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My film school experience (diary/journal)

Hi everyone, I've been quiet for a bit, moving house and just generally being busier. This week I started at a film school in Australia and I thought I would document some of my experiences, similar to what I did when I had my first set experience; So I will be semi regularly updating this post.

I made the decision for film school based on a few key elements such as networking and proper industry learning. It is much harder to break into the paying film industry in Australia without the backing of a certificate and so in a way film school should be a bit of kickstart compared to volunteering on sets 24/7 (which by the way I'm still trying to do a bit).

I have 4 subjects at this stage; Directing & scriptwriting, production techniques, postproduction and screen literacy. Screen Literacy at this stage is the most theory based subject with postproduction being mostly hands on and production techniques being 50/50 practical and theory/analysis.



Some first impressions. There are about 50 doing my course. A max of probably 5 of us have proper experience from what I can tell with only about 3 of us operating a 'business' so the speak on the side. That being said I have not had in depth conversations with all of my classmates. Many have little or no experience whatsoever at either editing or camera work. Of course this course caters for many areas of film, so there will be students that have little interest in either of these areas anyway. I'd say about 20% aren't even sure if they want to work in the film industry.

Equipment is amazing, but of course there's a major clause. 1st years only have access to about 2 or 3 cameras compared to the 20 or something different ones that 3rd year students are allowed to use. Of course I understand the reasons behind this, but it seems a bit limiting to people who might have some experience and/or might be rather quick learners. The main camera we have access to is the Sony XDCAM. We can't even use their GoPro. They're also super strict of OH&S for 1st years. I mean obviously they always are, but for us it's more limiting.

In postproduction we are learning avid. We're in a frustrating situation too. We're using the older Mac Pros which your best bet is firewire 800, which is really expensive to acquire, and imo is outdated technology, especially the speeds coming from USB3 and Thunderbolt. Anyway on AVID..... basically it has made appreciate the beauty of editing with Adobe (or final cut for that matter). To put simply I'm not a fan and will take the Adobe route as soon as we have an option (which might not be until 3rd year). IMO the software is actually outdated in some of the ways it does things.

Basically our week consists of watching an allocated film, reviewing it, learning avid, taking min ~15 images on DSLR a week, basics of XDCAMs.


It shall be an interesting 3 years.
 
Ah Ha! Sounds like you have what I like to call 'first year-itis'. It's cool, I had it too. Back then, we were using Z1's instead of NX5's (or whatever they have you using), but the idea was very much the same.

First year is easily the 'worst' of all of them - and that's what brings on first yearitis. This happens with just about any course, by the way - not just film. Because people from all sorts of backgrounds at all different skill levels end up in the course, you need to go back to the real basics, to attempt to get everyone to the same level. On top of that, you want those students who may have a bit more knowledge to 'unlearn' all their bad habits and learn good ones - many of those students think they know heaps, whereas in reality they know little more than the newbies, and are actually harder to teach because the newbies don't roll their eyes and put up a 'I already know how to do this' barrier.

Also, it never hurts to have a refresher on the basics, and despite thinking that I knew it all in first year, there were still things I learnt.

It picks up in second year, because you're now all at a similar knowledge level.

Fwiw, probably 25+% of the people in your first year will have dropped out by third year. 90% of those will drop out by the end of first year - that's also why first year is a tad different, by 2nd year 90% of the people in the course actually want to be there and learn film, whereas in 1st year, there's a portion who are there because 'it sounded cool' and as much as a teacher may want to pay no attention to, or fail a student who has no interest in actually learning about film - you can't fail a kid because he/she has no idea what they want to do with their life!

A few points:

NX5's and even Z1s are still used a heck of a lot both here and overseas for reality and news programming. It might seem 'super basic' but it's good to learn these cameras - as my teacher back in first year said to me 'if you can make something look good on this camera, you make it look good on any camera'. Seriously, the bigger and better the camera becomes, the easier it is to make the image look good. Try making an NX5 look good - now that's hard work!

In addition - I've seen the way some first years treat the equipment they take out! I've seen the way some third years treat the equipment they take out. Unfortunately, allowing people who barely even know what a T stop is to book out an Alexa is simply foolish - not to mention it puts out those in third year who want to shoot on a better camera for their 15 minute graduating short, because some kid's booked it out for their 90-second first year film. Trust me when I say - you hate it now, but you'll love it when you're in third year, and you'll be glad you went 'up through the ranks' the way you did.

In terms of Avid - despite their financial and administration troubles, Avid really is the industry standard editing software. You'll look back and be glad you learnt it. Premiere, and even FC7 are great for whacking together music videos, or highlight clips etc. but Avid is easily the best and fastest for narrative cutting. It also teaches you a discipline in your editing that you'll take over to other software, if you do actually end up switching.

Pay attention in scriptwriting/Directing and Production Techniques. My suggestion is, get as much out of the teachers as you can. All of them have worked, or are working in the wider industry in some capacity, and it's only to your advantage to get as much out of them as you possibly can. Push them for more info in classes. Instead of glossing over and thinking 'I already know this' see if there's things you don't know, and/or push for more information on the things you do.

Good luck with it, you'll end up having mixed emotions about the course by the end of it, but I think you'll find it all incredibly worthwhile. Make friends with absolutely everybody, stay friendly with them all and ensure they know what you can do. And that goes for all year levels. Stay keen, and help out on every set you can.
 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
It's good the certificate makes a difference.. a lot of times thats the only point of a college. to get the piece of paper
 
When I started s a student we had a few Sony VX2000's and 3rd and 4th year students could use a PD-150 or Canon XL1.
Great tools to learn the craft.
By the time you graduate there will be different camera's anyway.
Start with the basics: framing, story and light.
Then master different kind of cameras. :)
 
Ah Ha! Sounds like you have what I like to call 'first year-itis'. It's cool, I had it too. Back then, we were using Z1's instead of NX5's (or whatever they have you using), but the idea was very much the same.

In addition - I've seen the way some first years treat the equipment they take out! I've seen the way some third years treat the equipment they take out. Unfortunately, allowing people who barely even know what a T stop is to book out an Alexa is simply foolish - not to mention it puts out those in third year who want to shoot on a better camera for their 15 minute graduating short, because some kid's booked it out for their 90-second first year film. Trust me when I say - you hate it now, but you'll love it when you're in third year, and you'll be glad you went 'up through the ranks' the way you did.

In terms of Avid - despite their financial and administration troubles, Avid really is the industry standard editing software. You'll look back and be glad you learnt it. Premiere, and even FC7 are great for whacking together music videos, or highlight clips etc. but Avid is easily the best and fastest for narrative cutting. It also teaches you a discipline in your editing that you'll take over to other software, if you do actually end up switching.

Pay attention in scriptwriting/Directing and Production Techniques. My suggestion is, get as much out of the teachers as you can. All of them have worked, or are working in the wider industry in some capacity, and it's only to your advantage to get as much out of them as you possibly can. Push them for more info in classes. Instead of glossing over and thinking 'I already know this' see if there's things you don't know, and/or push for more information on the things you do.

Yeah the equipment treatment is a pretty fair point, but it still remains slightly frustrating. At this stage it's strange how they've taught us. In one class they gave an NX5 to a group of 5 of us and basically 'expected' us to know how to use it and we had to interview each other. I've used them (or similar) so it was fine, but the approach was odd. I guess they don't mind too much when they have 38 or something of the same camera.

I'm sure I'll be glad, I'm just pretty surprised at this stage that is considered the standard.

One of our classes is pretty frustrating due to the teacher talking very down to us (treating us like young high school kids) which is frustrating everybody but we're all getting through it.

If I sound negative about everything I'm sorry I'm not actually particularly negative about the course, it's just easier to think of these moments... haha I am content with the course.

When I started s a student we had a few Sony VX2000's and 3rd and 4th year students could use a PD-150 or Canon XL1.
Great tools to learn the craft.
By the time you graduate there will be different camera's anyway.
Start with the basics: framing, story and light.
Then master different kind of cameras. :)

Without wanting to sound too cocky, I have a good understanding already of framing, story and light and I'm at a stage where I need to learn new and better/best cameras in order to advance my technical skills. I've already been using NX5s (and similar Sony's) for years on live productions so there is less for me to learn on these cameras.
 
Without wanting to sound too cocky, I have a good understanding already of framing, story and light and I'm at a stage where I need to learn new and better/best cameras in order to advance my technical skills. I've already been using NX5s (and similar Sony's) for years on live productions so there is less for me to learn on these cameras.

You're still thinking about it the wrong way! I spent three years at film school and have been working on the industry for a number of years, and still there's moreni can learn about lighting, framing, etc

You can learn any camera in a day. You'll still be learning different ways to light a scene when you're 40 and have been working in the industry for 20 years.
 
You're still thinking about it the wrong way! I spent three years at film school and have been working on the industry for a number of years, and still there's moreni can learn about lighting, framing, etc

You can learn any camera in a day. You'll still be learning different ways to light a scene when you're 40 and have been working in the industry for 20 years.

Yes yes, I realise. I'm just trying to say at the moment things are still in their basics, like spending 10minutes on the rule of thirds, or half an hour on the history of aspect ratios. I don't have a problem with it, and I'm not closed minded to it, most of it I've just heard/read before.

I'm certainly not saying there isn't more I can learn in every one of these areas! :)
 
Well in the last few weeks we've learnt rule of thirds & 180degree rule in at least 3 classes so there are no excuses for people to screw up with those.

We've pitched our films, but as of yet haven't actually been taught 'properly' how to write a script even though we're meant to be working on them. We repitch again in the coming weeks.

Avid is coming along ok. Now that I'm getting used to the keyboard shortcuts I'm finding myself editing at a reasonably efficient speed. Like many things, it's just practice.

In our production class the way things have worked has allowed us to already begin to choose the areas we are more interested in, getting put into groups of perhaps four and one being camera operator, one sound, one director etc.

Our film studies (screen literacy) class is continuing to be interesting, with some easily marked reviews watching some terrible films like Grey Gardens (1975) and some great ones, Vertigo and Badlands.


Working on films with classmates out of school requirements is a good place to really see other students who are pretty keen and motivated to get into the industry.
 
So I'm back. Living at a student res, working a tonne on short films and a whole heap of other life things meant that my time on indietalk faded away. (also because now my daily fix for talking about film is more satisfied :D )

I do want to say my attitude has changed and I don't like the way I've written a lot of things earlier in this thread.

But shall I continue my diary and a general update?



THE second half of the year was far more intense for me. I volunteered on at least 8 different week long 3rd year graduate films over a 3 or 4 month period, and did one or two days on several other graduate films. Most of these I was 1st or 2nd AC, some I was a best boy. I'm not sure how clear it has previously been made, but cinematography became my focus around the start of last year and so hence the time spent best boying and ACing.

During this time I was of course still [attempting] to attend uni. 2nd semesters major focuses were on producers/production managers and our major production of a 5-6 minute documentary of which we were in a group of two to produce. We also had our most theoretical (and imo, irrelevant) class which was about genre. The issue was that we weren't really challenged to learn, and while I tried to engage myself in the first couple of weeks it soon just became a class that I would only think about when I was actually there. I still did well in the class, it was just a very dry and slow way of learning.

As the 3rd year films started to fade away (as they needed to move onto editing!) I DOPd on 4 (including my own) documentaries of my classmates. This marks my first experience DOPing with proper lighting (and as Jax pointed out) I learnt tonnes in the lead up, while on set, and even now thinking about on days I have learnt what not to do, or what to do differently if I am presented with a similar situation.

Somehow in amongst all of this I managed to Produce, DOP and Edit a film for Tropfest, which unfortunately just turned into an unnecessary extra stress during this period, but I learnt heapsss here as well despite the shitty outcomes, including my first experiences hiring lenses and lighting equipment.

At the moment I am in the process of submitting my documentary to film festivals (which seems to be highly encouraged).

The contacts I've made on those 3rd year films have already come back to help me, having worked on about 4 several day long paid gigs over varying levels including more on the horizon before I go back to uni. (In fact I had to turn some down as I fractured my elbow and was out of action for almost 2 months!! :/ ) My advice to anybody going to film school is to try and make friends with those in the years above you, learn from their mistakes for going into your next year, and work on their films if you can. One day they might be able to help on your film and be able to offer advice from where they sit several years ahead of you.



The task that I have set myself for the break is to watch many of my favourite films and to screenshot my favourite shots and break down the lighting and the lens choice and movement etc. Hopefully I will learn a lot from this.



This year we make more documentaries, explore TVCs, produce a music video and (best of all) get to play with 16mm. (I think we may be the only uni in Vic, Australia still having a 16mm unit).



Over and out and hopefully I'll make some more regular updates :)
 
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The task that I have set myself for the break is to watch many of my favourite films and to screenshot my favourite shots and break down the lighting and the lens choice and movement etc. Hopefully I will learn a lot from this.

Good luck! As I work on putting together the story for what I hope will be my first animated feature, I'm doing the same thing, looking at some of my favorites and thinking about the ones I really didn't like and seriously analyzing them to try and figure out precisely why Story A worked and Story B didn't. Having a writing partner to bounce ideas off of is really helping here because after looking at my initial plot outline, he pointed out that the third act had a major problem. He was right, so I came up with an alternate idea for the third act and sent it back. I expect it might take a lot of back and forth just working on the story before we even get to writing the script, but that's fine. If I'm really going to do this, I want the story to be the best it possibly can so that, succeed or fail, I'll know I was working on something good.
 

directorik

IndieTalk's Resident Guru
I do want to say my attitude has changed and I don't like the way I've written a lot of things earlier in this thread.
Growth.

I'm sure you know the Shaw quote "Youth is wasted on the young". We
think we know a lot when we're young. As we get older and more experience
we learn we don't know much and are more and more willing to learn. You
were bored by the basics, like spending 10minutes on the rule of thirds, or
half an hour on the history of aspect ratios. I still love being reminded and
going over those important things. You said you have a good understanding
already of framing, story and light. But now you find that you are learning
more about those aspects of making a movie.

The foundation we stand on gets more and more stable as we go over those
foundations over and over and over. The older I get the more I know I need to
learn.

Looking forward to reading more from your journey.
 
Glad things are going well for you and that you're feeling more challenged by the course. There's nothing worse, in my opinion, then spending time studying and feeling like you aren't making the progress you're capable of.

It's definitely easy to spread yourself too thin as well. During my time at university, I was definitely a try everything sort of guy. On top of my degree, I edited the student newspaper, was elected officer for domestic issues for my college, was elected officer for publicity in a political society, edited a magazine, founded a writer's group, worked for the documentary society, volunteered at a learning lounge, played college football and table tennis...etc.

The reason I did all that was because I wasn't feeling satisfied with my course of study (I didn't find it too basic, I found it too boring). Ultimately, however, those are the experiences from which I took the most (including my girlfriend) during my 3 years. But some of my activities and studies definitely suffered because I was trying to do everything, whilst others thrived. Luck of the draw, to some extent, but you've got to test your strengths.
 
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