My advisor was an editor for Spike Lee and now does documentaries for HBO. Definitely good for the name, better for the friendships and relationships you create and maintain for the next 20 years.
Screenwriting Program Review by a Second Year Student
Variety of Courses
Graduate Teaching Instructor Opportunities
Focused on Storytelling at it’s core
No overlap with production prescribed into curriculum
Conflicting Perspectives from Faculty
Current student in the screenwriting MFA program at BU.
There’s a lot to love in this program, I think overall it is one of the more underrated screenwriting programs in the nation, and I don’t say that because I go here, or maybe I do . Biases aside, the course work is really great, and it’s all done within very intimate settings. The cohort of the program is by design small, with the department capping the program at 12 students each year. As a prospective student, this does make your chances of getting into the program that much harder, but as an admitted student, trust me when I say it really helps. The small class sizes allow for you to really get to know your peers and their style of writing, to the point where you can easily recognize someone’s story and their voice, even if you didn’t know it was their piece. Beyond that, the course work is challenging, but it does expand upon your abilities as a writer, and the focus on storytelling not only helps your screenwriting, but fiction too if you are also versed in that.
Downsides to the program, the faculty has varying opinions on a number of different screenplay formatting rules, and storytelling principles. It leads to a confusing take on what should be an educational experience. You find yourself wondering how you should write depending on what a particular Professor is looking for. That being said, different perspectives truly help educate, so while it may be confusing at times, I think the overall effect of these different perspectives is a positive one.
Industry connections, job opportunities, professional training, abundance of sets, equipment, sound stages
Can be pretentious
I started my USC adventure as a Theatre major. I quickly discovered that I needed to change paths, and film had always been of interest. I thought to myself, what better place to pursue film than USC? I’m grateful that in many ways that assumption was proved correct. Though I was not a production major - I was Cinema and Media Studies - I did get to spend a lot of time with students, faculty, and alumni from all of the programs USC offers. What a diverse and wonderful group of people! It’s a difficult program to critique and review because so much of it depends on one’s own drive, desires, and expectations. I wasn’t anticipating anything in particular, had never taken a film class, and was immediately blown away by the theaters, the sound stages, the access they grant to top notch equipment, and the faculty’s shared interest in providing the best education possible for their students. That being said, there are certainly a few things to take into consideration. USC prides itself on being the ‘best’ film school in the country. Are they? I can’t say definitively yes or no, but they certainly believe themself to be. That kind of attitude can be a bit off-putting and intimidating at times. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t students and faculty members who carried themselves as ‘better than’ simply because they were apart of this institutions film program. Thankfully this was not a majority, however, I encountered that type of character enough for it to make a lasting impression. USC is a very privileged place, it’s also an incredibly expensive one. That’s another area to consider. I never needed to apply for scholarships so I cannot speak on their implementation and how helpful they are, I do recognize that USC is one of the more expensive undergraduate colleges and that shouldn’t be forgotten. In regards to my program and what separated it from the Production BFA, the biggest difference would be the freedom to decide what courses and direction you’d like to take. Cinema Media Studies contains numerous fields of requirement but offers multiple different courses that will fulfill those areas. The BFA in production, however, is much a stricter schedule in which you’ll be attending a very structured curriculum with your designated cohort. The benefits of that being you get to experience everything together with a small group of people who you’ll spend your entire career at USC working with. That forms strong and indelible bonds that replicate those in the professional world. It also means if there’s friction, unfortunately it’ll just have to be dealt with and endured. Cinema Media Studies consists predominantly of lectures, however, as an SCA student you’ll be granted to take screenwriting courses, production courses, and a myriad of others. Though on set experience was not the main focal point, there were plenty of opportunities and courses to get it. Should you find yourself wanting more, SCA offers the chance to apply to the BFA program even after declaring a major and being admitted. I believe the Production BFA is more helpful in terms of attaining professional-world experiences and learning the industry. Since Production majors spend every weekend writing shorts, on set, editing, and switching positions throughout the semester, it’s a great microcosm of what to expect after graduation. You will learn every single role on a film set, and chances are you will fulfill every role at one point or another. You’ll also be able to apply for thesis projects as an upperclassman which are then premiered in a wonderful theater open to the public. Cinema Media Studies doesn’t have that same kind of exposure, nor does it replicate professional circumstances. It’s more focused on the history of film, how film has evolved globally, the iconographies of different eras, and how to ’properly’ read a film. Any more experience is up to the undergraduate themselves to seek out. All of that being said, simply by being an SCA student numerous internship opportunities will arise. They won’t be handed to you for merely being an SCA student, but there is a weight to that title that provokes the image of a certain type of character who is diligent, knowledgeable, and always up to the task. Balancing internships and classwork, though challenging, never felt like too much even in the semesters I was taking twenty plus units. USC also boasts a tremendous alumni network from Kevin Feige, and George Lucas to Judd Apatow and Robert Zemeckis. Though it’s not the most pleasant thing to admit, names like that help. People in the industry are familiar with SCA and the alumni network is full of impressive artists who are constantly working and looking to help out fellow Trojans. All in all I greatly enjoyed my time at USC and SCA. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It was my dream school, and ended up becoming a reality that I truly couldn’t have anticipated. I strongly recommend it, despite knowing it might not be for everyone. Fight on.
Interview was with three faculty members, was very personal and lasted over 30 minutes, I had time to ask all my questions. Very supportive and responsive faculty. Not the most impressive facilities for those interested in more traditional filmmaking, but good resources for installation and...