Theory that educates you outside of white male Hollywood
Dynamic range of courses
Did I mention the faculty and professors
San Francisco's lack of affordability for housing
Facilities being a touch outdated (it is a CSU)
**I will preface this review with the caveat that I entered in the fall of 2019 and finished in spring 2021, that was my choice, many students deferred because of COVID-19, but my review still stands with a high regard of this film school despite COVID-19.
My faith and trust in this film program solely lies in the faculty and staff and their dedication to helping the students, especially the undergrad seniors, try to finish out their final year with some work to show for their time at SFSU despite a university that completely denied our access to equipment, facilities, and classes. I'm not sure how other people's experiences were in film school around the country or even in other parts of California during the beginning and height of the pandemic, but the Bay Area was an incredibly strict and restrictive area for trying to control COVID. This isn't me complaining about this, but giving context as to the hurdles that myself and fellow classmates had to deal with in order to have a fraction of the education we were still paying for and were promised. My issue was that there was no give, for many months, on the school's allowance for undergrad film students to have access to equipment because it would encourage filmmaking, which encourages gathering, even though we were completely remote by March 2020. It never sat right with me, but thankfully the professors and staff of the Cinema program at SFSU fought for us constantly, and for that I will always be grateful because the school gave in and allowed certain classes to resume (remote) and allowed those classes access to equipment. If it weren't for them I wouldn't have and award winning and festival presented short film under my belt.
Now as far as the program goes, yes, it is a state school so a lot of emphasis on writing and theory is necessary to graduate, but during a normal school year you have access to taking production classes that fit whatever tract you are pursuing: if you want to be a director there is Directing Actors, Visual Directing, Advanced Fiction Filmmaking, etc. screenwriters can choose from Adapting the Screenplay, Writing for Short Films, Feature Screenplay, etc. editors have multiple classes to choose from for editing, there are also sound classes a plenty, not to mention the great faculty that have experience and classes for experimental filmmaking.
SFSU also boasts a robust variety of faculty and professors, some well known filmmakers have worked there (Cheryl Dunye worked there for years before going back to working in the industry) and speaking of which SFSU is the type of school where you'll learn who Cheryl Dunye is, or Julie Dash, or Patricia Cardoso, or Charles Burnett, etc. and their contributions to film and an approach that may be more relatable to a diverse body of student filmmakers that aren't just young white men. Queer cinema and studies is also largely supported and backed by amazing faculty who work in the Bay Area and support the queer community within that work. The take away for me as a black woman that went to this school was that they put an emphasis and importance on educated well-rounded filmmakers to know history that isn't just Scorsese, Coppola, Howard, or Spielberg. It's always why it's quite anti-Hollywood because the film history is rooted in showing the flaws of Hollywood from the perspective of who history has notoriously left out in this country. This shouldn't be revolutionary, but required knowledge. Also if you want a Cinema and Media Studies background, the variety of courses you can choose from are very impressive.
Unfortunately, the equipment and facilities are a little dated, but they have stepped up in buying newer cameras and they try their best, again it's a state funded film program in the most expensive city in the state. Transportation can be tricky, especially if you don't live in San Francisco, mainly because the school is on the outer edge of the city. Driving and finding parking can be a pain but it is doable. Getting to the school through public transportation is also a pain but the school provides you with a discounted Clipper card for BART and SF Muni, and there are buses dedicated to dropping you off at campus from Daly City BART the are free, it's just a long commute. And yes, San Francisco is very expensive, I couldn't imagine being 18 and trying to move here, so if you can get campus housing your first year and meet people to live with later in something affordable I wish you all the best. SF and the Bay is very unique and special though, and many students gravitate here because there are communities that are fully supported here more than other parts of the state and country and you can't really put a price or measure on that. The career assistance post-graduation is hard for me to navigate or comment on because they offer the CSU Media Alliance and other apps for jobs, but the industry in the Bay Area is very limited but not impossible, it just depends on what you want to do. I did get an internship my senior year with a company based in L.A. but that was also something that could happen because of the pandemic. If you have a true desire/tract in something and you become close enough with any of those professors, keep in good contact with them because I've seen them help many students with jobs or opportunities in the Bay Area and L.A.
If you're looking for an inexpensive program that can help you figure out what direction in film you would like to take, or a program that offers a variety of classes that help you focus on your specific tract in filmmaking, SFSU is a great pick. You'll be supported in any community you identify with and can feel comfortable knowing you're in a program at a school that understands how far the industry still needs to go but will show you who has helped push the industry forward, and it doesn't have to be in the Hollywood system.
Also something that seems to be important is that they do not take any ownership of the work you do. They also have a fairly competitive school film festival every year highlighting all the work from students selected in a very diverse film festival with decent prizes.
If you want a school where you're touching a camera immediately your freshman year and never stop, this might not be the school for you. If you want the hands on experience of film school while also learning a true history of American and world film and watching films you may not ever see in other programs down south, this may be a great choice for you.
For a while, SFSU sat on the Hollywood Reporter's Top 25 Film Schools hovering around 20 to getting knocked off in 2021. It was the only CSU -- CSUN recently joining the ranks -- on the list for a longtime, making it the most prestigious yet cheapest 4-year university option on the list. This is a public school of cinema over 40 years old and while it has plenty of character developed over that time, the facade remains the same.
Two things for all prospective undergrads: this is a bachelor of arts program and a hybrid film program. The former means you will have to complete GE requirements like any major at SFSU -- every UC and CSU will require GE's; it is part of your degree and you just have to accept it. Unless you transfer or have preexisting credits, you will not start the film program until your sophomore year, where you can only take the CINE 200 pre-requisites (Intro to Filmmaking + Lab, Intro to Cinema Studies, & Film History I & II). That brings in the latter: this is a hybrid program and the faculty stress the importance of learning theory as much as learning production. You're not watching Tarantino or Scorsese or Coppola. The 400 Blows, Do the Right Thing, and La Jetée are the building blocks, and from there you dive into Ingmar Bergman, Park Chan Wok, and Lucrecia Martel. That's 3 theory classes and only 2 production classes your sophomore year -- and you don't even get to rewatch Pulp Fiction?! The imbalance of classes and lack of classic film study causes many to drop off/transfer halfway through their B.A., but the diverse selection of films will build your perspective and strengthen your filmmaking abilities -- just know this is what you're signing up for beforehand.
After your pre-requisites, you will be able to take upper-division film courses. There are more theory requirements: a graduate writing requirement (GWAR), the critical studies course + seminar, and 3 film theory classes of your choice. Yes, it is a lot of theory. If you know your way around the class schedule portal, you will still fit in plenty of production. The highlights include 16mm cinematography -- one of the most hands on classes and allows you to work with ARRI super 16mm cameras; projects in film editing -- Professor Pat Jackson is a legend in her craft and shows editing classes aren't the same as YouTube tutorials; and producing and financing films -- Professor Brian Benson runs a yearlong bootcamp in producing films and assures you exactly why you went to film school. The main two problems with the production courses are the limited tracks and antiquated equipment. 16mm & digital are the only two cinematography courses offered by the school -- an advanced lighting technique class might pop up a semester if they have the faculty. There are no tracks that you can follow; you are receiving a general film degree in production and theory (B.A. in cinema.) The thesis program is 36 students per year... (18 in the yearlong program and 18 in the spring semester program). Barely any students graduate with a thesis film unless you are one of these 36 or you actively shoot a thesis film outside of class time. Second, the equipment is fine -- just fine. The C-100's work great for any class project, but you can only check out equipment if you are in a production class. Do not be expecting to check out equipment your freshman year. Sharegrid will be where you rent the majority of your equipment from. After completing all of your requirements and taking enough production courses, you will have earned your degree.
While this review is quite expository, I had a positive and excellent time at this school, so here are some straight up pros. San Francisco... You are in one of the most beautiful cities in the world -- a city which allows students to permit locations around town for free. On top of this, the program itself is $7,000 (IN-STATE) a year and features no supplemental application, making this an easy backup school since no extra work is required. Plus, you own all films and scripts produced in class -- a hidden caveat to many of the large private film universities around the US. This school's emphasis on diversity and fringe filmmakers will broaden and strengthen your creative ability and knowledge.
In conclusion, SFSU School of Cinema has been treated as the public-west coast version of NYU and that is not too far off from the truth. A visuals over substance school whose out-of date facilities can set back the often incredible faculty and differing perspectives passing through. Most of you who end up going to SFSU will have no other options -- often due to cost of tuition. If you go here, do not worry. You will find the right group of filmmakers and you will make the most out of your CSU-budgeted public program. It really is the most fixer upper of all the film schools, so just have fun while you're there.
Anonymous is undecided about recommending this film school
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