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Want to be the next Karan Johar?
Karan Gupta
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August 28, 2006

We launch a new series about study options at popular destinations abroad. This time, it's film schools in America.

For those aspiring to be the next Karan Johar [Images], this should be interesting. You might consider pursuing a Masters' of Fine Arts degree in filmmaking at a school in the US. The MFA degree will not guarantee your entry in the film industry, of course, but it certainly has its advantages. One, you get a professional qualification attached to your name. Secondly, graduates from film school will most likely write and direct a short film, and produce a good feature-length screenplay they want to direct in future. If you eventually want to direct, it would be to your benefit to have both, because the film is proof of your talent, while the screenplay is evidence that you can offer more.

Why attend film school?

If you enter your graduate programme with only a general motive to be involved in movies, you will most likely find yourself in a position where your eventual career is not necessarily aided by the MFA degree. Besides directing, fields such as sound, producing, editing and cinematography are not too hard to enter even without an MFA. For instance, if you intend to study in film school for a couple of years, then decide to be a film editor, you can instead work as an assistant editor and move your way up, rather than pursue an MFA. So, before you invest time and money in film school, consider the options available.

3 types of film schools

Broadly, we can categorise film schools in three areas: independent, industry and experimental. The University of Southern California is a classic example of an industry school. These schools train you to mould yourself into the Hollywood framework and successfully get producers to shell out huge sums of money to generate your feature films.

Schools like University of California at LA, Columbia University and New York University are independent schools. They teach you to reduce filmmaking to the basic fundamentals, then invest their own funds to generate films apart from the Hollywood system.

Experimental schools, on the other hand, train you to raise funds or make feature films. Their main focus is to teach the art of film and support students in developing their own art without giving sufficient consideration to the commercial aspect. The San Francisco Art Institute is a classic example of an experimental film school.

It is important to note that no one kind of film school is better than the other. You have to understand your career goals and choose accordingly. Make sure you have adequately researched your school before applying. The damages for these courses are anything between US $30,000 (Rs 13,97,231 approximately) to US $ 50,000 (Rs 23,28,718 approximately).  

What film school can't teach you

Most schools don't teach producers how to sell their projects successfully. In today's competitive world, it is not enough to know just the practical aspects of filmmaking. You must know how to identify good material, keep track of industry trends and understand the mechanics of acquiring, developing and selling properties. Effective producing skills include understanding how to deal with the ever-changing marketplace. Successful producers need to know how agents and managers function and also know how to interact with them. They also need to learn how to deal with television and motion picture development executives, publicity and marketing people and Internet opportunities. So, keep this in mind. The emphasis of most schools is on production and the technical aspects of filmmaking -- writing, producing and directing.

Increase your chances of admission

There are many things you can do to increase your chances. Keep in mind that film schools would rather keep you busy editing, filming and training you for lighting, camera and sound. They will not have much time to focus on teaching you how to write. Therefore, many schools prefer students who already possess strong writing skills. Even if your goal is to direct and not act, it makes sense to actually join acting classes, as you will learn how actors feel, think and work, which will make your job as a director easier.

Eligibility criteria

The GRE is recommended, but not necessary for most film schools. For Masters degree courses, students should have a Bachelors degree and, in many cases, a Bachelors in film. No degree is needed for certificate courses. In both cases, most schools require some kind of portfolio of your work, so having some films under your hat will be useful. If you don't have any professional help, you can simply write a 10-minute story, have your friends enact it and record the video. This can serve as your film sample. And, if you really like your film, you know you belong in film school.

Are you currently studying at a film school in the US? Or have you graduated at a film school in the US? Share your feedback and experiences.

Karan Gupta, founder of Karan Gupta Consulting, has been working as a professional counsellor since 1999. He studied at Ithaca College and then at The University of Texas at Austin in the United States. While pursuing his education, he worked in the Office of Admissions, Financial Aid office and the International Office. Karan is currently the honorary study abroad counsellor at Jai Hind College, Mumbai.

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