Columbia University Film MFA 1st Year, AMA!

How has your experience been this first year of study? Has it surpassed your expectations, disappointed you? What would you have wished someone told you before starting the first semester of the program?
 

abu2030

Active Member
Good questions! I came into the program with a pretty good understanding of what it had to offer, and to that end it has matched my expectations and I am very, very happy. I have tiny gripes, and they're not necessarily program-related (for example, the program is very well run, but interacting with the bureaucracy at Columbia outside the program is sisyphean to say the least lol).

What would you have wished someone told you before starting the first semester of the program?

Hmmm...I wish someone had told me that now was a good time to pick up/dust off any technical skills I'm interested in. If I could go back and repeat last summer, I would take a crash course in cinematography or color grading or something because I definitely did not have enough time/energy for that this year. It's definitely a downside of the program, they're just not going to spend that much time teaching you the technical stuff...but I also doubt that anybody is seriously considering going into debt to learn about booming techniques to begin with (no offense to boom ops).
 
Thank you so much for your answers! I was having trouble finding the different classes and electives within the program that aren’t related to directing, screenwriting or film theory. So there is a possibility of taking classes in cinematography and other key crew departments? Would they also happen to have a class in animation?
 

abu2030

Active Member
They’re always fine-tuning things year to year, but the way it runs now: you are required to take a half semester of post-production, as well as a half semester of either sound, cinematography, or G&E, during your first year. After that there are master class-type events here and there that you can sign up for. That’s in the first year. After that I’m not too well informed as to what happens.

to my (limited) knowledge there aren’t animation courses offered directly through the film department.we do have some faculty with experience in writing in animation tho!
 

kl2000

New Member
Ask away!

Hello`! :D I was just admitted to Columbia last week and am excited to get started! I was wondering if you have any advice on budgeting, both for personal expensive and projects. I was also wondering what kind of grants/scholarships I can find once there and how TA positions work (what are the chance of getting once, when you apply, etc).

I'm going in for directing but I'm still unsure if I'd rather be in the screen writing concentration. I was told in the interview that you actually don't decide until second year(?) Is that true?

Thanks! Any advice you can give me would be great!
 

xrisdelrio

Well-Known Member
Hi @abu2030! Thanks for taking time to answer our questions. Would you be able to tell us a bit about collaboration in the program? For example, are many of the crew members for your short films other classmates? Have you paired up with someone in the creative producing track? Do students work together in completing the visual exercises in the directing courses?
 

abu2030

Active Member
Hello`! :D I was just admitted to Columbia last week and am excited to get started! I was wondering if you have any advice on budgeting, both for personal expensive and projects. I was also wondering what kind of grants/scholarships I can find once there and how TA positions work (what are the chance of getting once, when you apply, etc).

I'm going in for directing but I'm still unsure if I'd rather be in the screen writing concentration. I was told in the interview that you actually don't decide until second year(?) Is that true?

Thanks! Any advice you can give me would be great!

Congratulations! It's a tough question to answer because I was already based in the city, so my expenses stayed the same. But I think one of the biggest places to save money as a student is making and bringing your own food to class instead of eating out. Food around campus can get expensive, in my opinion (dining hall food is cheaper).

As for project budgeting:
  1. Your equipment rentals at Columbia are free so you save money off the bat there (provided you don't return the equipment late or damage it -- it's insured but the deductible is pretty high).
  2. You have to pay $20 in workman's comp for any non-CU cast/crew, so crewing up and casting within school also saves money.
  3. Thirdly, there are strict budget limits for your first and second big projects (your 3-5 winter short and your 8-12 summer short) and you cannot go over that amount, but you're also encouraged to film it as cheaply as possible, so that helps too. My plan is to make 1st year and 2nd year exercises as cheaply as I can so I can spend all my money (and/or fundraise) for the thesis level work.
  4. Finally, my biggest tip: don't write stuff that you don't have the resources to get. For example, I don't write car scenes because I don't want to spend the money on the picture vehicle rental, and I definitely can't afford a process trailer or anything like that.
As for grants/scholarships and TAing, keep in mind that unless the university has awarded you anything from the get-go, you don't really get to apply for any grants TAing positions until your second year. I'm not sure what the process is for general on-campus jobs, you might be able to do those earlier.

Finally, yes, you don't have to decide until your second year. I still have no idea which one I'm going to choose lol

Best of luck, congrats again!
 

abu2030

Active Member
Hi @abu2030! Thanks for taking time to answer our questions. Would you be able to tell us a bit about collaboration in the program? For example, are many of the crew members for your short films other classmates? Have you paired up with someone in the creative producing track? Do students work together in completing the visual exercises in the directing courses?

Hey! Good questions! The first thing you need to know about collaboration is that is literally the most important reason I chose to apply to this program...so much so that I badgered Dan Kleinman about it endlessly during my admissions interview lol.

We are not always required, but are strongly encouraged to crew in each other's films. There are already people in this program that I know I'm going to keep working with professionally because I'm obsessed with their work and because we have a good time on set. But overall, I cannot emphasize this enough: Columbia really really expects if not demands a collaborative environment. We build each other up and challenge each other. There's really no room for ego or selfishness at this school, IMO.

As for producers, yes. I had a classmate from the creative producer track produce my 3-5 short, and in the spring semester you both have to have one of your classmates produce your 8-12 short and you have to produce one as well (regardless of track).

We also work together on our visual exercises. Some professors require that you DP and edit your own exercises, but otherwise you're both welcome and encouraged to fill in other key positions as needed, including talent. For some exercises I've seen one person do literally everything including act with no help, for other exercises I've seen 8-10 person sets - it really varies based on what your needs for that exercise are.
 

xrisdelrio

Well-Known Member
Hey! Good questions! The first thing you need to know about collaboration is that is literally the most important reason I chose to apply to this program...so much so that I badgered Dan Kleinman about it endlessly during my admissions interview lol.

We are not always required, but are strongly encouraged to crew in each other's films. There are already people in this program that I know I'm going to keep working with professionally because I'm obsessed with their work and because we have a good time on set. But overall, I cannot emphasize this enough: Columbia really really expects if not demands a collaborative environment. We build each other up and challenge each other. There's really no room for ego or selfishness at this school, IMO.

As for producers, yes. I had a classmate from the creative producer track produce my 3-5 short, and in the spring semester you both have to have one of your classmates produce your 8-12 short and you have to produce one as well (regardless of track).

We also work together on our visual exercises. Some professors require that you DP and edit your own exercises, but otherwise you're both welcome and encouraged to fill in other key positions as needed, including talent. For some exercises I've seen one person do literally everything including act with no help, for other exercises I've seen 8-10 person sets - it really varies based on what your needs for that exercise are.

Thanks for the detailed answer! Collaboration and friendships are the main reason I wanted to apply to grad school in the first place, so it's awesome to hear that this is a big part of Columbia.
 

amar41

Member
Does Columbia have a laptop requirement and if not is there a minimum configuration that most students in the program have? My MacBook is on it's last legs and if I do get off the waitlist I don't want to invest in the wrong thing if Columbia has specific recommendations
 

abu2030

Active Member
Does Columbia have a laptop requirement and if not is there a minimum configuration that most students in the program have? My MacBook is on it's last legs and if I do get off the waitlist I don't want to invest in the wrong thing if Columbia has specific recommendations

AFAIK it is not a requirement to purchase equipment for the program (except maybe a disk drive if you don't already own one for post class). the school has a state of the art lab where you can do most if not all of your editing.

that said, they do send out a list of equipment recommendations that they think will serve you best while at school, so i'd definitely hold of on buying something new until you get that list if you're already thinking of making a purchase :)
 
Does Columbia have a laptop requirement and if not is there a minimum configuration that most students in the program have? My MacBook is on it's last legs and if I do get off the waitlist I don't want to invest in the wrong thing if Columbia has specific recommendations

I emailed Eric about this question as I'm in the same place. He said to hold off and see if the info I get answers the q and if not to follow up with him directly. So if I hear anything I'll let you know.
 
Hi! Thank you so much for all your answers! I have been admitted into the program for fall and you definitely give me a better picture of it.

I heard that Columbia's equipments (editing, camera, etc.) were a little outdated a few years ago. Is that still the case today? Have you ever been troubled by equipment problems while working on a project in CU?
 

Chris W

Willem was robbed
Staff member
AFAIK it is not a requirement to purchase equipment for the program (except maybe a disk drive if you don't already own one for post class). the school has a state of the art lab where you can do most if not all of your editing.

that said, they do send out a list of equipment recommendations that they think will serve you best while at school, so i'd definitely hold of on buying something new until you get that list if you're already thinking of making a purchase :)
@abu2030 I'm thinking of putting together an article on the site on something like "Film School in the time of COVID" to help current applicants and people who may be attending schools in the fall. I'd love to be able to interview you (or one of the site's writers will) about how the pandemic is currently affecting you at the school and what the school's plans are for the fall if any. Would this be something that you're interested in?

Thanks! I think it'd be a great help for the people on the site.
 

abu2030

Active Member
@abu2030 I'm thinking of putting together an article on the site on something like "Film School in the time of COVID" to help current applicants and people who may be attending schools in the fall. I'd love to be able to interview you (or one of the site's writers will) about how the pandemic is currently affecting you at the school and what the school's plans are for the fall if any. Would this be something that you're interested in?

Thanks! I think it'd be a great help for the people on the site.
Dm me.
 

abhsc

New Member
Ask away!
Hey @abu2030, hope you are keeping well in these trying times. I am from India and planning to apply to the MFA Directing program. Could you let me in on some advice for my application? I would also like to know how common/rare are scholarships for international students. I also wanted to know who shoot your films as the DOP considering there isn't any dedicated Cinematography course.

Regards.
 
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