MFA Social Documentary Film Program at SVA

Niki B

New Member
Full Disclosure: I work for the SocDoc department, but I wanted to let all of you aspiring and current Doc filmmakers know about our new (in the second year) program in non-fiction filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts in New York. We have amazing faculty and guest lecturers, great facilities and a supportive film and arts community. Check out our web site for more information: www.mfasocdoc.sva.edu
 

ChrisDoco

New Member
I am a graduate of the SVA Social Documentary program. I graduated a few years ago and wanted to share my experience. In short I WOULD NOT RECOMMEND GOING TO SOCDOC unless you have a full scholarship. I am still close with a lot of people who have graduated from the school and everyone agrees but since we are all so invested in the program most people aren't vocal about it. Read on for more explanation.

The school is run basically like a bootcamp. You are forced to take a full load of courses and then labs on top of that (that you don't get any credits for). The really sad thing is that you are being trained to be a slave for the Maro (the head of the program) and her sycophants. All the best students in the program every year are offered unpaid (a few people have been offered very low pay) jobs on the professor's documentaries. I was told this when I first got there by someone who was ahead of me and didn't want to believe it. I'll give it to Maro though, she has a great business plan. Get a dozen young hungry filmmakers to pay you 80,000 so you can train them to be efficient free labor on your own films.

The professors are much more interested in their own films than teaching. Often times professors will use class time to screen their works in progress and edit them in front of you. I gave feedback during one of these sessions and the professor used it but I didn't even get a mention in the vast thanks in their credits. The teaching was so poor that they really could have taught us the same thing in 20% of the time. Professors are often absent and unprepared for class. On top of that their egos are the size of Texas (despite them being much more relevant 10-plus years ago) and they treat you like Kindergartners.

The film school/no film school argument isn't so simple but here I REALLY wished I had used this money to hire good people to make my first film.... or at least waited and re-applied to a better school.

Additionally, they have old or not enough of the equipment so still count on buying your own camera. Their audio stuff is fine but don't expect lights or jibs or steadycam or any of the things beyond the basics. I spoke to a current student and they said they just bought 5 Fs5s. But they only bought 5 for 30 students so people are getting into fights over them.

On the plus side they have a really cool looking space. However,

Don't do it! My 2C
 

Documentalry

New Member
The above review is spot on. I wonder which classmate/alum it was?

I started to have concerns about our MFA Social Documentary Film film-making program in the first semester but was too overloaded with work to really think seriously about dropping out. I really regret "finishing what I started" and not heeding the writing on the wall that was blatant by midway through my second semester. I had some documentary experience but not a lot. Now I hate myself for not taking the money I spent on school and spending it on gear and my first film instead (I did of course end up having to spend almost 20,000 on my film that was a requirement to graduate anyways - this is a hidden cost of SocDoc MFA they hide from incoming students). This is an old "Filmschool" argument but in this case it is true --- definitely.

The faculty are basically a suck-up club to Maro Chermayeff who uses the program's faculty positions as a political favor (though she still can't manage to win festivals) and the student body as slave labor for her own films. The higher up you go on the faculty hierarchy the more they suck up (though there are a surprising number of faculty who are open to me about how little respect those working closely with her have for her- this was one of my early tip-offs I wish I heeded.) The worst of these is Micah Fink (who you see dressed up a soldier on the faulty page - cool war journalist guy) who barely bothers to teach his class because he knows all he really has to do is suck up to the chair for job security).

The worst part of the Maro cult is that they are all living 30 years in documentary's past. They openly resent cutting edge stuff like, you know, the internet. Even though it is a film MAKING program (and Maro loves to throw around the "maker" buzzword) it is really a documentary history program. Why did I ruin my life with student debt for this?

In an attempt to find the positive (in the totally cynical "balanced" psuedo-journalism smokescreen I learned at MFA SocDoc) I will say the facilities are very nice. You have a lovely LOOKING school in a decent nabe in NYC to squat in for two years. Some students held onto this plus to tightly that they actually slept there all the time. Even with NYC astronomical rents they still didn't get their money's worth.

I would say that the "network" was a plus from the school except even the most talented students only got the low pay throwaway jobs faculty didn't want and the documentary film world is so cut throat that stories of alumni sabotaging each other's film projects are absurdly common. This program is like everything bad that people say about the School of Visual Arts times 1000.
 

onlyonesherry

New Member
The above review is spot on. I wonder which classmate/alum it was?

I started to have concerns about our MFA Social Documentary Film film-making program in the first semester but was too overloaded with work to really think seriously about dropping out. I really regret "finishing what I started" and not heeding the writing on the wall that was blatant by midway through my second semester. I had some documentary experience but not a lot. Now I hate myself for not taking the money I spent on school and spending it on gear and my first film instead (I did of course end up having to spend almost 20,000 on my film that was a requirement to graduate anyways - this is a hidden cost of SocDoc MFA they hide from incoming students). This is an old "Filmschool" argument but in this case it is true --- definitely.

The faculty are basically a suck-up club to Maro Chermayeff who uses the program's faculty positions as a political favor (though she still can't manage to win festivals) and the student body as slave labor for her own films. The higher up you go on the faculty hierarchy the more they suck up (though there are a surprising number of faculty who are open to me about how little respect those working closely with her have for her- this was one of my early tip-offs I wish I heeded.) The worst of these is Micah Fink (who you see dressed up a soldier on the faulty page - cool war journalist guy) who barely bothers to teach his class because he knows all he really has to do is suck up to the chair for job security).

The worst part of the Maro cult is that they are all living 30 years in documentary's past. They openly resent cutting edge stuff like, you know, the internet. Even though it is a film MAKING program (and Maro loves to throw around the "maker" buzzword) it is really a documentary history program. Why did I ruin my life with student debt for this?

In an attempt to find the positive (in the totally cynical "balanced" psuedo-journalism smokescreen I learned at MFA SocDoc) I will say the facilities are very nice. You have a lovely LOOKING school in a decent nabe in NYC to squat in for two years. Some students held onto this plus to tightly that they actually slept there all the time. Even with NYC astronomical rents they still didn't get their money's worth.

I would say that the "network" was a plus from the school except even the most talented students only got the low pay throwaway jobs faculty didn't want and the documentary film world is so cut throat that stories of alumni sabotaging each other's film projects are absurdly common. This program is like everything bad that people say about the School of Visual Arts times 1000.
Is that true?Is that program are really horrible just like you said?I got the offer and I am considering if I go for it
 

Latest Classifieds

Featured Classifieds

Latest Applications

Latest reviews

  • UCLA TFT - Screenwriting (M.F.A.)
    5.00 star(s)
    The Right Move For Me
    I have loved this program so far! For me, it was the right move. Coming from out-of-state, I learned a lot about LA and housing, but it could have...
    • Anonymous
  • University of Chicago - Department of Cinema and Media Studies
    5.00 star(s)
    In my opinion, the University of Chicago's Cinema & Media Studies program is one of the most outstanding and underrated programs out there. I...
    • jn0pe
  • Emerson College
    3.00 star(s)
    I went to Emerson for my undergrad for VMA (Visual media arts, just generally the film program) and...it was a lot of fun, I certainly learned...
    • julia1
  • Temple University - School of Theater, Film and Media Arts
    4.00 star(s)
    I graduated in 2013 and know several recent graduates ( 2017-2019 classes) as well. My personal and their related experiences are the basis for...
    • Anonymous
  • University of Rochester - Film and Media Studies Program
    5.00 star(s)
    I graduated from UofR with a double major in Film and Media Studies and Economics. My experiences at Rochester really shaped my filmmaking career...
    • dkimg21
Top