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.
Submitted one minute before the deadline (😬) but it wouldn't accept my link to my video submission. I emailed immediately after and sent the link along with my official transcript as they had also mentioned to email, and they messaged back the next day or so saying they opened my application...