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What's the Best Film School for Cinematographers? Sundance Cinematographers Tell Indiewire What They Think.

Photo of Paula Bernstein By Paula Bernstein | Indiewire January 23, 2014 at 12:26PM

As part of our "How I Shot That" series, we asked a selection of cinematographers with films at Sundance what the best film school for cinematographers is -- and whether they think cinematographers need to go to film school at all. Here's a selection of their answers.
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Life After Beth, Aubrey Plaza

With the increasing democratization of filmmaking due to online tutorials, more affordable equipment and accessible mentorship programs, coupled with the ever-growing tuition of film school, budding filmmakers wonder if attending film school is essential or a waste of time. Of course, there is no consensus on the issue, but, as part of our "How I Shot That" series, we asked a selection of cinematographers with films at Sundance 2014 what the best film school for an aspiring cinematographers is -- and whether they think cinematographers need to go to film school at all.


Here's a selection of their answers:

"I came from the City University of New York system. I did my undergrad at Brooklyn College and my MFA at City College. I am a true believer in affordable education. Spend your money on your movies.  As for it being necessary or not-- the academic structure gave me the discipline I needed to create, but that might not be necessary for everyone. As for the CUNY schools, they taught me most of what I know-- the rest you learn on set." -- Shachar Langlev ("Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory")

"Working on set is the best film school! I went to Emerson College and thoroughly enjoyed my experience there, but the best way to learn cinematography is to shoot and watch other cinematographers shoot. Have an open mind, don't be afraid to admit you don't know something and always try something new." -- Alex Disenhof ("Fishing Without Nets")


"Everyone's path is different. I attended film school at the American Film Institute and Columbia College. That was the right path for me. But life experience and inspiration are the most important elements to gain. Some people can achieve that in film school, and some people can get it elsewhere. There are many paths, and there are no rules." -- John Guleserian ("Song One")

"Film School is simultaneously worthless and invaluable. You don't have to go to any film school to start making films. You learn more on one day of being on a "real set" than in four years of film school. That said, you'll never have another time in your life that you watch hundreds of films and discuss them with a 20-30 or your peers. Sure you'll go see a movie and then talk about it with your friends but in a classroom you are engaging with huge variety of people that don't necessarily share your views as well as with people that you might never be friends with or interact with in ordinary life. It's crazy to think that on a normal day in film school 12 years ago I might watch a Kenneth Anger film, a Fred Wiseman doc, an Iranian slice-of-life drama, and then wrap it up with "Seven". The next day we'd spend an hour discussing each film from all different angles of critique. When are you going to ever do that again?" -- Jay Hunter ("Life After Beth") 

Read More: Here's What Sundance Cinematographers Think of the Transition from Film to Digital

"Hellion"
"Hellion"

"The best film school to me, is any opportunity an aspiring cinematographer has to shoot ANYTHING. Cinematography is something that, in my opinion, is best learned by doing. It's a personal journey in finding your voice. Just as much as a writer must write many drafts, a cinematographer must do the same, Allow yourself to make mistakes, and learn from them. Film school can be a great springboard that allows you to work with other motivated aspiring people, and with equipment you might not otherwise have the chance to work with. Film school these days is definitely NOT a necessity by any means. I went to the Los Angeles Film School and I'm glad I did because it gave me that opportunity." -- Brett Pawlak ("Hellion")

"I dropped out of film school and started on the back of a lighting truck. I think everybody learns differently and there are no right or wrong ways to do anything. It does seem that some film schools are much more technical than others, and there are some awesome DPs coming out of all sorts of different places. For me, on set experience was the only way that I could have learned." -- Zachary Galler ("The Sleepwalker")

"The best film school is the one in which you are out in the world shooting. Whether that opportunity comes from an institutionalized setting or a gig you found off Craigslist and Mandy.com or a fun project you are shooting with friends or family doesn't really matter, I think." -- Andrew Rossi ("Ivory Tower")

"This is a extremely difficult question to ask. I went to Florida State for film school, which I loved. It's not in a industry hub the way a NYU or USC is, but that was actually an advantage for me. I really enjoyed learning my craft in a smaller community that didn't have the added pressure of industry success. This allowed me to learn my craft in a way that felt natural. For me it was perfect. Not to mention I found great collaborators there that I still work with today." -- James Laxton ("Camp X-Ray")

"I didn't attend film school, so of course I feel like it isn't totally required. I studied graphic design and fine art. But I've always learned best on my own. Devouring films, literature, art and architecture is an absolute must. You have to have a strong foundation to work with." -- Andrew Droz Palermo ("Rich Hill")

"I personally did not go to film school, so I couldn't say which one is best. I will say that growing up on film sets and slowly moving up the ranks made me jealous of the kids that got to go to film school. I think it's a good place to get a well rounded theoretical understanding of techniques and artistic approaches to filmmaking. My particular path took me through the practicality of making films and learning more in-depth theory and appreciation of cinema from my mentors." -- Christopher Blauvelt ("Lowdown")

"I believe any school is a good school insofar as it is the experience that you have there that matters. I went to NYU Tisch in the early 80s and must say that it was my peers that inspired and drove me. Any place where great numbers of artists convene, there is bound to be great learning and work, which I suppose means that being on a set is a great learning opportunity as well. Vigilance, openness and quiet watchfulness are key when developing your skills as an artist." -- Bobby Bukowski ("Infinitely Polar Bear")

"Some would say you should just launch into working, and there is something to be said about getting paid to learn on the job, but I think the combination of a school that will let/force you to actually shoot and light projects and afford you to an ability to study film history, world cinema, and some sort of art history is something that is indispensable. Using other people's projects to make your inevitable mistakes that are essential for you to learn from, and meeting directors that *will* be making post collegiate films is a good leg up. Don't get me wrong, you spend at least two years working on real projects to learn how things are done in a professional sense, but the foundation of a collegiate study of what movies can be and how they've changed the world is important." --  Ryan Samul ("Cold in July")


This article is related to: How I Shot That, Cinematographers, Cinematography, Filmmaker Toolkit: Student Filmmakers, Sundance Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, Sundance 2014





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