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Orlando film schools shut out of THR’s 25 Best list and why you shouldn’t give a damn

August 1, 2013


Poor Full Sail, UCF, Rollins and Valencia (etc). They’ve all been shut out once again from The Hollywood Reporter’s list of the 25 best Film Schools.

Assembled by polling Hollywood insiders, THR’s list is pretty much what you’d expect from a list like this. A few outliers aside, it’s full of schools you’ve heard of, who have produced big time directors that you’ve heard of, like USC, AFI and UCLA. But the list has no love for our little town, nor any of the dozen or so film and animation schools.

Full Sail is the only school I can really speak about. I have a handful of lingering grievances about my time there, but even though it isn’t the greatest school for turning out name brand directors (the two notables are horror directors Darren Lynn Bousman and Adam Wingard, both of whom graduated over a decade ago when they still taught on the Panaflex Gold), I will say this for Full Sail: they churn out a hell of a lot of people who do everything else on film and commercial shoots — especially grip & electric and digital effects — and (usually) do it well.

That’s no small thing, and it’s something I think THR and their insiders have overlooked. It’s true that most people want to be the next Spielberg, but Spielberg doesn’t get much done without the people whose names are buried in the credits, like Earl Perque (best boy grip) or Sarah Broshar (assistant editor).

Anyway, Florida didn’t get totally shut out as a state. Two schools did make the third annual list:

17. Florida State University

FSU’s College of Motion Picture Arts was disappointed when Digital Domain, the VFX house that partnered with FSU for the West Palm Beach Digital Domain Institute, filed Chapter 11 last year. “At the end of the day, that journey made FSU’s film school an even cooler place for our students,” says dean Frank Patterson. Key Digital Domain players joined FSU full time to lead its new Animation and Digital Arts program, including Hugo VFX artist Jonathan Stone and Disney veteran Chuck Williams. Big-name guests like director Kirby Dick visit the Tallahassee campus, and Tribeca Enterprises chief creative officer Geoffrey Gilmore is a distinguished lecturer at FSU.

► Tuition: $ 25,896 undergraduate ($86,117 out-of-state)

► Notable Alumni: Marvel senior vp production and development Stephen Broussard, Participant Media executive vp production Jonathan King

24. Ringling College of Art and Design

The 6-year-old Sarasota, Fla., film program attracts teachers like Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer-turned-director Wally Pfister. “I was impressed by the skill levels and the sophistication of the questions asked,” says Pfister. “This is clearly a program in its ascent.” Adds director Werner Herzog, who advised Ringling on its directing program, “I like it because it originated from a circus, Ringling Bros. It’s the best digital effects program in the country.”

► Tuition: $35,490 undergraduate

► Notable Alumni: Editor-director Jason Letkiewicz (I’m Positive)

Still, you shouldn’t lose any sleep over it. The whole thing is a big, pointless racket. No one has ever asked to see my film degree. No one has ever asked to see any of my friends’ film degrees. You certainly don’t need a master’s degree. All you need is a ton of patience, a lot of will, a high tolerance for jerks and a little bit of talent.

For a lot less than the $25-100k a film school education will cost you (or, more likely, your parents), you could do one of two things that will put you on (or knock you off) a career path in film faster:

1) take the long route, scouring Craig’s List or Mandy for any job willing to take a someone as green as yourself (you’ll probably have to move to NY, LA or North Carolina for this route);

2) or — maybe the better way these days — just buy or rent a Canon D5 and make your own movie. Hell, shoot it on your phone. It’s going to suck no matter what it looks like, trust me;

x) want to do anything post-production related (effects, editing, mixing, etc)? Get your ass to school.

Don’t have parents who can float you cash like Mitt Romney suggests? Path 1 is probably for you.

If you do, path 2 is probably for you. I know that’s a hard sell to parents who would see “making a movie” as something a bit more frivolous “going to school to learn how to one day get paid millions of dollars to make a movie”, but it’s the truth. The only really useful thing film school has to offer you is networking, and you don’t even need that anymore thanks to the mutual appreciation society that is Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook.

You know where Steven Spielberg graduated from film school? He didn’t. He dropped out of Long Beach State and made a movie called Amblin’ instead. But don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re the next Steven Spielberg.

You’ll learn way more by actually getting your hands in there and making mistakes (soooo many mistakes) than you will sitting in a classroom learning about voltage versus wattage or the steps of the ND filter (though you should be reading books like Shot by Shot, The Five Cs of Cinematography and In the Blink of an Eye to learn that stuff too).

Filmmaking is almost entirely about practical knowledge. No one cares if you know the theory of why lights work, just whether or not you can make the lights work. The things that do involve theory (screen direction especially) will be some of the very first fuck ups you catch and work on fixing.

So, just shoot. Don’t hire actors. Don’t rent a lot of lights. Don’t rent a dolly. Just bully your friends into showing up at a specific time and place and shoot the first thing that comes to mind.

One of the first things you would do at Full Sail is to take a scene from a well known film and try and recreate it shot for shot (my class did the “grocery clerk” scene from Apocalypse Now for instance). Pick a scene you all love and quote endlessly and do that. Make it a tricky scene that is about 3-5 minutes to really create a challenge. Get the script and make storyboards. Then try to figure out angles without referring to the film itself, just your boards and scriptnotes.

If you’ve really got guts (or a hugely inflated ego), write your own 3-5 page story and try that.

Sitting alone in front of your computer to edit your first movie and seeing exactly where and how many times you fucked up (where the light doesn’t match, where you lost screen direction, where your actors missed their FUCKING MARKS AHAHLKFJ JESUS) is the best test of your filmmaking resolve that you could ever have.

The awful rough edit of your first movie is a stark look in the mirror that is worth more and costs less than every film school on the planet.

Your movie will be terrible. It will be, just accept this now.

It will be so bad that you won’t want to show it to anyone. Ignore that feeling and show it to the people who helped make it (especially your parents). They want to see it. They deserve to see it. It is their movie too.

You’ll feel shame at making something so bad. Remember that shame. Try to avoid it on the next movie you make (you won’t). And keep going. Try a 48 hour film contest. Get bold and try to make something worthy of a festival. Just make sure you feed everyone who helps along the way (always, always, always feed them). It’s the least you can do after putting them in such a terrible movie.

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  • Subic Bay

    As you point out, there are a number of paths to becoming a filmmaker. However, the Hollywood Reporter survey is focused on only one: film school. The reality is that Full Sail students are immersed in film for 2-2.5 years. There is little doubt that they are masters of their craft and, from a technical point of view, are on par with virtually any of the top 25 schools. The issue is one of real world demands: an established network of alumni. Filmmaking is intensely competitive. Getting hired on any studio (or independent) film is more about (i) does anyone know you? and (ii) does anyone know the quality of your work? Without a large group of ESTABLISHED alumni to help one another along the filmmaking path, Full Sail is always going to be viewed as a second-tier program… irrespective of the actual quality of the program.