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Analysis of top Film School Graduate programs - Pros and Cons

Discussion in 'Graduate Film School Discussions' started by Sachin Dheeraj, Mar 27, 2018.

  1. Sachin Dheeraj

    Sachin Dheeraj Member

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    I thought I'll just post what I've been thinking. I've basically written down some pros and cons of schools that I've been admitted to. Maybe it'll help me/others in some way. Disclaimer - This is just based on my research by speaking to current students and alumni from each schools. But correct me if I'm wrong. Also feel free to add more schools based on your research.

    USC MFA in Film/ TV Production

    Pros:
    1. Really strong alumni network.
    2. Reputation and Prestige (World renowned).
    3. Opportunities to pitch to studio executives.
    4. Job opportunities/internships other than DP or directing in Hollywood.
    5. Surrounded by faculty who currently work in Hollywood.
    6. Student assistantships with hourly pay with sign on bonus of up to 5k.
    7. Scholarship opportunities for students who get their 1st or 2nd year films into good film festivals.
    Cons:
    1. Tuition fee: ~40k/annum ( total cost for 3 years might extend up to 200k because of self-funded films).
    2. Self-funded films except for 546 course (top 10 students of 60). Thesis is also self-funded.
    3. Can make only one top tier film festival worth movie in 546 course as a director (Unless you self-fund the films you make in intermediate directing, directing techniques, advanced directing or making media for social change courses).
    4. International students should be prepared to go back if they do not get their movies into top tier film festivals (which makes you eligible for O1 visa : click here for more details).
    5. No high end equipment for directing courses other than thesis or a 546.
    Bottom line: Tons of opportunities to work in Hollywood but may be not as a DP or a Director (Unless you're a Ryan Coogler :D).

    UT Austin MFA in Film & Media Production

    Pros:
    1. Affordable tuition compared to other schools. ~9k for Texas residents and ~18k for out of state, per annum
    2. Amazing TA opportunities guaranteed to almost every MFA student. Benefits: Resident tuition qualification, Free medical insurance, 6k stipend per semester, $1892 tuition reduction per semester (paying ~6k for 2nd year and ~3k for 3rd year)
    3. Great faculty, also great for exploring Documentary film making.
    4. Film funding - 1k for pre-thesis film, 7k for thesis film (Moody Innovation Labs).
    5. You get a shot at making 2 top tier festival worthy films.
    6. Austin - home to 3 major film festivals.
    7. Higher chance of your film getting into SXSW.
    8. Great program if you also want to settle down as a professor.
    9. Opportunities for outside fellowships up to 28k.
    Cons:
    1. Not a lot of opportunities to work in Hollywood.
    2. Weaker alumni network when compared to the high ranked schools.
    3. International students should be prepared to go back if they do not get their movies into top tier film festivals (which makes you eligible for O1 visa : click here for more details). But you can go back without any financial obligations.
    4. It is not LA.
    Bottom line: A great inexpensive program if you are fine with being in a small, close-knit filmmaking community. A great deal, overall.
     
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  2. Chris W

    Chris W Get Busy Living Staff Member

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  3. Shuyao Chen

    Shuyao Chen Member

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    Are there more reviews on more schools?
     
  4. Chris W

    Chris W Get Busy Living Staff Member

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  5. Sachin Dheeraj

    Sachin Dheeraj Member

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  6. sharkb8

    sharkb8 iAmB84AshRk

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    Great reviews! Very informative thank you. I had previously written off Texas from my consideration, but as you laid it out, this school makes so much sense from a financial perspective. I have a couple follow up questions based on that.

    1. At what point do the TA opportunities begin? As in, do incoming MFA students get an immediate position as a TA? You say that that brings tuition down to Resident Tuition Qualification, so the first year cost would be $9K + living expenses?
    2. There's a $6K stipend per semester? or per year? If it's per semester, doesn't that mean they'd actually be paying you more than you're spending in tuition?
    3. What are the expected hours for a TA? Could a Texas MFA student realistically have a side job as well, or will studies + TA'ing take up all of their time?
    4. You said that there's a higher chance of a Texas student's work getting into SXSW. That would really be cool, but I'm wondering how that works. What makes them have a higher chance of getting in?
    5. Do MFA students often come out of the program and immediately settle in as a professor? You said it's a great program for that, so I'm curious how that works out compared to other universities.

    What really interests me about your post though, is the breakdown of finances. Correct me if I'm wrong, but from your post, this is how I see tuition working out.

    So typically, an out of state MFA student would pay $18,000 in year 1, then apply for state residency and pay $9,600 in years 2 and 3, for a total cost of $37,200. That total over 3 years is less than the cost of one year of study at most of the other top programs around the country. But you're saying we can break that number even further down.

    If an MFA student gets a (nearly guaranteed) TA position in year 1, that would make them qualify for resident tuition, which means you shave off $8,400 in year 1. It also means you get a $6,000 stipend per semester, so that would equate to $36,000 over 3 years, assuming you work 2 semesters each year.

    In addition, the cost of tuition would go down by $1,892 for every semester you work as a TA. I'll just round the numbers to the 6K and 3K numbers, so that would mean tuition is $9,000 in year 1, $6,000 in year 2, and $3,000 in year 3.

    Total cost of tuition: $18,000
    Total amount of stipend: $36,000.

    You've literally been paid $18,000 to get an MFA.

    The Cost of Living is also cheaper in Texas than it would be in New York or Los Angeles, but it's still quite a big expense. UT estimates $25,000 in room and board per year. So you're still gonna come out with about $57,000 in debt, but a side job during school and/or over summer will help cut into that, and even without the side jobs, $57K is still a significantly better number than the $150,000+ you'd be saddled with at a USC, NYU, or Columbia.

    Are my numbers lining up right? Or did I miss something? Because if I'm seeing this correctly, you may have convinced me to put Texas at the top of my list.
     
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  7. Sachin Dheeraj

    Sachin Dheeraj Member

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    Hello @sharkb8! Yes, I think you're right in most parts. But let me go through each question and try to answer to the best of my knowledge.

    1. TA opportunities will be provided to you in your 2nd and 3rd years. But you need to have good academic progress (min GPA 3.0). So incoming MFA students will have to PAY first year tuition (Approx 18k for out-of-state).

    2. It's $6k per semester. That information was provided to me by the graduate coordinator so I'm assuming it's accurate. And yes, we'll be earning way more than what we pay.

    3. From what I heard TA's job is pretty intense. In some cases you're responsible to literally teach a whole course to the undergrads throughout the semester. I'm guessing that's why you have a lot of TA benefits. So if you're a TA, having a side job is not recommended as you also need to concentrate on your ongoing classes.

    4. So UTA has this tie-up with SXSW where they showcase student films in a separate category called "Denius Student Showcase". For more info you can refer to SXSW 2018 Schedule. And I heard sometimes it gets really competitive to put your film there.

    5. This I think I partially covered in point #3. You will have the opportunity to serve as a Teaching Assistant for 2 years straight. With this you'll gain tremendous amount of teaching experience (especially if you're selected to teach the whole course rather than assisting a faculty). So this gives you an upper hand when you apply later for professor jobs. I don't think you'll get this opportunity in any other school. And most of UTA alumni do settle down as Professors to get stable income (Example - Deepak Chetty: Deepak Chetty, Annie Silverstein: About).

    Overall, if you're thinking financially, I think nothing beats UT Austin.

    But again, it also has some downsides from my personal standpoint. For a person who wants to really push boundaries and make something on an epic scale, it might get really tough in UT Austin. Deepak Chetty pulled off the most technically ambitious film ever produced at UT Austin.

    Watch trailer here:


    But it took him good 2 years. He himself said if he was in LA, he would have made it in a much lesser time because of easy access to resources and people.

    Also take a look at some of the student films at USC

    The Suitcase:


    You can observe that the scale is obviously large at USC. I'm not saying it's impossible to make something like "The Suitcase" in Austin. You should really struggle for it. It's something you can comparatively make faster at USC (Because of obvious access to actors, props, locations, resources).

    UT Austin has a great indie scene though. All their proud achievements are either great documentaries:

    Yizkor by Ruth Fertig


    Or great low-key indie cinema:

    Ol' Daddy by Brian Schwarz


    Skunk by Annie Silverstein


    The only large scale production that I witnessed in UT Austin was "Hard Reset". But after speaking to it's director, I realized it was a mammoth effort to pull it off in Austin. On the contrary if you see the general production value of films made at USC (USC Cinematic Arts | First Look 2018), it's significantly large.

    Again, I'm not saying USC always makes great cinema. It all comes down to a matter of personal choice. Do you want to make films that resemble Hollywoodish production or do you want to make your own low-key independent films?

    Hope this helps :)
     
    #7 Sachin Dheeraj, Mar 29, 2018
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2018
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  8. Acre

    Acre New Member

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    I'm a lifelong Austinite and went to the University of Texas for undergrad and will just say that UT's estimates on room and board are absolutely absurd. I was living on ~25k a year including my tuition ($9k a year) without much issue during undergrad. You can find a place for $750 a month within walking distance to campus no problem, and food really isn't expensive especially when compared to most other film school locations.
     
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  9. snoopdog

    snoopdog Member

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    Speaking of UT Austin, even when you apply to the Film School programs, a GRE score is required to apply correct?
     
  10. Chris W

    Chris W Get Busy Living Staff Member

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