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Film Workshops: Focus On New York

Film Workshops: Focus On New York

by Anthony Kaufman

Multi-million dollar sequels on every screen, catering vans on every
street corner, internships (slave labor) posted on every bulletin board
— what do all these signs tell us? Summer is upon us and with it, a
growing number of filmmaking workshops ready to cash in on the fever and
take your hard earned cash. If you’re a would-be screenwriter, producer,
casting agent, actor, director, editor, cinematographer, there’s a
workshop for you. With teachers from Robert McKee to Michael Hauge, (who
you might ask? Hollywood’s other top script consultant, claims the
European Film Institute) anyone can learn the basics of film writing in
two days. New York’s Reel Trading weekend seminar promises the
“fundamentals of filmmaking… quickly, affordably, and efficiently to
anyone interested in the art of film production” for a scant $295.00.

This is the seduction of the film workshop; compress labor and learning
into as little time as possible with as little money spent. As a
response to the $20,000 per year Big 3 (UCLA, NYU, USC), the 6-week or
4-week or even single weekend intensive production course feeds the
hungry film neophyte quickly and less expensively. But like Chinese
food, these courses can leave one hungry for more just a few hours

As a center of independent and guerrilla art in general, New York is a
mecca for movie workshops, schools and training grounds. Its background
of art foundations and a movie friendly mayor’s office make it a perfect
choice for the beginning or advanced film professional. With such
community and ethnically based media arts groups as Asian CineVision,
the Black Filmmaker Foundation at the Tribeca Film Center, the Downtown
Community Television Center
, DYKE TV, the Latino Collaborative, Women
Make Movies
, and the Visual Studies Workshop‘s annual summer institute,
there are a multitude of opportunities for getting started and making
the much needed connections to get that first flick made.

Notorious in some circles, acclaimed in others, the New York Film
is one example of the growing trend of filmmaking-specific
schools. Proudly claiming their program is not bogged down with history
or philosophy, “just film,” one needs not a degree anymore, just an
Arriflex. Their motto – “We teach film the old-fashioned way – we make
them.” For $4000, students make four films, starting with B&W and
eventually graduating to color/sync. Class size is “no more than 18,”
they claim, compared with the 30 some students in each of NYU’s Sight
and Sound Summer Workshops, a $5,100 equivalent course (the beginning
course for all Tisch School of the Arts students). A former student
reported, “there was a lot of sex and film tricks,” and told of the
useful ability he was taught by former D.P. of “Young Frankenstein” in how
to make a genie disappear only using lights.

They sell their program with another notion, “Story is everything.” But
one wonders, if story is everything, is 6 to 8 weeks enough time to
develop one? Many students complain of the frenetic pace of the
productions. While you are trying to write and create your own projects,
much of your time is spent crewing up on your fellow students’ works.
One student spent the full 4 grand and only had the time to make two

Other New York based institutions which won’t put a film student into
monstrous debt are the Association of Independent Video & Filmmakers
(AIVF), Film/Video Arts (FVA), the Millennium Film Workshop and one of
the largest art schools in the nation, the School of Visual Arts (SVA).
AIVF, FVA, and Millennium function as independent film community
centers, providing special deals for their members. Membership fees
usually run around $50.00. Some centers rent equipment out to independent
filmmakers for bargain based prices, but cameras and lighting are known
for being less than top quality. The 5,000 member AIVF states, “Whether
it’s our magazine, The Independent Film & Video Monthly, or the
organization raising its collective voice to advocate for important
issues, AIVF preserves your independence while letting you know you’re
not alone.”

The largest non-profit media center in New York, Film/Video Arts
provides hands-on instruction year-round. The fifty courses offered
include beginning, intermediate and advanced classes in film and video
production, editing, screenwriting, producing, directing, and sound
recording for prices ranging from $8 panels to $1,000 AVID workshops.
One new edition into their wide range of classes is a Young Filmmakers
Media Camp where parents shell out $600.00 so their budding 11-15 year
old auteurs can learn the basics (on video). Although more targeted at
the experimental and grassroot artists, the classes of the AIVF and FVA
offer an affordable and easy entry into the ins and outs of making

The forty-year old School of Visual Arts offers one of the best
alternatives to the famed USC and NYU film schools. While their
graduating students are becoming more well known in the field with award
winning alumni garnering CLIO’s, Emmy’s, film festivals awards, and NEA
and Fulbright Fellowships, they are paying a fraction of the price. “We
encourage stylistic pluralism and support a diversity of artistic
attitudes,” claims their literature.

SVA’s Continuing Education department of Film, Video and Animation
offers full semester classes or intensive programs during the summer and
winter breaks. For workshop students, cameras and lighting are not
permitted to leave the facilities (unless enrolled in the B.F.A.
program), making that tri-State road movie an impossibility. But a 6
session, 6 hour per day, intermediate 16mm production course costs only
about $720.00 (not including extra film & processing fees), still
remarkably low when compared with the NYFA. Of course, here you’re not
attempting to make that Sundance award winning short, you are learning
the craft. And this is why there “no equipment leaves the building
policy” is reasonable and perhaps even an essential limitation.

The possibilities for would-be filmmakers are greater than ever before,
but many New Yorkers, for example, don’t realize the choices and jump
straight into NYU’s well advertised Sight & Sound course. Although
without the name or reputation of NYU, the community and arts school
workshops present an option for those who don’t have the time or money
to spend 2-4 years in a college film camp. But as many film school
alumni will tell you — “If you want to learn how to make a movie, just
go out and make one.” So in a city like New York where film is happening
on every sidewalk, the best workshop may be your own.

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