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Local Film Schools: A Plethora of Riches
The San Francisco Art Institute sports deluxe views and architecture as well as teachers and ideas. photo: D Blair
Everyone knows that the Bay Area is home to many of top animation studios, effects houses, and more, but what isn’t often acknowledged is the number of first-rate film schools—for which we hold the record.
It’s ‘back to school’ time again, so here’s a rundown of the opportunities available to prospective film students and how to choose a school with the proper fit. Our local schools run the gamut from ‘institutions of higher learning’ with full programs in liberal arts, to art schools or those with a more ‘trade school’ approach which allow students to get their hands dirty without studying the history of film (an approach we feel is erroneous, since the history of film is vital to understanding the medium).
Our list (randomized to keep things interesting) includes one of the finest theoretical film schools in the world and a number of first-rate practical film schools, as well as two of the most advanced digital media centers in the nation, where you won’t find celluloid in the classes – but where students can learn the most advanced media technology on the latest equipment in fine facilities.
San Jose State’s Industry Approach
San Jose State University (SJSU) is unique: the school not only offers the traditional film school curriculum, but also has its own production company, South Bay Film Studios. During the school year, the production company produces rock videos with four-day shoots, bringing in guest professionals to give students hands-on experience to augment classroom and independent learning. “Our goal,” says Department Head Barnaby Dallas, “is to give people an environment in which to make professional films.”
During the summer, South Bay Studios shoots a feature film that is almost entirely student-run. Line Producer Ned Kopp is usually the only professional on the set; students serve as screenwriter, director, cinematographer, actors, and designer. Indeed, the CineSource paper version had a shot of the team with this title:
Cheer Up Sam,
a comedy feature about a YouTube slacker, was written/directed by San Jose State student Matt Falkenthal and produced by Spartan Film Studios in a class with thirty-five students mentored by faculty, staff, and industry professionals. From left: Ed Martin, assistant director (student); Nick Martinez, executive producer (faculty/staff); Matt Falkenthal, writer/director (student); Barnaby Dallas, executive producer (faculty/staff); Eugene Kim, producer (student); Christopher Robin Faulkner, cinematographer (student); Ned Kopp, executive producer (faculty).
The films are so good that they have begun to get DVD distribution. The 2006 feature
Glory Boy Days
was chosen to premiere at the Slamdance Film Festival (the ‘anti-Sundance’ festival held at the same time in Park City), and the feature
premiered at the Mill Valley Film Festival in 2005. South Bay Studios is completing production on its 2008 feature, and has another one in post-production. The university has a relationship with Cineplex, which has bought two films from them and has made an offer on a third. Dallas and company have also sold films to Cinematic Media.
The curriculum covers all aspects of production, including acting, design, cinematography, and lighting. Many of the program’s graduates have gone on to successful professional careers and to respected graduate schools. “It’s true that we make excellent films,” Dallas says, “but mostly we make great filmmakers.” – Sharon Gerhard
San Jose State: Pro Shop Produces Able Auteurs like Eugene Kim
We featured San Jose State on CineSource's cover last year, due to the fantastic job producer-teacher Barnaby Dallas, filmmaker-teacher Ned Kopp, and department head Dr. Ethel Walker were doing, not only running one of the better departments in the Bay Area, but also Spartan Productions. As the name implies, Spartan produces features on limited budgets and markets them to European television, among other places. Since Eugene "SB" Kim was one of the rock-star cinema kids draped across each other and our cover last year (see "Plethora of Film Schools,' CS archives), we figured we'd feature his personal paean to his beloved alma mater, entitled "This is Sparta!"
It all began when I joined the TRFT (television, radio, film, and theater) department in my sophomore year. I was at an awkward stage in my college career, seeking to fill a void left by a recent break-up with a girlfriend. The TRFT department came to the rescue, in the form of a vigorous internship on the "Kid" music video. Indeed, it introduced me to the path I have chosen to follow the rest of my life.
Eugene Kim, center, draped across fellow SJS filmmakers, Matt Falkenthal and Chris Faulkner, with instructors Nick Martinez, Barnaby Dallas and Ned Kopp (left to right) in back row. photo: CineSource
Many students, such as myself, join film programs with romantic dreams of fabricating art similar to what we see on the big screen. These dreams are crushed year after year when it dawns on us that - unless you're rich or a miracle occurs (other than the credit card "magic" most film students incur) - you probably won't get the opportunity to be the next Tarrantino or Spielberg.
But each summer at SJ State, Spartan Productions, TRFT's very own film production company, allows one standout student to develop his or her screenplay into an actual film, shooting in a professional environment and learning everything from technique to set etiquette.
Joining that department is like a rite of passage right out of a movie. Loyalty is a must. So is damn good writing. A delightful process, it makes much more sense than the numbers game that rules Hollywood. At SJSU, if you pay your dues, your time will come.
After spending the better part of a demanding summer working on Spartan productions, I was pumped up and ready to prove to my peers that I too had a story to tell. I had been involved with the Film Production Society, a club dedicated to producing films, and I had written and directed short films that went on to win awards at various festivals. The time had come for me to take that next step.
I had begun to write a script in a screenwriting class, probably similar to screenplays by other first-time feature writers: vignette of events from my life. After undergoing ample criticism, I was able to find the funding to make it - a fairy tale ending to my "film school" years. When I tell people "No, I didn't go to AFI, USC, or UCLA," the look on their faces is priceless. Indeed, if I were able to do it all over, I wouldn't change a thing.
The department just invested in some new gear, a Fisher 11, Panasonic HD cameras, and assorted grip equipment, and is ready to compete with the best of them. For more info: Barnaby Dallas at
On the Ex’press Track
When students enter Ex’pression College for Digital Arts to prepare for a career in ‘media,’ administrators and instructors tell them, “This is your time to make mistakes here, so you’re not doing it out in the industry later.” Ex’pression students choose majors from among courses of study in animation, gaming, motion graphic design, or sound arts. The school’s Bachelor of Applied Science degree programs can be completed in about 32 months. The small classes, taught by industry professionals, use industry-grade professional equipment.
The Animation & Visual Effects program guides students toward a successful career in emerging applications for video games, visual effects, and 3-D visualization. Professional-level graphics and animation labs boast a 1:1 student-to-computer ratio. The Motion Graphic Design program gives students a traditional design background while learning motion graphic design. Students cover a range of design fundamentals from traditional drawing and typography, through concept creation and color theory, to web-, motion-, and 3-D design.
Students learn the craft of Game Art & Design from industry pros, many of whom are veterans of Bay Area game companies. The program begins with strong Fine Arts fundamentals, building upward toward advanced conceptual design. The Sound Arts program focuses on hands-on experience with access to cutting-edge digital audio equipment and software.
“At Ex’pression College, students are using world-class digital audio equipment and software, as well as classic analog technology,” says Jessica Koehnen, International Admissions Representative. The active alumni association also has a network of 1,100 professionals working within the four tracks the school offers. – Roger Rose
SFSDF – Working from the Ground Up
Apprenticeship is an integral part of San Francisco School of Digital Filmmaking’s teaching philosophy. The goal is to give students three essential tools: a reel of work, professional film credits, and industry contacts. “When we started two years ago, there was nothing else like it,” says co-founder and Director of Productions Jeremiah Birnbaum. “Many of our students are four-year film-school graduates who’d never made a movie.”
SFSDF offers four programs. The one-year Digital Filmmaking Program equips students to become directors, producers, writers, cinematographers, editors, and indie filmmakers. In the 5-week hands-on Digital Filmmaking Workshop, students learn the process of digital video production. Film Acting Class is a technique-based 8-week program, where students build a professional demo reel. Screenwriting Workshops teach the elements of developing an idea and creating a film treatment.
Integration in the local film community makes the school unique. Fog City Films, the school’s film company, produces feature films, hiring local industry professionals as department heads, and students as crew. Under the pros’ mentorship, students earn film credits and build reels. Students “learn in a supportive, creative, and educational environment that happens to be a professional film.” Students also attend lectures, make their own films, and crew 20-25 of their classmates’ films.
Class size is kept small to ensure individual attention, and the faculty comprises award-winning professionals from all disciplines. “SFSDF learning doesn’t take place in an ivory tower,” says Birnbaum. “Graduates can seamlessly enter the film industry. Most of our students are working professionally while still in school.”
– Sharon Gerhard
Diablo Valley’s Hidden Gem
DVC, a two-year community college in Pleasant Hill, is one of three publicly-supported community colleges in the Contra Costa Community College District (along with Contra Costa College and Los Medanos College). First opened in 1949, the school currently has an enrollment of 26,000 students, with 300 full-time and 370 part-time instructors.
Unlike many community colleges, DVC offers a remarkably wide range of courses for aspiring film and animation students, including (in various departments) Cartoon Animation of Animals (Art), Survey of the Short Film and Literature of the Drama (English), Film and Criticism (Humanities), Acting on Camera (Drama), and Sound for Picture (Music).
The film department itself focuses on theory – 46 classes, including a survey of cinema’s 113-year history, surveys of various genres, and some 20 courses on great directors (including Wells, Fellini, Hitchcock, Scorsese, Ford, Chaplin, Kurosawa, Wilder, Sayles, the Coen Brothers, Coppola, Stone, Eastwood, Lee, Tarantino, Spielberg). In addition, the film department offers numerous production courses, including Television & Film Lighting, and Fundamentals of Film Making [sic].
DVC also has a complete Multimedia Program (part of the Art & Photography Department), offering courses in Digital Imaging, Motion Graphics, 3D Modeling & Animation, Web Design, and Multimedia Portfolio Development. Multimedia Program Chair Joann Denning says that DVC offers “a program of study that introduces students to a wide variety of ways to express themselves using digital media… the DVC Multimedia Program can help [students] to reach personal and career goals.”
– David Hakim
San Mateo College – Springboard to Big Things
College of San Mateo offers an AA in Film History, training students in analysis, screenwriting, and production techniques. According to Professor David Laderman, the program focuses on history, genre, directors, and national film movements. Digital production courses will soon be available through the Multimedia and Broadcast departments. “We emphasize film in the context of the electronic film culture,” Laderman says. “We study visual literacy in the framework of the broader media culture.”
Special Projects allow latitude for students to design and implement courses of study relevant to their interests, with input and guidance from professionals in the field, and with access to the resources of the college. Many CSM graduates transfer to film programs at four-year universities, but some pursue professional opportunities in the fields of criticism, education, and production.
– Sharon Gerhard
BAVC Brings Job Training to Tech Frontier
A local powerhouse of media arts, the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC – ‘bay-vac’), is a non-profit media arts center opened in 1976 to make evolving video technology accessible to independent mediamakers. BAVC’s core curriculum covers video production and post digital audio, motion graphics & effects, game design & 3-D media arts, and many other classes.
Now 30 years later, BAVC has altered the way it serves the community as technologies have caused a shift in our habits.† “People can create and exhibit their own digital content online,” says Mindy Aronoff, Director of Training & Resources. “The evolving nature of technology makes it easier for people to deliver content to sites like YouTube, Crackle, and Current TV, among other multi-platform video entertainment websites.”
In the Bay Area community, companies want employees to know something about everything. And an impressive roster of companies send their employees to BAVC for training – SEGA, Ubisoft, Adobe, Apple, Industrial Light & Magic, TV stations, and even Kink.com. The hands-on class roster covers the Aesthetics of Editing, Flash Bootcamp, Voiceover Recording, Training for Unemployed Mediamakers, and, of course, the blue chip Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and Final Cut Pro.
BAVC co-produces SPARK, a weekly TV program about the arts in the Bay Area with KQED, and the school was awarded seed money to develop the Community Innovation Lab: a sort of R&D think tank.† The non-profit also works with traditional storytellers to develop original content for mobile devices (iPods and cellphones), interactive websites, and games.
– Roger Rose
Oakland Film Center’s ‘PA University’
‘Production Assistant University,’ or PAU, was founded by Tim Ranahan, owner of Ranahan Production Services in Oakland. Operating out of the Oakland Film Center, this non-accredited internship program is supported by the Film Center, the Studio One Arts Center, Oakland Parks & Recreation, and Ranahan himself. With a goal of bringing film training and jobs in film production to the ethnically diverse local population who might not otherwise have access to them, PAU trains young adults for the entry level position on film sets, and also assists in job placement.
Training consists of a four-week program of classroom lectures and seminars, and field study at local film centers, rental houses, and film sets. PA trainees will learn the hierarchy of production crews, classifications, basic equipment, terminology of the various departments, dealing with the public, and how to read call sheets and shooting schedules. They will also learn the fundamentals of production, lighting, grip, make-up/hair, camera, and transportation departments from professionals in those fields.
At the end of training, participants will be prepared to work on a film as a PA, and, if interested, can be integrated into other departments. While PAU currently operates in Oakland, Ranahan plans to expand throughout the Bay Area. “The idea,” says Ranahan, “is to have a PA force that is educated, knowledgeable, and good at their jobs. When a production comes here from out of town, the word will be out that Northern California has a good PA force that really knows its stuff. That’s what we want.”
– Sharon Gerhard
SF Art Institute – A Feisty Eminence Grise
Founded by early bohemians after the Gold Rush, the grand dame of California art schools had a cutting-edge film department in the 1970s, allowing first-year students unique access to Arriflex-Nagra packages, and boasting pioneer teachers like collage filmmaker Larry Jordan, loose-narrative stylist George Kuchar, and poet James Broughton.
Today, SFAI is scrapping to rise out of the pack of schools under department chair and avant-garde independent filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson, who says that the administration is eager to augment the program, which “has a new vitality, and we expect to be doing great things.” The department still includes old masters – Kuchar, film-text author Janis Lipzin, documentarian Sam Green (Weather Underground), and DP Hiro Narita, (Never Cry Wolf, Honey I Shrunk the Kids).† Alumnus Narita, Leeson says, “is an inspiration, someone who… went on to great success.”
The 30 courses include standards (Guerrilla Video Production, Film Collage) while looking forward: Soft Cinema/Machinima & Online Cinema (cinema using gaming engines), and Narratives/The Speed of Light.
“This is a real turning point for narrative,” says longtime instructor Jeff Rosenstock. “Those students used to be marginalized, [but] like the digital revolution, you don’t need Hollywood to make narrative. Previously, visiting artists taught classes like Narrative Strategy Scriptwriting.† [Leeson’s] arrival represents a big change.”
Leeson embraces all genres: “Work of all one type, even if called ‘experimental,’ isn’t really experimental.† ‘Experimental’ demands a range of things – narrative, non-narrative, Machinima, social network video (like YouTube, Flicker, and Second Life), even mobile phones – that are relevant and have integrity.† You must have a strong concept.”
– David Hakim
Berkeley Digital: A Venerable Location
The Berkeley Digital Film Institute is probably the only film school where the students share the elevator with such luminaries as Saul Zaentz, Allen Daviau, and Walter Murch. Located at the Saul Zaentz Media Center, the program is run like a graduate school, and consists of a 16-month curriculum in Producing and Directing for Motion Pictures (Narrative and Documentary), Television, Commercials and Music Videos. Every student produces and directs nine films, with increasing degrees of difficulty as the program proceeds. Final-thesis projects are mixed by professional re-recordists in the Institute’s 5.1-surround Dolby stage.
The school’s close-contact, mentor-driven style is augmented by the presence of high-caliber award-winning filmmakers and guest lecturers, who expose students to multiple voices and many varying styles and techniques. Job placement is a special feature of the one-to-one mentoring program. “There’s nothing like it in Northern California,” says Patrick Kriwanek, the school’s dean and founder. “Kids who’ve been here for 21 weeks are already working for commercial clients.”
The faculty has extensive expertise in the world of professional filmmaking, and has won a number of awards, including 10 Academy Awards and 50 nominations. Additionally, the Institute’s presence in the Saul Zaentz Media Center exposes students to some of the finest film professionals in the world.
– Sharon Gerhard
SF’s City College Splices Celluloid & Digital
An affordable community learning center, City College of San Francisco offers a two-year degree emphasizing film production training in all areas.† A vocational institution at the core, CCSF has the goal of providing affordable education to the community in the art and craft of filmmaking.
The Cinema major takes students 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.
“We’re fiercely committed to doing both celluloid and digital technologies,” says department chair Lidia Szajko.† “We get cameras into students’ hands [from] the first day.† We offer potential filmmakers the newest digital technologies in production, as well as a digital post-production lab.”
CCSF uses Final Cut Studio Two, with completely current post-production facilities, and maintains a range of both digital and film cameras, which “keeps the celluloid experience affordable to our students,” according to Szajko.
For the career-minded student, the curriculum offers a strong foundation that can be easily transferred to a four-year film program, and includes courses in film studies, production, digital film editing, cinematography, and lighting. New courses include Nonfiction Scriptwriting and Sound for Motion Pictures, and the spring semester will introduce Film Noir and Advanced Screenwriting. A hot new on-line class, New Political Documentary and Emerging Media, will explore how emerging technologies have revolutionized doc cinema practice. They will study the impact of documentary filmmaking in the context of social networks, blogs, games, cell phones, and 3D virtual communities.
– Roger Rose
CCA: Getting Reel
California College of the Arts is noted for the interdisciplinary nature of its programs. Rob Epstein, co-chair of the Media Arts program, says, “The Media Arts Program is a diverse multi-genre program. Course work emphasizes both theory and hands-on practice. Within the program, students have the opportunity to explore a wide variety of possibilities in Media Arts and filmmaking practices.”
CCA’s Media Arts program consists of three areas. The Experimental Film and Digital segment focuses on recent developments, and exposes students to cutting-edge theory and technology. The Narrative Film and Video segment combines historical perspective with current production skills. And the New Digital Media segment hands-projects and programming, research, and in-class discussion to explore the intersection of media, design, and technology. In line with CCA’s philosophy, Media Arts students are encouraged to blend coursework in these areas with those in other departments, such as Sculpture, Writing, and Industrial Design.
The program draws on local Bay Area talent, offering students access to key artists working in their fields of endeavor, taking advantage of the area’s proximity to cutting-edge technology. Also giving students opportunities to work with the latest in equipment and facilities, the department provides the latest in production equipment for checkout or rental, and has digital sound facilities on campus.
Established in 1907, CCA grew out of the Arts and Crafts movement, focusing on architecture and design, and has evolved over the years, offering film and video studies starting in the 60s. The school was renamed California College of the Arts in 2003, in deference to its extensive curriculum.
– Sharon Gerhard
UC Berkeley’s Scholastic Slant
UCB’s Film Studies program offers an innovative, interdisciplinary program leading to a BA in Film Studies, a PhD in the Film Studies Track of the Rhetoric Department, and a Designated Emphasis in Film for doctoral students located in other departments.
Examining all forms of moving-image culture, this richly diverse program covers the most popular media forms of the previous century (both film and still photography), as well as the most exciting new media form of the new century (digital media). With 15 regular faculty members and seven affiliated faculty members, the program also hosts both post-doctoral and visiting lecturers.
Under program director Mark Sandberg, Berkeley’s program of 20 undergrad courses and five graduate courses concentrates on history, theory and analysis – but there are several courses covering production as well, including Advanced Digital Video (Narrative Cinema & Production Practices), Graduate Production, and Seminar Time-Based Photography.
“The UC Berkeley Film Studies program is a strong and vibrant curriculum that focuses on the great cultural vernacular of our time,” says Sandberg. Exploring a wide range of cultural images within the broad context of humanistic studies, students are taught to think about those images and their meanings in terms that are historical, theoretical, and analytical. Opportunities in digital media are available to students who have demonstrated excellence in theory, history and analysis.
– David Hakim
Marin’s Incubator for Film Kids
The College of Marin serves the educational needs of the residents of Marin, regardless of age, sponsoring university-parallel programs and allowing students to complete their first two years of study toward a Baccalaureate degree for transfer to a four-year institution. “I remember when [George] Lucas said he was going to start a film school,” says Gudmundsson. “That never happened, and College of Marin is where you come for a film education in Marin.”
After the release of Star Wars in 1977 created a grassroots demand for hands-on film classes, English professor Judy Gartman started the Film Department. After Gartman’s death in the late 80s, Frank Crosby was hired. Crosby gathered private grants and state funds for a new facility and equipment, including a $30,000 Avid system. Crosby also started moving the program toward its digital future.
The program has three divisions: Filmmaking, Screenwriting, and Television Production. The program offers an Associate of Arts degree, and about half the students move on to a four-year university, while the rest go right into the professional world. Says Gudmundsson, “A lot of our graduates have gone on to jobs at ILM.”
All classes are hands-on, with equal emphasis on technology and esthetics. “This is a great place for kids right out of high school, who aren’t ready yet for the big university,” says Gudmundsson. “I’ve seen Frank [Crosby] break them out of the molds they were in during high school, and they develop, learn, and communicate. It’s just wonderful to watch.”
– Sharon Gerhard
Academy of Art’s Golden Gate
Even newcomers to San Francisco notice that the Academy of Art University seems to spring up everywhere. AAU’s campuses comprise some 30 buildings, covering 13 art and design majors.
AAU’s School of Motion Pictures & Television (MPT) boasts 1,200 dedicated future filmmakers, out of the school’s 9,000 students. Graduates are introduced almost immediately to decision-makers in their field, a kind of ‘golden gate’ for students hoping to enter Hollywood’s rarified air. Director of MPT Outreach Jack Isgro says, “We’re oriented toward art and design, but we’re industry-directed.”
One goal of the MPT program is that students leave with a standard to demonstrate proficiency. Isgro echoes the predominant opinion of industry insiders: “What gets people a job is a good reel.”
MPT has a dedicated cinematography track, where students begin with low-end equipment and move on to 35mm sync-sound cameras. †Students then have their choice from a collection of 16mm Arriflex†cameras – once they’ve proven competence with equipment, composition, and story design.
AAU students participate in the hugely popular annual Epidemic Film Festival at the Castro Theatre.† Packing that venerable house for a lively award ceremony, students watch winning examples of student teamwork between MPT and AAU’s School of Animation.
At AAU, the Bachelor of Fine Arts program usually takes four years, but students finish at their own pace (or can work online independently).† Degree-less classes are possible online, or in the ‘Personal Enrichment’ section of the undergraduate school.
– Roger Rose
SF State’s History of Quality
The San Francisco State University’s Cinema Department was created over 40 years ago, and is committed to a curriculum that recognizes cinema as an “independent, powerful and unique medium in the world.” The SFSU cinema programs combine theory with practice; students are “encouraged to engage in scholarship and to pursue practice in all forms of cinematic expression.”
“Film as a whole is an integrated discipline, and our graduates have learned the history and the background of filmmaking, as well as how to actually make films,” says Jim Goldner, professor of cinema since 1963. The learning is made easier by a new four-floor production facility constructed in the 90s, which enlarged post-production studios and labs, included a new theater, and started the transition from analog to digital processes.
Undergraduates can earn a BA in Cinema, a general program that also offers an emphasis in animation, and Graduate students work toward an MA in Cinema Studies or an MFA in Cinema. Classes include diverse offerings in cinema history and film studies, as well as labs on all aspects of film production. Goldner, one of the founders of the Cinema Department, says, “We push students to see film as a creative interdisciplinary medium greater than the simple mechanics of putting images on celluloid. Telling stories will always be in the forefront of filmmaking, but film at its core is both art and music.”
SFSU alumni have gone on to become Oscar nominees and winners, professional animators, software designers, and faculty members worldwide. – Sharon Gerhard
Nationally Acclaimed, right in Oakland. photo: K. Nzoiwu
Last month, we surveyed six Bay Area film schools, mostly big ones, like the Academy and State, and a few boutique, like SF School of Digital Filmmaking, and of the people, Chabot College, see CS archive, cinesourcemagazine.com. We're back with eight more of schools, while pushing the total number to a whopping 21 - not the 19 noted in last month's introduction.
Each school has its own approach and level of funding but even among smaller or poorer institutions, we found interesting practices and philosophies. Each enables at least some students to tackle the difficult tech and art training and, some, the still harder search for funding. As most of us well know, filmmaking is the noble knight-errant's quest - to make art and income despite the dragons of overwork, crass commercialism and cocaine.
Here's how our local cinema masters guide their charges: starting with Youth Radio, San Jose State, and Berkeley Digital Film Institute on this page and UC Santa Cruz, City College of SF, College of Marin, Bay Area Video Coalition and Pyramind, on the jumps.
Youth Radio Rocks Oakland & the World
Right on Broadway in the heart of Oakland is a street-level institution bustling with students and winning kudos and awards across the country for its penetrating reportage, mostly aired on PBS. "Youth Radio" is a show, a media outlet and a school, providing free after-school training since 1992 in broadcast journalism, radio, Web, media advocacy and literacy and now video production, with hopes to expand it.
"Youth Radio is doing great!" says Marcells Reese, staffing the front desk, "Even though donations have slowed, we have many supporters and students that keep Youth Radio in a great standing."
Using on the opportunitiy to air-DJ as a "hook," Youth Radio instructs over 1,300 kids each year, locally and nationally, in the art, craft, and career paths of media. Programs are open to youth ages 14 to 18, with advanced classes for those up to 24, and focus on underserved populations, notably girls (55%), low-income (80%) and kids of color (80%).
The introductory and intermediate programs, called CORE and BRIDGE_respectively, are 10 weeks long, while CAP (Community Action Project)_fosters leadership education for Oaklanders aged 16-21 who have been on probation/parole, or been suspended/expelled.
There's also the Emerging Media Professionals, an advanced training syllabus for ages 18-24. A six-month course, it includes public speaking, group facilitation, networking, journalism, production, and distribution - and can lead to internships_or what YR calls externships.
Run by the talented Jacinda Abcarian, YR is a fun place to work as well as learn, bustling with new trends and ideas. "The girls are into fashion videos with lots of color and current trends in clothing," according to Reese, but everyone is into making "short videos and posting them to the Youth Radio blog about issues effecting their lives and community." Although the film department is small, movies are broadcast online through their Website and YouTube (see
). With their fantastic national radio reputation, YR is an excellent place to get a good media grounding and join in building its probably soon-to-be-famous film scene. – D. Blair
A Small, Well-Equipped Place: Berkeley Digital Film Institute
The institute is small wellequipped, including a massive 32-track recording studio, and nicely situated in the Saul Zaentz Film Center on 10th Street in Berkeley. It provides a full gamut of classes, size-limited to 12 students, with pro directors, screenwriters, and cinematographers, some bringing their own equipment notably the Red camera, in conjunction with local cinematographer Jeff Deveraux.
According to founder/dean Patrick Kriwanek, "There's nothing like it in Northern California." The 16-month total immersion program focuses not only on producing and directing narrative fiction, but collaboration and the development of sample work, to raise funds for future projects. With facilities in the Saul Zaentz Center, there's easy access to other professionals.
"I think my students are definitely the coolest in the Bay Area," Kriwanek said, with a laugh, "And this year they have been especially well-recognized." Indeed, Danielle Katvan won 2nd place in the prestigious Eastman Kodak student film competition, alongside students from the American Film Institute; current and former students have seven music videos currently on MTV, with two more in the pipeline with by Bay Area icon MC Hammer, and Lucasfilm hired first semester student Laura Livingstone as a production assistant on "Ironman 2." More info: berkeleydigital.com. - D. Blair
UC Santa Cruz: Cinema by the Surf
UC Santa Cruz's film and digital media department is a veritable paradise within which to explore film. Aside from its lovely location, it is Goldilock-sized, not too big, not too small, and fully equipped. Offering some 20 courses per semester, from screenwriting and production to genre critique and analysis, the department of around 100 undergrads, with graduate course work starting in 2010, is a perfect place to learn high level filmmaking.
Indeed, UC's curriculum integrates cultural analysis with production and narrative. After the culture-wars of the 1980s, students are leaning to the latter, but alternative remains strong with Chip Lord, of the 60s media collective Ant Farm (who did Cadillac Ranch), teaching classes like "Fundamentals of Film and Video Production." Interdisciplinary, program combines media studies with other areas of the arts, humanities, and social sciences to facilitate the cultural overview that film students desperately need to do their job.
The results have been good with graduates screening work at Sundance and the Milan Film Festival, on HBO or Cinequest, and of course in the annual Santa Cruz Film Festival. The department hasn't taken much of hit economically and attendance is increasing. UCSC already WENT HD in 2008. They have a nice theater and green screen, and six edit suites, full lighting, audio, dollies and other gear.
With the department ably directed by the longterm teacher Eli Hollander, and a good selection of teachers from different backgrounds, including Yiman Wang, a scholar of Chinese cinema, UCSC is film school heaven. More at their great site film.ucsc.edu/courses. - D. Blair
College of Marin: Cinema in the Country
In addition to being home to George Lucas, Sean Penn, and, of late, Robert Zemeckis' prolific ImageMovers, Marin County boasts the College of Marin's slightly more modest film/video program. Structured under the Communications Department, the curriculum provides critical theory and skills for those interested in film, television and broadcast production. The current catalog has 16 classes, many hands-on, with emphasis split between aesthetics and tech. Students can take courses that transfer to four-year universities or earn an A.A. in communications, screenwriting or filmmaking.
The Red Berkeley Digital students shoot this highly acclaimed high-resolution camera. photo: BSDF
Frank Crosby, a media production professor, said some students simply take classes for the sake of finding freelance work in the media rich Marin scene (see article page one). He also emphasized that their program is changing with the times, now prepping students for all varieties of media, including web, gaming, and hand-held devices. One student, who only completed a few classes, directed a feature for The Disney Channel. Info:
- D. Schwartz
Cost-Effective SF Education: BAVC
The Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC), located in the media gulch of south east Mission District, offers a variety of programs in fields as diverse as journalism and advertising, but they are known primarily for their film/video classes. "BAVC training really redefines film school in a professional context," said Wendy Levy, Director of Creative Programming, and classes are limited to ten students, ensuring students get the attention they need.
The new FUSE program offers training and job-placement to unemployed media professionals. For less than a dollar an hour, students can receive advanced training in Flash, Photoshop, Illustrator, as well as the standard After Effects and Final Cut Pro. There are classes in workflow and project design, as well as the aesthetics of design and editing. They even offer free training to qualified local companies and teachers.
This year, BAVC awarded four filmmakers $8,000 in grants as part of the 2009 Mediamaker Awards and announced a partnership with the Dance Heritage Coalition to archive "100 seminal works of dance." Moreover, eight documentary teams recently developed social justice projects as part of the 2009 Producers Institute for New Media Technologies.
Since 1976, BAVC, itself a nonprofit has been serving the nonprofit, alternative and low-budg community, providing professional-quality facilities and friendly helpful service. You can find more information about the FUSE program and others at their Website (bavc.org). - R. Seifert
Pyramind: Right in the Thick of SF
A major production house working with big-money clients, like LucasArts, SEGA, Microsoft, and EA, this state-of-the-art facility, with cool foley room, also trains students in production and studio management, and on a number of high-end visual and audio programs. Training periods varies widely in both scope and intensity. After an 8-month core program, recommended to all students, they "major" in particular fields, like sound or animation, and get certified in programs like ProTools, Logic, Final Cut, Ableton, and WAVES.
Fixtures in their neighborhood, the guys at Pyramind obviously like to have fun and are often producing events for their students. Given their success, it follows that training with Pyramind could lead to real work in industries like video games, animated films, and music. With a swanky space on Folsom, Pyramind is right in the thick of it. See pyramind.com - R. Seifert
So we have reached the end of Part II of our school survey, each offering a different slant on the cinema path, each contributing to the vibrancy of local filmmaking. Join us next month for breaking news on CCA, and reviews of the little known Diablo College, Sonoma State and others.
Laney College: The Heart of Oakland
Laney College has a nice campus (not far from Lake Merrit in Oakland), a heavy history (involving the Black Panthers) and a substantial media program (for a junior college). They offer coursework in broadcasting, acting, directing, video production, music video production, sound design, animation, video production, after effects, and cinematography.
In addition, the campus has its own TV station - Peralta TV, on channel 27/28 and live on the web. Their shows include PTV.Sports, P-SPAN, CINEPOD (Roger Garcia's look at the world of cinema), and a YouTube channel (user name: peraltatv). Last year, they won some notice with the fascinating doc "Merritt College: Home of the Black Panthers," narrated by Senator Barbara Boxer. Directed/produced by Jeff Heyman, it tells of the late 1960's in West Oakland, the birthplace of the Panthers (and CineSource, coincidentally), see
"I have to admit that Huey and I ran the streets before the birth of the party and wanted to be gangsters," noted Richard Aoki, a former Panther as well as retired Merritt College professor, although the film of course emphasizes the good the Panthers brought, like a sickle cell anemia testing and school lunch programs. With Oakland is an up-and-coming media center, Laney would be an interesting place to go to school. Contact Vina Cera, 510 464 3550, director, Media Communications. - D. Blair
Diablo Valley College: Who the Devil Made It?
For its accessibility and affordability, this community college program, in Pleasant Hill, is one of the most talked-about in the Bay Area. They offer courses in American Cinema/American Culture, American Ethnic Cultures in Film, Digital Editing, Comparative Film Studies, two levels of Scriptwriting, two levels of Fundamentals of Filmmaking, World Film History, and a two-part American Film History. For a community college, it's a pretty darn comprehensive. In other departments, they offer classes like Animation for Animals, Survey of the Short Film and Literature for Drama, Film and Criticism, Acting on Camera, and Sound for Picture.
With free screenings (of good films) throughout the year, often more than once a week, the film forum at Diablo Valley College is a veritable hotbed for creativity. Joann Denning, the Multimedia Program Chair, says that DVC offers "a program of study that introduces students to a wide variety of ways to express themselves using digital media... the DVC Multimedia Program can help [students] to reach personal and career goals."
UCSC Student, Deva Blaisdell-Anderson shooting behind the school - a redwood paradise.photo: photo USCS
City College of SF: Sitting Cinema Pretty
With a two-year degree that emphases in all areas of production, City College of San Francisco is essentially a vocational institution, providing affordable education to the community in the art and craft of filmmaking. The Cinema major takes students through a four-semester program that brings them from the beginning of film and leads them to mastery of advanced skills, from a solid base in film history to production, cinematography and screenwriting, including a class taught by CS author, Denise Bostrum (See "Screenwriting 101" Sep09 CS).
Sadly, the school had to face daunting financial sizebacks this year. "We're not adding any new classes this semester," says former Dean of the Cinema Department, Lidia Szajko, "We're not even able to keep our current curriculum afloat." In response to across-the-board state cuts, the administration directed all departments to eliminate eight percent cut for fall, for example, removing CINE 76 Digital Editing from its program.
Nevertheless, the department will be getting new HD cameras and projectors, as well as DVD-authoring equipment this fall, has the latest Final Cut software, and is continuing with some exciting new projects. Steven Glick, dean of the downtown campus, is organizing a day-long, campuswide event in November to mark President Obama's election as president. The cinema department will be collaborating with three classes to produce short videos about the president's historic first year. Filmmaker Dina Ciraulo will bring her production experience to the department while Szajko is on sabbatical for the next year. - R. Rose
UCSC Student, Deva Blaisdell-Anderson shooting behind the school - a redwood paradise.photo: photo USCS
Ex'pression College: Ex'press Yourself
A technical arts school offering career path education via intensive, real-world paced classes, Ex'pression College for Digital Arts sets students on a collision course with their dreams. The school, located right of highway 80 in Emeryville, and the only local art school with a fly pop architecture and design, its Bachelor of Arts programs can be completed in as little as 32 months. While creative can only come from the students, all the technical training person could want they need is offered here, except for actual film production. More like a technical finishing school, majors range from animation and gaming to motion graphic design and sound arts, with working professionals giving Ex'pression's students the knowledge they need to succeed in whatever field they choose. Although it lacks on-set film production, if you're itching to master digital arts in all its manifestations, Ex'pression is an excellent choice. - Reynard Seifert
San Mateo College: A Solid Springboard for Diving into Film
At the College of San Mateo, film history students are taught the basics of film analysis, screenwriting, and production, with a focus on modern digital filmmaking as well. The program allows students to structure their own schedule based on their individual needs. In this way, San Mateo can serve as a solid springboard for further film study and production.
The college added new courses in digital production through the Broadcast and Electronic Media department. And, in July, ethnic studies instructor Lewis Kawahara received a $7,000 grant to host an Asian Pacific Film Festival at the campus next year. The grant was awarded to Kawahara by the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program. - Reynard Seifert
UC Berkeley Extension: Continuing or Intro
Continuing or Intro, either way, UCBE is a good option. New this term to UC Berkeley Extension is their class "Sound Cinema Comes of Age 1926-1960," which picks up where another Cinema Studies class, "Silent Silver Screen," leaves off, and obviously providing a comprehensive introduction to film history and art. Also offered are classes in Intermediate Digital Filmmaking, the Art of Film, Video Art, and Photo Storytelling: Exploring Narrative. For those looking for a highquality intro to the essentials without the academic or financial commitment required of a degree program, and right in Lower Haight of San Francisco, UC Berekeley Extension is a good option. - Reynard Seifert
Sonoma State: With a Great Film Society
The highest degree offered by the Film Studies program at lovely Sonoma State University campus in Cotati is a BA in Film History. There's also an interdisciplinary minor, analyzing the history, theory, and practice of film in both Western and non-Western cultures. With three options for emphasis - film and literature, critical perspectives, and fine arts - there little opportunity for the students to get their hands on a camera or write scripts and Sonoma State doesn't offer a whole lot for desperate cinema kids to get their hands dirty. But they would certainly start off with the basics; and really, isn't that all anyone needs to get themselves on the noble path to making movies?
In fact, Sonoma State has the Sonoma Film Institute which screens 50 films a year, since 1973, making it the oldest film repertory in the North Bay. Showing everything from Bollywood to Orson Welles, the avant-garde and everything in between, these SFI provides an inspirational shot in the arm to the film students at Sonoma State. Indeed the programming is devised with an eye for education, as many of the films act as inroads for the philosophies explored in film studies classes. Certainly, putting movies into context can be more important than getting a camera into the students' hands. Especially since, in the age of cheap digital access, they probably already have one. - Reynard Seifert
And so we have reached the end of our film school survey, each offering a different slant on the noble cinema path, each institution offering students opportunity to achieve creativity and freshness, which ultimately contributes to the vibrancy of North California filmmaking.
Local Films School At SF City College Bernadette Xochitl Moreno shoots and Marco Antonelli directs a documentary for an editing class. photo Dina Ciraulo
The schools just keep on coming: up to 23 with a couple smaller candidates lurking in the wings. Despite severe economic woes, our schools remain a bonanza of approaches, scholarship and equipment, which we share in CineSource in our quest to convert the Bay Area into one massive film school. Last month we included a first-person portrait of San Jose State by Eugene Kim; this month we're kicking off with a similarly intimate view by film teacher Denise Bostrum, who also writes for CineSource (See Sep09 "Screenwriting 101"). But first , we have to include the one school left out of the print version:
UC Berkeley Extension: Continue or Intro
Continuing or Intro, either way, UCBE is a good option. New this term to UC Berkeley Extension is their class "Sound Cinema Comes of Age 1926-1960," which picks up where another Cinema Studies class, "Silent Silver Screen," leaves off, and obviously providing a comprehensive introduction to film history and art. Also offered are classes in Intermediate Digital Filmmaking, the Art of Film, Video Art, and Photo Storytelling: Exploring Narrative. For those looking for a highquality intro to the essentials without the academic or financial commitment required of a degree program, and right in the Lower Haight , UC Berkeley Extension is a good option. - R. Seifert
Good, Fast & Cheap: City College of San Francisco
"I am working on a short documentary about the death of my grandfather," says Vince Valen, who is taking digital film editing at CCSF as an inexpensive way to complete his film and receive expert instruction. "It's about my trip back to the Philippines to attend the funeral." Full disclosure: I've worked in the film industry for thirty years and taught screenwriting at CCSF for eight, a good school albeit with some problems. But I was curious about why Vince didn't enroll in a four-year film school. He admitted that after graduating from San Francisco's respected Lowell High, he was undecided.
"I chose City College to keep costs down by taking all the G.E. classes I needed to transition to a university. The original plan was to stay for two years. However, when I got involved, I decided to earn my associate's degree, which has now been upgraded to a Cinema Major. I've been here for four years, going on five." During this time, he has completed eighteen of the thirty-four classes offered, made nine shorts, worked in the equipment room and on numerous student projects, including a martial arts/Russian Mafia short and one about a woman with ESP.
As he headed off to the editing lab, I asked Vince how his current class is helping him. "Lise Swenson [his instructor and a seasoned editor] told me to 'just keep at it and trust that the story will reveal itself.' So I'm making sure I am familiar with my footage and transcribing the interviews. She also said, 'An editor should have good organizational skills, be willing to take a risk with the material, and work wacky hours.' I'm trying to follow her advice."
Dick Ham, who worked in Hollywood as a cinematographer, started the film department in 1967 with a intro cinematography class in the acclaimed photo department. It went so well, he was soon offering intermediate and advanced, with editing classes following, all in a church on Ocean Avenue. By 1971, enrollment had quadrupled and the department found a home in Cloud Hall 126 on campus, allowing Dick to lobby for more classes, like recording, lighting, animation, script writing and film history. Forty years later and still crammed into Cloud 126, the department offers a range of production and post classes, from special effects to film studies, and it keeps expanding with students' needs. "I feel that, after taking basic film production and narrative filmmaking, students have enough experience and knowledge to go out with a camera and make a decent film," says Nick Petrick, a new student. "To have that after just one semester is a great thing." Nick has made four films at CCSF and is impressed with the commitment to filmmaking among his peers and the quality of the instructors. "I've never enjoyed school. Now I find myself excited to go to classes and a lot of that has to do with the teachers. I have learned a huge amount from Dina Ciraulo and I have never been in a class as entertaining as Caroline Blair's." The only glitch in this scenario is the state budget shortfall. Nick experienced it firsthand in his digital editing class: "The Final Cut lab at the beginning of the semester was a joke. We were in an editing class with computers we couldn't use." With such problems, I asked acting chair Dina Ciraulo about next semester.
"The cuts are across the board," she began. "All departments have to cut the same percentage. We chose some of our advanced classes with lower enrollment. However, we still have the same enthusiastic students in our classes and they make our jobs worthwhile." Optimistic, Dina's vision includes more specialty classes. "We've been discussing an experimental class where students can focus on personal films using alternative production techniques; an advanced documentary production class; and additional film studies courses, such as a world cinema class."
When I suggested we invite our ex-actor governor to the City Shorts Film Festival next spring, Dina liked the idea, but cautioned, "Whenever we produce great work under duress, we are accused of not really needing the funding that's been cut."
Meanwhile, we keep moving, not only helping students turn ideas into films but transfer to other film schools or intern with professionals. Kindrid Parker, an advanced student, completed an experimental narrative that was well received on the festival circuit.
"I wrote the story in scriptwriting class," said Kindrid, "It's about a man who wakes and finds himself handcuffed and in a landscape constructed of the unresolved psychic detritus that was his life. Having critiqued his script, which made me feel uncomfortable, I can say: it takes courage to explore the dark side to being human, especially so early in one's career. Kindrid's applying to AFI and NYU, but he obviously enjoyed his time at City. Info:
- D. Bostrum
Art Film School: California College of Art
The CCA film department has been moving and shaking a lot of late. Literally, in spring 2009, they moved from their lovely, tree-lined campus in the Oakland foothills to a post-mod "hangar" on Eighth Street in San Francisco, and they're also restructuring their film/video department. They will probably retain their eclectic mix of narrative and art filmmaking, however, currently spearheaded by Rob Epstien and Barney Haynes, respectively. They also have a stand-alone animation department run by Andrew Lyndon, previously of Pixar, who came to teach architectural drawing, for some reason, but soon took over animation and brought in guest teachers from Pixar.
Students are flocking. They had their largest incoming class last year, about 30 in media arts: a dozen on narrative, a dozen on experimental and six doing art and tech - plus the animators.
"It's a change in culture, the two campuses," continued Haynes, "But it reunites us with our MFA students. They help each other out."
Most film schools don't highlight the experimental or art track - aside from the Art Institute, with which CCA discussed joining a couple of times over the last decade. But CCA has long highlighted art and interdisciplinary relationships. With video invading galleries and museums, like William Kentridge's massive show at SF MOMA earlier this year, there's a lot happening.
Barney Haynes, a CCA professor and video sculptor, sees art and science coming together. photo CineSource
"Why run a motion graphics class when graphics is already being taught and you can have filmmakers mixing with graphic designers?" says Haynes, who specializes in machine sculpture/video. He's helped ceramic majors wire pots for sound and painters make "live paintings," where sensors read the viewer's clothing and show those colors on screen. Some will speculate about telematic sex machines - which they don't do at CCA! - but Haynes foresees important projects. "Scientists are saying they have all this data and what are we going to do with it? They are bringing in artists to help them visualize solutions. Everything is joining up, even the arts and sciences."
Fiscally sound, CCA cut back earlier this year, leaving their green screen in pieces to husband funds. The new building is completely outfitted with every possible deck, shoot spaces (from small to a 50 x 50 production stage), three HD three cameras, and a lab full of super computers.
In another positive update, Todd Blair, a film teacher, is miraculously recovering from a severe brain injury he suffered in Amsterdam in 2007 during a show with Survival Research Lab, which has thrown benefits to cover costs.
Meanwhile, CCA is looking for a new president, one pro enough to continue collaborating with Pixar but arty enough to maintain the ecclectic mix. One possibility is Mark Brightenberg, from the Art Center in Pasedena. "It's a pretty exciting time," says Haynes, "Each class has its own characteristics. For a few years, everyone wanted to make Grade-B horror films. Then it was slapstick and a lot of AfterEffects. Now it is very serious, dark. Maybe with Obama, that will change." Laney College: The Heart of Oakland Laney College has a nice campus (not far from Lake Merritt in Oakland and easily accessible by BART), a heavy history (involving the Black Panthers as well as Oakland in general), and a substantial media program (especially for a junior college). They offer coursework in broadcasting, acting, directing, video production, music video production, sound design, animation, after effects, and cinematography.
In addition, the campus has its own TV station - Peralta TV, on channel 27/28 and live on the web. Their shows include PTV.Sports, P-SPAN, CINEPOD (Roger Garcia's look at the world of cinema), and a YouTube channel (user name: peraltatv). Last year, they won some notice with the fascinating doc "Merritt College: Home of the Black Panthers," narrated by Senator Barbara Boxer. Directed/produced by Jeff Heyman, who used to do publicity for the college, it tells of the late 1960s in West Oakland, the birthplace of the Panthers, see
"I have to admit that Huey and I ran the streets before the birth of the party and wanted to be gangsters," noted Richard Aoki, a former Panther as well as retired Merritt College professor. Although the film emphasizes the good the Panthers brought, like medical testing and school lunches, it examines problems. With Oakland an up-and-coming media center, Laney may become a very interesting place to go to school when the economic shroud is lifted. Contact director Vina Cera, 510 464-3550. - D. Blair
Diablo Valley: Who the Devil Made It?
For its affordability and numbER of film courses, this community college program, in Pleasant Hill, near Walnut Creek, is one of the more
Posted on Sep 08, 2008 - 12:20 PM