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How to Choose a Film School
by New York Film Academy Staff
Everyone is a critic and in our culture criticism of films has become its own art form but it’s hard to distinguish between genuine and 'show-off' criticism. photo: courtesy New York Film Academy
Let’s be real. A lot of schools suck. At the top of the suck list might be film schools.
Who among us, whether at a name four-year university or something less well known, like the “13th and 14th grade” of your community college, did not themselves say or hear their friends comment how much their school, well, SUCKED?
Although the critic may not have much frame of reference—how many colleges, after all, had they attended to make this evaluation scientific?—nevertheless, everyone around him or her usually nodded their heads in agreement.
The same and DOUBLE can be said for film schools. Look up any of the best film schools and you are likely to find a blog somewhere where a student or former student or non-student will rant about the tuition, quality of instructors, the facilities, the existential futility of it all, etc.
To be sure, film schools can be hellholes of pretension and suck-uppedness as well as simply sucky. Your first clue is often excessive use of the word “auteur.” Another is mod hats, including berets, no less—what are we, French New Wave?—and scarves on men (not that there’s anything wrong with scarves, mind you).
As any fresh-faced film school students must quickly learn, the most awful fate that can befall an artist of any kind but especially filmmakers is to be deemed banal (pronounced “buh-NALL,” with the accent on the second syllable, unlike how one may have heard it growing up in Cleveland).
If you aspire to a career in media, get ready to be criticized—even more so when you achieved success. photo: courtesy New York Film Academy
And it stands to reason, among students who can riff off a list of the WORST works of Kubrick, Hitchcock and Allen, it is only a matter of time before they turn those criticisms inward. The perfect target, in fact, is the school their parents pay dearly for them to attend but which is now stifling their non-banal auteur dreams.
There is both fairness and unfairness to this. It’s fair to criticize anything. All film schools, as well as the people in them, are human and therefore flawed and ripe for criticism. This is nothing new.
In “The Complete History of American Film Critics” (2010), author Jerry Roberts takes us back to the Silent Era, when D.W. Griffith somewhat invented the profession of movie criticism (along with the poet Vachel Lindsay).
Today we have Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and IMDB not to mention the New York Times, New Yorker and Huffington Post. Being critical is an attitude available to any one, it makes us feel important, like we are entitled to judge the gods, and it holds a special place in the world of film. It makes sense that film students would criticize their schools as well.
The unfairness is more due to lack of credentials—again, criticizing the only school one knows—which happens at a time in history when your critiques are not simply at a late-night bull session in a dormitory (i.e., before there was an Internet). With social media, students can share critiques with the whole world. And they do.
Online sites such as StudentReview.com, Grad.StudentReview.com, StudentAdvisor.com, Unigo.com, blog.RateMyProfessors.com and UniversityReviewsOnline.com provide lots of information from students who are there—or claim to be.
But there’s a big difference between these “user reviews” and Pauline Kael, the legendary Bay Area critic who rose out of a chicken farm in Petaluma and went on to conquer and some say pervert New York cinema analysis in the 1970s and '80s.
With online reviews there is great latitude for anonymity by the posters. It’s almost legend—and it is the chief criticism of sites such as Yelp and Amazon.com—how an irate ex -lover or -employee, competitor, disgruntled customer or run-of-the-mill social cranks will skew the review of a film, book or dental practice. Of course, current girlfriends, mothers, enlisted employees (“volunteers?”) and paid reviewers of reputation management companies will try to create balance in these reviews.
At the end of the day (and the end of the reviewer comments), it’s a flawed system and one of the biggest lies of the crowdsourcing paradigm of the digital world. Criticism is asymmetrical art war, played best by those who have the most time on their hands.
So let’s get back to choosing a film school, shall we?
With the flawed online-critic system, how do you know which is right for you? I suggest you tackle it with a list. Itemize what YOU think would make your education complete. Read online articles of great actors, producers and cinematographers to find out where they went to film school—if they went to school at all! Their alma mater may be geographically or economically inaccessible to you but at least read what they have to say about it.
After that, go analog. Visit the schools. Yes, transport your actual body to their actual campus. There is no better way to identify if you feel right somewhere until you walk the halls of a school. Observe the students you see there, talk to administrators and perhaps faculty, and look at the classroom and laboratory facilities. Film and acting are still very physical endeavors. You have to see, touch and even smell what each school looks like to you. And listen carefully to see if anyone says “auteur” or “banal” more than once in a conversation.
You will have plenty of time to be critical later. But don’t let your criticisms get in the way of your dreams. And remember, if you succeed at a career in the theatrical arts, you too may have critics tearing you up one day. We could all be so lucky!
Good luck from those of us at the
New York Film Academy
Posted on Dec 03, 2012 - 10:12 PM