Magazine of Northern
Mar 25, 2015
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Bay Area Cine Schools: Still Stellar But Some Suffering
by CineSource Staff
Class registration at the San Francisco Art Institute, the first in the area to offer film classes (1947), the first in the country to highlight alt-film and still a leader in that field. photo: D. Blair
For film studies, the Bay Area is worldclass. Sure, LA and New York—not to mention London, Paris and Beijing—are more prestigious but we dominate in actual locations, West Coast lifestyles and film schools per capita.
"One big film school" is how CineSource characterized the Bay Area after counting over twenty departments and four full-on schools in 2009. San Francisco had grown crowded with black-clad film students, hanging out in coffee shops, doing street productions, touring "Vertigo" locations.
Alas, the bloom is off the boom due to the recession. Some have suffered budget cuts, others have gone Hollywood in an attempt to get graduates gainful employ, and the Cal Grants, on which many students depend, have been cancelled to some institutions.
Still, there is a lot of great student work being done, from features to animation or arty 16, and most of the departments are doing OK—even obscure community colleges feature up to forty film classes a semester.
Plus, the Bay Area has lots cinema showcases from
Pacific Film Archives
to the festivals, now over 50 a year from
Of course, filmmaking cannot be certified or job guaranteed. Whatever a school's state—physically, fiscally or psychologically—it comes down to the quality of the ideas. By working smarter with less, by collaborating more and developing our own film market, by blending professionalism and vision, by drawing on local talent and local stories, we can reverse any losses. Certainly, the large local contingent of art filmmakers, Hollywood Northers and doc and indie makers can help us recharge our cinemaesthetics and pedagogy.
The following is our schools survey, reverse alphabetized to offset nomenclature advantage. If you have further questions about the comparative value of the schools,
Youth Radio: Radio Masters Become Webcasters
Nationally acclaimed and right in Oakland, Youth Radio now teaches video production and has a web news channel. photo: K. Nzoiwu
If you're a youth who wants to tell the "California Ambiguity Story"—like the irony of growing up in Oakland without ever seeing the ocean—
is your school. Starting in a storefront in Berkeley in the '80s, it became a Peabody-award-winning heavyweight of radio journalism long featured on NPR.
Despite the economic injury to Oakland, where Youth Radio is located in a deluxe building right downtown, YR is doing great. It started a web news channel last year, now doing 50 stories a week, and is also teaching video production.
Although it focuses on underserved populations, notably girls (55%) and low-income (80%), and features the Community Action Project for kids having problems at school or with the law, the vibe is absolutely professional. Over 1,250 kids a year pass through its 10 week-long programs, with virtually no incidents or violence while profiting immensely according to ex-director, Jacinda Abcarian.
There's also a six-month program for 18-24 year-olds which includes public speaking and networking and can lead to internships. With their fantastic radio reputation and new web channel, YR is an excellent place to become a professional media worker or join Oakland burgeoning film scene, which some are calling the Oakland Film Stammer (evidently mixing "Art Murmur" and Austin's "Mumblecore").
University of San Francisco: Serene Studies on a Hill
If the sharp elbows of San Francisco's new entrepreneurial class intrudes on your artistic epiphanies, you can retreat to the serenity of Jesuit learning at the University of San Francisco, now in the fullness of liberal achievement, replete with a fantastic film department and hilltop location near Golden Gate Park. While the
department is a bit more academic then hands-on, it offers a startling 50 classes including plenty in production, audio, video and radio, which is hardly surprising since the university ran the famous KUSF alt-rock (read heavy punk) radio station for 25 years.
Indeed, its unique take on classes on Israeli, Russian, India and LGBT cinema—not to mention the Femme Fatale and the Religious Quest (only at a Jesuit university) are unmatched at any Bay Area film school/department bar none. They even have a course on telenovellas, although I guess that's obligatory if you have a class on Latin American cinema.
Their teaching staff is equally diverse, including English, Indian and East Asian professors as well as Susana Kaiser from Argentina's fertile film scene, Steve Runyon, who still manages KUSF and is a frequent judge at the SF International Film Festival, and Melinda Stone, an award winning creator of over twenty films.
USF offers three major degrees, two minors, and even a certificate of Film Studies for students in other majors who want that added cache. They also have an aggressive program of internships with various local television stations and classes on journalism, media law and more. For those wanting a well rounded education, in the heart of a well rounded city with a busting at the seams film department—let me repeat: 50 classes!!!—this balance exemplar of alt and classical educinema is your spot.
University of California Santa Cruz: Gorgeous, Varied and Professional
Perhaps you're already inspired but need a peaceful place to study cine theory or write your screenplay? How does attending film school in paradise sound? With its beautiful beaches and redwood forests only 45 minutes from Silicon Valley, and fabulous teachers, the film school at
UC Santa Cruz
is truly astounding.
The department hasn't taken an economic hit; enrollment is increasing; and it offers almost 70 undergrad production and theory courses or seminars, ranging from the History of the Remake (bet you hadn't thought of that one), to Documentary Animation (ditto) or Sex in the Cinema (always popular). Equipment-wise, UCSC has a nice theater, a green screen stage, six edit suites, full HD packages, lighting and other gear.
But it is the instructors who really shine: Chip Lord, of media collective Ant Farm fame (remember Cadillac Ranch on Route 40 through Texas?), Chinese cinema scholar Yiman Wang, B. Ruby Rich, queen of the queer documentary, and humanities professors like radical activist/theorist Angela Davis.
Their curriculum integrates cultural analysis with production and narrative studies. Although students have been leaning to the latter of late, alt-film remains strong, as does interdisciplinary studies. Graduates have been screening work from Sundance to Milan while dominating the annual Santa Cruz Film Festival.
All sides considered, the only downside is: After studying in a Cinema Eden, is there a course to prepare you for the real world?
Filmmaker Ryoko Sakai gazes from the upstairs of a Berkeley collective at the school's landmark 'campanile' tower. photo D. Blair
University of California Berkeley: Academics with a Side of Cinema or Academic Cinema
Let's say you're already committed to an academic discipline but want to maintain your cinematic dreams? Now you can get your Auteur Theory, Stardom Theory (how our star culture effects film) and The Face in Cinema (how the camera loves closeups), as well as some 20 other courses in the People's Republic of Bezerkeley (which means damn good eating and plenty of street freaks although no more Naked Man—he died, unfortunately).
With UCB the flagship for California's worldclass university system, budget cuts will be minimal. Speaking of budgets, if you are on one, you can pickup a class at UC Berkeley Extension in San Francisco's happening South of Market neighborhood, many taught by the same profs.
But if you are headed towards your cine doctorate, UCB specializes in rhetoric—that ancient art of analysis and persuasion that happens to be the essence of just about everything but especially film. Hence, upon graduation, you will be a fully certified cinema intellectual able to teach at the Sorbonne. Curating is also big—due to the Pacific Film Archives, right on campus—sure to be a growing field as we loose celluloid and the big screen.
You can also study sound with Mark Berger, the master mixer who won four Oscars (for Berkeley's famed Fantasy Film output: "The Right Stuff", "Amadeus", and "The English Patient") or advanced screenwriting with Mira Kopell, fresh from writing for various studios and channels in LA. Digital production equipment is available for students showing aptitude.
Although this is not a camera-in-your-hands-by-week-two school, if the line at the equipment check-out is short, it is even easier to wrangle your first feature. Plus you have the whole Bezerkeley life as your stage: from the lush hills to "new touch" communes or local indie filmmakers like Rob Nilsson and Antero Alli.
Stanford University: A Doc Super-Power
On the other hand, if practicum in the full cinematic sense of the word—in other words, documenting reality—is your preferred path, one of the Bay Area's top film departments is at
. Although the university has a department for performing arts, art history and media studies, offering a full BA with courses from comics and anime to Kubrick and two dozen others, the doc department is the real "dope."
Liberated in 2006 from the art and history department, where it resided since the '60s, the documentary program started offering an MFA designed to prepare students for careers in film, digital media and teaching. With only eight students a year, meaning the whole department never numbers more than 20, this is intimate cinema studies at its best.
"Yes they get history, theory and criticism, but [the program] is very much production oriented," said department chair Jan Krawitz. Krawitz has had five films on PBS, including her latest "Big Enough", which revisits five people with dwarfism about whom she made her 1982 doc "Little People". "Each student leaves with a portfolio of three completed films. They crew for each other and they come out as producer, director, cinematographer—they can wear many hats. Many of our graduates work full-time in documentary production after graduation," she added.
One of the best doc departments, not only in the Bay Area but nationally, last year in June, their students' projects garnered two Student Academy Awards. Indeed, over the years, the program has produced the well-known doc shooter John Else, Cynthia Wade, who did "Freeheld," the 2007 film about Lesbian cops and John Shenk, who did the recent "Island President" about the Maldives, among many other stellar students.
In addition to Krawitz, teachers include filmmakers Kristine Samuelson and Geri Migielicz and visiting artists like Jay Rosenblatt and Johnny Simons. Students also interact the other art and media students and become conversant with social and philosophical ideas. To hone your doc craft, in theory and in practice, there is no finer institution in the Bay Area.
Students Gather beneath SFAI's mysterious, closed tower. photo: D. Blair
San Francisco Art Institute: An Immense Alt-Film Legacy Reborn
When the mere art of film is not enough and you need the total immersion of an actual art film, the
is your school. Sitting on Russian Hill, with one of best bay views imaginable, its film department developed an alt-film faculty in the 1960s and has been holding that cutting-edge to this day.
Although the department and school suffered from an embezzling dean and severe competition from the arrival of so many other film schools, they are stronger than ever in both tech and art with the help of feature cinematographer Hiro Narita, ("Never Cry Wolf," 1983, "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" 1989), sound expert, Dan Olmsted, another Fantasy Film Building alumni and especially Lynn Hershman Leeson.
Department head until this semester, Hershman Leeson is an installation artist as well as feature maker, both narrative and doc. Her latest, "!Women Art Revolution!", played Sundance last year and concerns female artists fighting their way up in the 70s—film art about fine art, in other words. Meanwhile, Mike Kuchar, brother and cinema partner of the recently deceased alt-sex-narrative pioneer George Kuchar, holds up that tent pole and another Mike, renown film critic and journalist Michael Fox, holds up the analysis end.
“This is a real turning point for narrative,” says longtime instructor Jeff Rosenstock. “Those students used to be marginalized, [but with] the digital revolution, you don’t need Hollywood to make narrative. Leeson’s  arrival represents a big change.” Indeed, Leeson embraces all genres.
“Work of all one type, even if it is called ‘experimental,’ isn’t really experimental," she told CineSource. "Experimental demands a range of things: narrative, non-narrative, machinima [the use of real-time computer graphics rendering engines to create film sequences], social network video, even mobile phones – that are relevant and have integrity.”
The Film Department supports 16mm, Super 8, DVD and HD production but as SFAI alumni Frazier Bradshaw, of "Everything Strange and New" fame (2009), told CineSource, "I didn't learn a damn thing about how to make a movie at SFAI. But I learned a tremendous amount about what I had to say as an artist"—and isn't that exactly what we really need right now?
Jameson Goldner, a beloved SF State teacher, demoing a Bolex 16mm camera. photo: G. De Grandis
San Francisco State University: Big But Flexible
For those interested in attending a premier institute right in the City at reasonable rates,
San Francisco State's
your answer. SFSU has actually augmented and improved in the last few years including a $200,000 investment in new equipment, three new student scholarships and new faculty.
This fall, they'll be offering 16 production courses, the most in recent history, in addition to scores of cine-study classes, including Romantic Comedy: Lubitsch and Wilder, Signs of Aliens: Semiotics of Film and Popular Culture (you know its a real film school when they say "semiotics") and Latino/a Cinema (State has long been a pioneer in La Raza studies).
"We have also increased the number of our screenwriting courses, including documentary writing and feature writing," said Daniel Bernardi, Department Chair and Professor. "We have doubled the number of animation courses we offer thanks to a new hire in experimental animation: Ben Ridgeway."
"Genres are no longer boundaries," he said, echoing SFAI's Hershman Leeson. "Neither are static screens that we see in theaters and our homes. Today's film student is already cutting the edges of cinema. More than ever, we need astute filmmakers aware of the power of their works and film scholars able to connect theory and criticism to the practical demands of filmmaking. [Then you can make] social contentious films that push the boundaries of film in form and content."
Lately, students have shown at Frameline, Cannes Short Film Festival and NY Children's as well as found employ at DreamWorks, in television, Telluride Film Festival and elsewhere. SFSU is "also finding opportunities to reduce unnecessary expenses as our contribution to the Cal State system's budgetary challenges," said Bernardi, in an honest accessment of the obvious crisis, by partnering with the College of Extended Education and doing online learning.
With their newly bolstered equipment room and vibrant—and often activist—student population (to draw on as actors or doc subjects), not to mention the fog which rolls off the nearby Ocean Beach (perfect for shooting noirs), SFSU is a great place to learn your skill set with out going bankrupt.
San Francisco Film Society: Prestigious Festival, Now Also School
In 2009, the
San Francisco Film Society
which runs the international festival, jumped into adult film education by taking over the brief of famed film collective, the Film Arts Foundation. SFFS has been rocked by the deaths of two directors in a single year but the festival is bigger than ever and the recent hire of hot-shot indie producer Tom Hope provides, well, a lot of hope.
"The program is larger than ever before," according to Filmmaker Education Manager Michael Behrens. They have expanded into year-round showcasing, film education for teens and professional support.
Film House, a residency program on the Embarcadero, is in fact turning all of San Francisco into one big film school: just apply for a grant and get full equipment, residency and weekly discussions. Grads already include the stellar Tiffany Shlain, of "Tribe" (1999) and "Connected" (2011) fame, and Barry Jenkins, the black art filmmaker extraordinaire who made "Medicine for Melancholy" (2008).
Behrens is constantly hustling to bring in talented pros, including Hiro Narita, DP for "La Mission" (2009), and the Lonesome Cowboy of the Western Documentary, Les Blank, maker of "Burden of Dreams" (1982), a fine art doc about making a fine art narrative. Blank will helm a masterclass in the fall.
In the throes of finalizing their fall lineup, Behrens couldn't be specific but they often do marathons or reasonably priced artist's lectures—check their
. Ultimately, they offer some 30 classes in screenwriting, development, documentary, production, teacher training, and legal and finance a season.
With new director Hope talking about shifting the focus from Hollywood to the Bay Area, and himself an indie feature producer, SFFS's educational wing is sure to become a focal point of cinema creation in The City.
San Francisco School of Digital Filmmaking: Fully Pro and Hands On
If an intimate family of 30 students and 12 solid pro teachers seems more your cup of organic oolong, how about
. With a new location in the sharp SF Chronicle building downtown, and SF in general and that area in particular long recovered from the recession, director Jeremiah Birnbaum is content.
"There are lots of jobs out there for people who can tell stories through video," Birnbaum said. "There is more video on the web—that is were it is all going—and our focus is to teach people how to be storytellers. That is why we have so many of our graduates working." Last year, SFSDF garnered a phenomenal 88% graduate employment rate, mostly in SF and NY but some in LA.
"A lot of people are very busy with challenging schedules; they want to pick and choose what they will learn," said Birnbaum leading them to do three month, five week, two week and even one day workshop. The last one had 24 people and sold out. All classes include hands-on learning with students making their own films or crewing on each other's projects. In the six-month class, they do two to three pieces and in the year program, five. Last year, one of those garnered Brandon Hamilton a regional Emmy.
They still have the one year program both day and night (the latter adding up to 15 months) designed to produce super-pro directors, producers, writers, cinematographers or editors who gain experience working for Fog City Films, the school’s film company.
"We just did something kind of fun," Birnbaum noted. "We got a call from Tactus Technology, a Silicon Valley start-up doing a screen where actual physical buttons rise out. Myself and one of our one-year classes were hired to do the
. The whole class shot for day, edited for week, got paid and the video got a million hits on YouTube." All in all, SFSDF is a small film crew family where you can do just about anything, and if anything goes wrong, don't worry, all is forgiven.
The SJSU team that brought us 'Cheer Up Sam': (frnt lf-rt) Matt Falkenthal, Eugene Kim, Chris Faulkner, with instructors Nick Martinez, Barnaby Dallas and Ned Kopp (back). photo: D. Blair
San Jose State: Taking the Industry Approach to Its Natural Conclusion
On the other hand, if you want a big film crew family at state school prices but still racing right on to the professional track, check out
SJSU radio-television-film department
. “Our goal is to give people an environment in which to make professional films,” said Barnaby Dallas, department head, although the curriculum also includes the class Alternative Cinema.
SJSU similarly has its own production company, South Bay Film Studios during the school year, producing MTVs and shorts, and Spartan Production in the summer which does full on features, under the auspices of well known Line Producer Ned Kopp. Students serve as screenwriters, directors, cinematographers, actors, and set designers. Indeed, the photo at right is of the team that shot "Cheer Up Sam", a comedy feature.
"Joining that department is like a rite of passage," according to graduate Eugene "SB" Kim who worked on it. "Loyalty is a must. So is damn good writing. At SJSU, if you pay your dues, your time will come [to make a big film]."
The films are so good that they have begun to get DVD distribution through a relationship with Cineplex, which has bought two films, and Cinematic Media. The curriculum covers all aspects of production, including acting, cinematography and lighting with many of the graduates going on to successful careers or respected graduate schools.
"After spending the better part of a demanding summer working on Spartan productions," continued Kim, "I was pumped up and ready to prove that I too had a story to tell. I had begun to write a script in a screenwriting class. After undergoing ample criticism, I was able to find the funding to make it—a fairy tale ending to my 'film school' years."
Moreover, San Jose is not the wasteland it was once rumored to be. The school is right downtown, near the museum with its hot contemporary collection, and plenty of fine dining—all in all, a fun place to work and play.
Ohlone College: Another Excellent Community College
Backed up against the gorgeous green space of the East Bay hills in Fremont sits
yet another community college doing its damnest for its film, video and broadcast students. With a stellar teaching staff, heavy on the broadcast talent—like Cynthia Altman who used to edit CBS News, Dominic Bonavolonta, who directed for KTVU and KPIX and Lawrence Iriarte, who worked at Pixar and ILM—their half a dozen plus classes offer a rich foundation in the media arts.
Working in their fully equipped news broadcast studio, that also serves as the local cable channel and provides programming opportunities for students, you can learn live edit, shoot the big cameras or direct. In a class taught by NBC News Producer Paul Hammons, you can even study sports broadcasting, learning the arts of play-by-play announcing or rapid camera technique for the ever-expanding sports market. In addition to television production, they offer classes on feature, documentary and short film production.
If this is your neck of the woods and you want to bone up on your cinema chops, particularly the commercial aspect, you can do no better than Ohlone College Broadcasting Department.
Laney College: Oakland's Community Media
If you are ready to follow the footsteps of Oakland radicals into the modern era, when a more economically as well as racially integrated approach may be better, you can dive into the burgeoning Oakland Film Stammer scene at
. A cost-effective community college, it helped produce the hard-hitting doc "
Merritt College: Home of the Black Panthers
" (2010). Ironically, it was made by Laney's public relations guy, Jeff Heyman, and is about Merritt College, Laney's sister college up on the hill, which hosted the Oakland International Film Festival for a few years but doesn't have much of a film department.
Laney certainly does; indeed, it awards the new Certificate of Proficiency in various disciplines. It features around 15 courses a semester, including Making Documentaries, Directing for Camera, Making Podcasts and Broadcast Journalism and Sportscasting. In addition, the campus has its own TV station, Peralta TV, on channel 27/28, with a bunch of shows like PTV.Sports, P-Span and CinePod.
Laney has four full time instructors, all professional filmmakers including Marla Leech and Dina Munsch who happened to work together on "Breaking the Glass", about the formation and collapse of the women's American Basketball League. Next to BART and the Oakland Museum, which has also gotten into film of late and near downtown Oakland, Laney is the place to get both a film and Oakland education.
Renown indie director Rob Nilsson, teaches Cassavetes-style improv, or what he calls '
' acting at FABA. photo: Victoria Yabukov
Film Acting Bay Area: The Name Says It All
Most film schools focus on the making, leaving the acting, an essential ingredient, overlooked. If you want to rectify this in an intimate setting replete with all forms of acting, including improvisation taught by director Rob Nilsson of the "Cassavetes School",
Film Acting Bay Area
is for you. Students appear in features and shorts, TV shows and webisodes, some of which have led to awards and nominations.
Started in San Francisco, FABA moved to Ex'pression College in Emeryville three years ago while expanding to nine different-leveled classes each week, with over 100 students. They recently added a program for 11-16 year olds.
"Our investment into our students has been growing every term, although the increasing operational costs are not passed on to our students. We are able to keep our tuitions affordable," noted Celik Kayalar, the school's director, an indie director/writer who is also an actor and has studied extensively in LA.
All class work is recorded for student review and demo reel. Advanced students get networking opportunities, notably the popular LA@FABA Workshop which connects them, via high-definition Skype, to LA casting directors. Last year, seven students signed with the prestigious Stars and JE Talent agencies; another took an award at the NY Vision Film Festival for her role in the feature "Falling Uphill"; and another joined the award-winning web series "Caribe Road".
"Today's film students are headed towards how film can be used in the service of the society and humanity," he added, "Which is important, considering the sad state we're currently in, economically and culturally." Since it is on the actor's face where these moral dilemmas will play out, it behooves acting students to get good training just as much as filmmakers to get good actors.
Ex'Pressions College features some of the most expressive architecture around, as well as loads of top tech, teachers and programs. photo: Expressions
Ex'Pressions College: Towards a Post-Modern Cineaste
For dedicated study of filmmaking, as well as sound, animation and game design, in Emeryville (deadcenter in the Bay Area),
is a stellar option. Although they just introduced their filmmaking degree last year, they are well on their way with over two dozen classes from Camera/Grip/Lighting to the more esoteric Shooting for Visual Effects.
The school’s Bachelor of Applied Science can be completed in 32 months with small classes, taught by industry professionals, using industry-grade professional equipment. Animation labs that boast a 1:1 student-to-computer ratio.
Under the tutelage of department director Yael Braha, their achievements have been reflected in excellent short-films, webisodes and commercials, augmented by working with students of Film Acting Bay Area, also housed at their Emeryville facility. They also have a location in San Jose.
With their professional and creative team, in a building the very architecture of which is inspirational, it does not get any better than this.
Diablo Valley Community College: Still Lots of Courses
Indeed, it does not get any better than
Diablo Valley Community College
for those in the wilds of the East Bay wanting to study film on the cheap at a two-year community college. DVC offers a fantastic array of classes from Cartoon Animation of Animals and Survey of the Short Film to Acting on Camera and Sound for Picture. "The American Cinema" class, which has a lot of essaying, is popular among humanities students. The fall semester starts August 17th,
"Our lecture classes are pretty much the same as last year," noted Dean Michael Almaguer. Although that is down a tad from the massive 46 classes that so impressed us in 2008, Almaguer says they are maintaining their funding and doing more with less by combining film and broadcast media and digital arts courses.
"In terms of film production, [those classes have] expanded a bit and got some upgrades in equipment and we just hired Christy Guevera-Flanagan to teach production." Guevera-Flanagan made the notable documentary "Going on 13" about three 12 year-old girls, and recently released the related "Wonder Woman".
Indeed, the department, chaired by Ken White, is increasing in popularity, with 810 students taking film classes out of a student body of around 15,000. All and all, with its many classes, pleasant campus (in Pleasant Hill, as it happens) and panoply of classes, DVC is robust and cost-effective place to establish your knowledge of film and start some shooting.
De Anza College: A Massive Curriculum Befitting Silicon Valley
If you are on a budget on the Peninsula, another college with a fabulous film department—indeed, the largest of its kind in the California Community College system—is
. The department grew into a behemoth, perhaps expecting the emergence of a Silicon Valley film market which really took off when YouTube started its own channels last year.
It offers 36 different courses with a notably spectacular range, including not one but two alt-film classes, a history and a workshop, and not one but two 16mm film production classes! There is also a course covering African-American cinema, finding a job in the industry and the critically important: Current Practices in the Film/Video Profession.
Under the direction of Zaki Lisha, the department's original founder, who is a producer and director of documentary and industrials and is well connected and can help students find work in local industrials. They have also done finer art projects and docs that have won kudos.
Their full-time faculty includes David Barney previously a news director for KHVH-TV Honolulu, Barak Goldman who has written and produced television shows, and Susan Tavernetti, a well-known local film critic and reviewer.
Two miles from the Apple Campus in the heart of Silicon Valley, De Anza students should become our shock troops in convincing the local billionaire gang that to save the earth, consciousness must be changed first and for that there is not better medium then media, as McLuhan might have parsed it.
College of San Mateo: Still Fine for Fundamentals
A little further north on the peninsula, if you just want to get started, the
College of San Mateo
is a good option. Despite budget cuts, CSM still offers an AA in Film History and courses in analysis, screenwriting, and production techniques.
"We're scaled back," said Professor David Laderman, who is well versed in all aspects of contemporary film language and filmmaking. "But we are still teaching four courses each semester like Intro to Film, Film History, and selected topics."
Being a community college, the price is right and many CSM graduates do transfer to film programs at four-year universities—not mention it's near the Redwood Shores production facilities where some work is to be had.
College of Marin: Continuing the Marin Film Legacy
Although some of Hollywood North's vaunted Marin chapter has dissipated, its legacy lives on at the
College of Marin
. “I remember when [George] Lucas said he was going to start a film school,” noted laboratory tech Jon Gudmundsson. “That never happened, [but] College of Marin is where you come for a film education in Marin.”
Started by English professor Judy Gartman after the release of "Star Wars" in 1977 created a lot of demand, it has grown continually and is not that effected by budget cuts. The program has three divisions: Filmmaking, Screenwriting, and Television Production and offers an Associate of Arts degree. The current catalog has 16 classes, many hands-on, with emphasis split between aesthetics and tech.
About half the students move on to a four-year university, while the rest go into the professional world.
“A lot of our graduates have gone on to jobs at ILM,” says Gudmundsson, “This is a great place for kids right out of high school, who aren’t ready yet for the big university. I’ve seen Frank [Crosby, a popular teacher] break them out of the molds they were in during high school. It’s just wonderful to watch.” The only place for film classes in the area, CM is the perfect choice for getting started or if you don't want to commute across the bridge.
Students like these, at Chabot College, are going to suffer from the budget cuts eviscerating their film department. photo: courtesy CCC
Chabot Community College: A College on a Hill
Chabot Community College
has a lovely campus on a hill in Hayward and a mass media department, "[it] has been put on semi-hiatus," according to its new director Dale Wagner.
"We are going do what we can to provide classes for the students," he continued. "But there have been terrific cutbacks by the state and they will be even more if [Governor] Brown's tax-initiative fails in November or the Munger Proposition passes."
This is too bad since up until recently Chabot featured various classes, one which produced a reality show, and liaisons with the City of Hayward and shows with the local ABC affiliate but it still has three check-out cameras and Wagner insists he will keep some studies and projects going.
California College of the Arts: Massive Animation as Well as Film
If the time has come to pick up your pen or pixelpusher and draw your way into a career, there is no better choice—perhaps in the world—then
. The animation department has whopping 21 teachers (!) including Warren Trezevan from Pixar, Ed Gutierrez and Don Crum from Disney and others from DreamWorks and Tippet Studio.
Meanwhile the separate film department has 15 more teachers, meaning as a whole the school has grown greatly from the 30 odd students 2009. In addition to the massive teacher roster, CCA invites guest artists like Gus Van Sant and John Waters. While the media department used be on a leafy hilltop in Oakland, in 2008 they moved to an enormous modernist hangar in SF's 3rd St corridor.
"Filmmaking is no longer limited to one specific material," notes Rob Epstien, echoing other department heads, "Digital tools and the explosive influence of the Internet have dramatically expanded [its] scope." Epstein, a two time Oscar-doc-winner for "The Life and Times of Harvey Milk" and "Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt", is on a filmmaking leave of absence, a common condition in the film school business, and current chair is Brook Hinton. A filmmaker and composer as well as SFAI grad, he helped Apple develop Final Cut Pro (making him the go-to guy with your FCP questions).
CCA cut back a bit in 2010, but is fiscally sound under the management of Stephen Beal, a professor of painting and drawing, who became president in 2009, after a decade as provost.
In addition to their strong doc and animation squads, CCA has a massive alt-film presence inherited dfrom their painter days. Until recently the department was co-directed by Barney Haynes, a computer/machine/sculpture who teaches interdisciplinary studies and sculpture. Their New Digital Media focuses projects and discussions exploring the intersection of media, design, and technology often blending it with sculpture, writing, and industrial design.
"Scientists are saying they have all this data and what are we going to do with it?" Haynes said. "They are bringing in artists to help them visualize solutions. Everything is joining up, even the arts and sciences."
Needless-to-say, this all speaks to CCA's phenomenal range. At one point, many students wanted to make Grade-B horror films or sexy noirs; then there was a movement towards slapstick and AfterEffects. In the last few years, animation has been king, while straight documentary was always strong—in short, what ever genre you wish to work in, or blend together, for that matter, you would be well served at CCA.
Eunice Soto and Jennifer Frederikson at City College, the best cinema education bargain in San Francisco. photo: CCSF
City College of San Francisco: Masters of the More With Less
For making and studying film on a budget you could do no better than
. Despite some fiscal troubles, it is keeping with its ambitious film program started in the 60s.
"Convergence and divergence simultaneously," summarizes Lidia Szajko, Dean of the Cinema Department, addressing the current educational climate. "Film media is crossing platforms, blending platforms and evolving new forms all at once. Film education needs to reflect and embrace the shifting landscape." Unfortunately, much is under the ax.
"Our course offerings have been reduced over the last few years due to budget cuts," says Szajko. "But we continue to have strong enrollment and enthusiastic students. And we remain focused on our core program here in the cinema department with our terrific faculty," which includes the notably docmaker David Brown and scriptwriter Denise Bostrum. No wonder students have been winning awards, getting jobs in their field and starting successful production companies.
In keeping with its mandate to provide affordable education, CCSF takes cinema majors through a four-semester program, starting with film production curriculum and winding up with mastery of advanced production skills with a solid film-history base.
"I do not believe CCSF is going to close," continued Szajko, "Although we have to make some major changes and quickly, which will be hard. Since we are already in the business of providing quality education economically, I believe we have the ingenuity and skills to successfully adapt to our changing environment."
Hopefully, they will prevail since CCSF is the most affordable avenue to a full film education in The City of San Francisco. Plus its campus, in South San Francisco, replete with massive Diego Rivera murals, has long had a diverse student body, making it a very interesting place to study.
Shooting with the Red Camera at Berkeley Digital: students there own four between them. photo: BSDF
Berkeley Digital Film Institute: An Intimate School in a Famous Media Building
If you want a small almost sexually intimate film school—and collaborating on films is all about living in each other's head, the actor is the face of the director's dreams, the director gives the actor voice, etc—one of the premiere boutique film schools in the area is the
Berkeley Digital Film Institute
. Located in the old Fantasy Building, where almost a half of Hollywood North's feature output was produced by Saul Zaentz, they still have the massive 32 channel, 12 foot board, although they now use a tiny higher quality Pro Tools set up.
"We are the only school with a Dolby 'box,'" says Patrick Kriwanek, the director, "It's a secret encoder box that they wanted back but Saul called Dolby and insisted it stay." They also have two deluxe small theaters.
The recession had not effected them. "Our enrollment has stayed steady and the kids have been successes," Kriwanek told CineSource. "They are getting good jobs, mostly in television in LA." Classes are limited to 12 students and they direct nine films in the course of the program, with their final-thesis professionally mixed in a 5.1-surround Dolby stage.
Job placement is central and a good reel is central to that. The students are themselves are quite pro. Four of the current crop own six Red cameras, the West Coast high-end camera of choice circa 2010, but the school's next camera is going to be an Alexa by Aireflex.
BDFI 16-month curriculum covers producing and directing for narrative or docs, commercials and MTVs. The faculty is very pro, including Berger from UCB, the ubiquitous Olmstead and Jake Kornbluth, a feature director and brother to Bay TV personality Josh. Between them, they have 10 Academy Awards and 50 nominations.
One student, Chris Milk, who won at Cannes for his Arcade Fire MTV, is producing a big feature in Hollywood, "Bitter Root", from the Black List [an informal list of top scripts passed between various agents, see deadlinehollywood.com).
"The one thing that I really learned in Patrick's program," Milk said, "Was what it's actually like to be working in the film business, instead of 'how do you adjust the gain on this camera?' and stuff. When I moved to LA, I had a much better understanding of what to expect and how to navigate the social/political of it all."
Students also intern with the documentarians who remain on the top floor of the Fantasy Building, by Saul's orders, but 90% are into narrative and have made dozens of music videos: 18 for Chris Brown, eight for Justin Beaver, four for Puff Daddy and J-Z and three for .50 cents, understandable since Kriwanek himself made 58 MTV spots, including 17 for MC Hammer.
""Our students are in the top ten MTV directors in the world," he said. "At the MTV video awards, BDFI took best for the Justin Bever MTV but they had six nominations—six more then any film schools in the US—which is pretty cool."
Bay Area Video Coalition: Bringing Job Training to the Tech Frontier
If monogamous intimacy with the cine muse is a bit too much for you right now and you just want to grab a-coupla-classes to hone your skills, a powerhouse of the media arts, right next door to the big public radio/TV station,
(pronounced ‘bay-vac’), is just the ticket.
A non-profit media center started in 1976 , it makes the new video technology accessible to independent mediamakers, growing with the times as technologies have shifted.
Its core curriculum that covers video production and post digital audio, motion graphics & effects, game design & 3-D media arts. Classes are taught by the likes of game animator Gus d'Angelo, Jörg Fockele, award-winning filmmaker and tv director (Bravo's "Queer Eye" and ABC's "Wife Swap”), filmmaker/artist Lise Swenson or Louise Vance, a Peabody Award-winning filmmaker with nearly three decades of experience.
Plus a whopping 40 other instructors teaching courses with names like Aesthetics of Editing, Flash Bootcamp, Voiceover Recording, and Training for Unemployed Mediamakers. In fact, the new FUSE program offers training and job-placement to unemployed media professionals.
"BAVC training really redefines film school in a professional context," said Wendy Levy, Director of Creative Programming. Classes are limited to ten students, ensuring students get the attention they need. For a few bucks an hour, students can receive advanced training in After Effects and Final Cut Pro as well as workflow, project design, design and education. Many Bay Area companies—SEGA, Ubisoft, Adobe, Apple, Industrial Light & Magic, even Kink.com, the porn producer HQ-ed a few blocks away—have turned to BAVC for training.
BAVC co-produces with its next-door neighbor KQED, a weekly TV program called SPARK covering the arts in the Bay Area. The non-profit also works with traditional storytellers to develop original content for mobile devices, interactive websites, and games, and more—all in all an impressive institution, quite cost-effective and conveniently located on 18th Street in a cafe heavy section of the Mission.
Art Institute of California—San Francisco: From a Family of Art Institutes
If funky local is not your scene, then zip across town to the highend with the
Art Institute of California—San Francisco
. Part of an art institute network, AIC is perfect if you are transferring from elsewhere in the Argosy Universities system, with its campuses in Los Angeles, Orange County, Sacramento and San Diego.
Professionally oriented, they offer Bachelor of Science in web and game design as well as audio production and filmmaking, although are a little light on the actual class listings, they offer a variety (contact your school representative for specifics. Nevertheless, located in the heart of San Francisco, near Civic Center and the fabulous Asian Museum and Main Library, which shows classic movies, this is as good a place as any to wet your feet in the San Francisco cinema scene and see where you film studies take you.
Although Academy film department director Diane Baker starred in 'Marnie', among many other, endowing the school notable Hollywood access, she is also a director, world traveller and 'mensch,' which helps students balances that energy. photo: courtesy A. Hitchcock
Academy of Art University: The Golden Gate to Hollywood
But if—in final analysis—you need to give your all to filmmaking, in a big professional school, with an ample art perspective as well as a strong Hollywood track, then there is nothing better than the queen of Bay Area film schools, the
Academy of Art University
With over 1500 students, making it one of the top ten largest film schools in the world, the Academy has fantastic teachers, an incredible equipment room, a bunch of sets and sound stages, all scattered throughout dozens of building in downtown SF with a private bus system to ferry you to-and-fro. There is also the annual Epidemic Film Festival which packs the venerable Castro Theatre.
AAU's School of Motion Pictures & Television (MPT) is headed by the regal figure of Diane Baker, a Los Angeles producer, director and wellknown actress, who was in many famous films, notably "Marnie", where she studied under the hard tutelage of Hitchcock. There she played Sean Connery's sexy and conniving sister-in-law but running the film school, she is the complete opposite, an astute and matriarchal troop- and cheer- leader, who both administrates and teaches indefatigably (
see CS article
"Everyone loves the teachers, they are all very professional," CineSource was informed by one student, a talented director/writer who also looked like she could have been in the acting school, which is separate. "They have good equipment. It's the only [big] school where you will be shooting a film within your first couple weeks instead doing two years of theory before you hold a camera. Another thing about the teachers, if they don't get good student evaluations, they won't get rehired."
AAU's almost 40 teachers provide quite a mix—the Brazilian director/producer Eduardo Rufelsen, acting teacher Karen Hirst, out of Chicago's Second City, feature director Tim Boxell, scriptwriter/director James Dalessandro and prolific sound designer Steve Romanko—as do their 25 film classes. They include the essential but not available at any other film school under review: Script Breakdown & Blocking and Unit Production Management.
“We’re oriented toward art and design, but we’re industry-directed,” explained Jack Isgro, Director of MPT Outreach. Founded by a graphic designer who knew how to make things work, unlike the "artier" types at some of the other film schools, the Academy is now run by his granddaughter, Dr. Elisa Stephens.
One central goal of the film school is that students leave with the ability to demonstrate proficiency. Isgro echoes a dominant film educator opinion: “What gets people a job is a good reel.”
With Baker's southern connections, which helps draw many visiting luminaries, AAU is a veritable golden gate to Hollywood. But it also offers the Experimental Film class and the Underrated Cinema classes which nurture a diverse student body (see CineSource article
Emerging Film Artist: Milan
The Academy has a dedicated directing, producing, editing and cinematography track and two undergrad degrees as well as a Master of Fine Arts graduate degree, while degree-less classes are also available online. In addition to their in-house film festival, there is the popular improv classes leading to an annual show.
"In terms of styles, horror is always big," the directing student continued, reiterating an interest common through out Bay Area schools. "But people are also writing bigger scene stuff, political stuff that is trying to change things. And there is a big appreciation of film noir. When I go to LA everyone is talking about the newer stuff. In San Francisco, they are talking about older films, the classics."
And where better to study the classics as well as the full gamut of modern filmmaking than at the Academy, with its incredible equipment room, its students from dozens of countries, its great teachers and professional track, all of which makes it one of the top film schools not only in the area but the world?
Or if the Academy is not quite suited to your style or budget, certainly one of the other two dozen departments or schools will fit you to a "T," since where better to study cinema then in the Bay Area? With its artistic tradition but Hollywood a few hours drive, with its iconographic scenery and many film students or cine-obsessed citizens draftable for cast or crew, with its alternative worldviews and many film showcases, which will inspire your scripts and techniques, not to mention its easy-living and premier West Coast lifestyle, this is the place to learn film.
And then stay and make films that will change the world, or just one viewer's mind, which if it is yours, is enough.
Posted on Aug 14, 2012 - 07:24 PM