I wanted to start a series of posts where I could keep track of what is going to University to study film studies or cinematography.
Not so many years ago when I was struggling to understand the little words I knew in English I found this forums and I started reading (with a dictionary) every single thing I could.
Thanks to the knowledge of a lot of people who posted their ideas on the Internet I got better as a camera intern and then as a second assistant camera so I hope this post and consecutive posts that I am thinking about writing will help people in the future when they think about: “Should I go to a film school or not?” because they will see all the process that took me from being a non – student to a full time student.
So, a little bit about me!
As of today, October 6th, 2014, I’m a 33 years old Spanish second camera assistant who left Spain in 2010 after spending a lot of years working on American commercials, American movies, English movies and second units of different things.
At that time I was starting to shoot short – films as a cinematographer and probably, hadn’t I left Spain, I would be shooting commercials now as a cinematographer.. with very bad quality.
The reason why I left Spain is because I wanted to improve my English (which in a 0 to 10 scale was 1) in order to go to study a Cinematography masters in AFI in L.A.. and I almost got there!
I applied to AFI for the 2012 / 2013 cinematography course and as they were asking for a minimum of 100 in the TOEFL exam I couldn’t get in because my score was 99, yeah! 1 point, but their rules are their rules :) and although I had the recommendations, the support of the Fulbright Scholarship and some other things, they said no.
And I’m super happy I didn’t get there because I started working for Apple in Cork (Ireland) and I discovered that “the office environment” was kind of interesting (and Apple was paying really really really well for the job I was doing).
Also I started to focus a bit more on still photography, which is something I adore and love, and I found out that the more I was shooting, the more I was going towards darkness and colours.
But I was missing something while working at Apple and it was the set life :) so I decided to start shooting short – films in Ireland.. and by doing that, I knew that I couldn’t work in Apple anymore because I needed to follow my passion, cinematography.
While trying to decide what to do I came across the National Film School in Ireland, home to cinematographers like Robbie Ryan, James Maher (member of the forum if I don’t remember badly), Piers Mc Grail and so many other interesting ones.
I went to the open day and what I saw was a place where I could spend time to create and learn things that I wanted, something that you miss when you are working full time, either in movies or Amazon or Apple.. sure you see loads of lighting setups while working on sets but if you are a 2nd AC, you better be focused on your job unless you don’t want to work anymore.
So, this National Film School was offering a 4 years Bachelors Degree (Honours) in Film & Production, being the 4th year the one where people choose a specialization.
Probably the same kind of course as it is offered in America, Europe and etc so nothing fancy!
And I said: Ok! If I can get in 4th year that would be awesome! I will spend 1 year doing what I love, learning things that I don’t know, polishing my skills and they will give me a Bachelors Degree even! Plus they got two Alexas and a super new big studio!
The decision wasn’t that easy, although I had no commitments in life at the moment (no mortgage, no children, nothing at all) the money that I was getting from Apple was a very serious thing and you all know how the world spins!
However, after a lot of months of thinking about it I decided to quit my job at Apple and become a student of the university (which accepted me with no problems) because I knew that I needed to pursue my dream.
My reasons to go to uni were the following ones:
– In University you have all the equipment you need to learn the craft.
– You learn! I can’t write it any bigger but it is an important point, you learn!
– You also make friends and get to shoot a lot so you can try things that you couldn’t try in a working environment when money is involved.
– You also experiment with film / video if you want to.
– You will be focused on YOU and that’s THE POINT because nobody else is going to teach you what you don’t know that you don’t know!
– They will teach you how to find your voice and apply it in different projects.
– My uni is absolutely empty in the evening (something that I don’t understand tho) and our classes have 2K projectors, dolby sound system and a big screen so from 6 to 8.30 I watch and analyze movies when I’m not shooting.
– I have access to lecturers to talk about things that I can’t talk about with anybody else (like the cinematography of Dersu Uzala for example!) and their point of views are always interesting even if they are not the same as mine.
– I have to write a thesis!!!! something that I haven’t done ever (it’s my very first time in Uni). I find the process absolutely beautiful because I’m learning a lot about things that I didn’t know.
– In some unis or schools you have super top lecturers and that is fantastic! you can learn from them a lot! Some other unis don’t have those lecturers but still they have very good teachers and they can address things that you hadn’t thought about on your own.
– If you go to AFI or NFTS you probably will end up as a top cinematographer / director / scriptwriter shooting commercials, features and such. While other unis won’t give you that visibility you choose what you want to get out of uni and if you are passionate, driven about what you do, you should get the most out of your school!
– Usually, Film schools have a sort of grading suite that you can use, so learn how to grade and use it!
– You will have a library with a lot of books and you can wander around the shelves looking for Film Lighting by Malkiewicz and end up with a book with photos of the architecture of Tadao Ando! You won’t have that at home because we search for what we know that we need and Google won’t give you results on other things if you are looking for Film Lighting.
– You will get a degree at the end of it and then you can choose to go for a Masters on any other thing vaguely related if you want to.
– I really know that I won’t become a cinematographer ever, and it doesn’t bother me at all at all, I’m doing it because I needed to do it. My goal is to become a cinematographer, a good one with something interesting and different to say, but if I don’t get there, I won’t regret it because I will have done the trip :)
I can only say: Go to film school!!! even if it is not one of the top ones, because it will give you a lot of knowledge (cinema wise) and you will find there if cinema is what you want to do for the rest of your life or you better get something else.
And probably, if you are reading this and still are in your early 20s.. go go go! finish it and then try getting a degree in something else that you might like or is related (communications, marketing, advertisement..) because that will give you a backup plan in case your filmmaking career doesn’t go as planned.
Or you can go to the backup plan course first and then going to film school :) it doesn’t matter! Learning is always great great fun and playing and toying around with cameras is even better.
I will be posting how uni goes on here and what I learn as the weeks fade.
Last week we had the first cinematography class, in a black studio with nothing else, just a monitor and the black curtains).
Everybody was not very interested in the lecture and the testings we were running and were out of the class smoking or chatting, so I asked for a couple of 1K and asked for permission to play with them during the lunch break… and the image below is what I got.
What I really miss is a light in the background to create colour contrast and if I could ask for something else.. what about a window to create a sense of darkness outside with a cyanish night or a green steelish night or even orange!? :D
I will be shooting the image above with the Alexa very soon and we will see what I get!!! :)
If you have gotten here, congratulations! :D I hope it solved some of your questions! :).