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Justin Leyba
great film school in illinois
on May 28, 2010 at 4:08:45 am

Hello guys!

I don't really know if this is a place to ask this, but oh well. :D

So I would like to know, what would be the best film school here in Chicago/Illinois?
I am looking at: Columbia College Chicago (great notable alumnus!), Flashpoint Academy and Illinois Institute of Arts

I'm more of a hands on learner. So what should I pick? Or if there are more film schools in illinois that you guys would suggest to me, please do tell me.

I would want to work in hollywood (feature films) for a living. What school will prepare me for this?

Thanks guys!

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Chuck Pullen
Re: great film school in illinois
on May 28, 2010 at 3:00:31 pm

As a Columbia Alum, I can assure that both Columbia or Flashpoint will prepare for a long low-paying career as either a waiter or barista (now that all of the video stores are gone) Save your money buy some decent gear, read some books, surf the cow. Either you got it or you don't; and those schools certainly won't give it to you if you don't!

Going to school is more of a networking thing anyway, and you can meet most of your peers on Facebook or other online groups and hone your skills working on the same projects with them minus the $40k a year tuition.

Now please don't take my advice (or anyone else's on a web forum) as your deciding factor, but truthfully I left Columbia a year early, because I was just too busy doing real work, and I got tired of everyone there that was trying to skate their way through coming to me to help them with something complicated, or help them fix something they didn't bother to do correctly in the first place. In all the years since I've graduated no one has every asked where I went to school, if I graduated, all they want to see is your reel, and they want to know if you know what you are doing.

Feel free to drop me a line if you want to chat more, and I can send you a long list of Columbia film school grads that are E-mailing me every week looking for a job if you want to talk to them.


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Mark Suszko
Re: great film school in illinois
on May 28, 2010 at 3:16:46 pm

Columbia College and Northwestern's programs are both very good in different ways. I can't speak to Flashpoint Academy, except to say I am generally not a fan of the fast-taught "what-button-to-push" schools, as I feel they don't teach enough of the background on *why* you push the button and *when*.

I went to Loyola myself, and it had an OK program, but we were always jealous of Columbia's program, which had a lot more practical field work, guest lecturers from the industry, and opportunities to intern on actual film shoots around town during the summer season.

Wherever you choose to go, work very hard to get a good internship and work the HECK out of it. That experience combined with the theoretical "book-larnin'" in classes is what will make you an effective person in this line of work.

The internship need not be glamourous to be worthwhile: When our class did theirs, my classmates all got the plum high-profile internships ahead of me, at the network O&O stations and big ad agencies like JWT. I got a small cable outfit in the western burbs in Elmhurst, closer to my folk's suburban home and more affordable to commute to. At the end of the interships, we all got together to compare notes.

The kids working at the big stations downtown never got to handle any gear because of union rules, and while they had excellent letters of recommendation from Bill Kurtis and whatnot, they still didn't have any skills besides office work and making a fine cup of coffee for the big stars. They could get interviewed for jobs, but had nothing much to offer by way of a reel, only expert knowledge of the fax machine, word processor and Italian coffee press.

The ad agency interns didn't fare much better, since they could only observe the accounts being serviced, but not do much more than that, and in those days the agencies didn't have their own in-house gear so again, great references afterwards, but not much hands-on to show for it.

My low-rent low-glamour cable company internship was by contrast a "boot camp" experience, where I was a line producer on a "PM Magazine" type show, responsible for one whole day of a 5-day show from begining to end. I had to direct, produce, write, shoot, and edit tape segments, interview, find guests, and assist the Director on shoot day. We additionally took the mobile production truck out to parades, open-mic nights, and little league games, and by rotating around the various crew jobs I got to practice shooting all these various kinds of events and learning to be good and fast with the camera and to do setups and tear-downs fast, as well as to do technical problem-solving, like field-repairing a broken tripod leg with gaffer tape and a beer can found nearby on the roadside. Or matching up audio sources of various impedences with a handful of Radio Shack adaptors.

By the end of the internship, I had a half-hour reel of news packages, episode highlights, and spots I'd done from concept to completion, and I was ready to "plug and play" into a working crew, anywhere, in most any position they needed, in front of cameras, or behind them. That, coupled with the theoretical work to give me some context and knowledge of why we do things in certain ways, armed me with enough skills to get hired and do well. I got into freelance corporate work at 21, advising people much older than me on how to make good-looking and effective videos on a low budget. 21 years later I'm still doing the same damn thing, only now I'm advising people YOUNGER than me:-)

I think these days a great way to learn a lot about a wide assortment of productions in a short time is to travel with mobile sports or events video crews, but that is certainly a young single person's game, life on the road is tough.

Also, don't wait for any school to give you "permission" to make videos; you should be doing that all the time in your spare time NOW, with whatever friends and resources you can muster. Even if they are not very good, learning why and how they are not good IS good for you.

BTW, Carbondale has a very good program, but SIU is also quite a Party School, so you need discipline to not blow a good opportunity there. On the down side the markets down that way are way over-saturated with talent, so likely you would not find work anywhere nearby that paid very much, because supply far exceeds demand now and in the foreseeable future. Only the exceptional candidates will survive, if any do.

Best of luck to you!

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Kristin Hertko
Re: great film school in illinois
on Jun 2, 2010 at 4:31:58 pm

Mark, you make a lot of great points. No matter where you go, it's true: your success is going to depend on how much effort you put in, and how much real world experience you can gain while you're in school. Internships are a great way to get that experience, but you also need to make sure that the classrooms you're learning in have an atmosphere that reflect how people work in the real world.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I work at Tribeca Flashpoint and therefore have a good vantage point into our film program. I take real issue with dismissing us as a "fast taught, what-button-to-push" sort of school, because anyone who has gone here can tell you that this is not the case. Our professors (many of them former Columbia faculty) pride themselves on, yes, teaching their students quickly, but also teaching not just the "how" but the "why" behind the technology. Our students come to school from 9am-5pm every day for four semesters, and in that time get many more in-class and hands-on hours than students in many other programs.

It'll probably come as little surprise that I think Tribeca Flashpoint's film program is on the right track. We put a camera in your hands the second week of your first semester; you've made several short films by the end of your first year; you work with professionals on large scale productions as a part of your first year curriculum... Then in your second year you select your focus and develop specialized skills. It's a great way to learn, and for the most part our grads are really happy. Plus, I'd challenge you to find a more active and diligent career guidance team in Chicago.

If anyone reading this has any questions about Tribeca Flashpoint, I'd be happy to answer them for you or direct you to someone who can. We have a brand new class of graduates to reach out to, as well, so if you'd like to speak to a film student or a film grad, I can hook that up. Just drop me a line!

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Tyler Ries
Re: great film school in illinois
on May 28, 2010 at 4:23:58 pm

I grew up in Chicago, but went to study Television in New York. A few of my friends stayed in Chicago and attended Columbia and Northwestern. I would say that if you are looking for a hands on experience, Columbia College will get you started right away (that's why it was my second choice school). The Northwestern program is more of a general education with a lot of theory before the practice.

Having just graduated, my recommendation would be to look for a school that will teach the theory along with hands on practice. Being able to start using the schools gear right away will let you use that theory an understand it better. If you go on a tour of th school or meet with someone from the department, ask those questions and make sure you are getting what you want. I can tell you that being in school is mostly not about classes, but a resource to support you while you are learning. Work on as many out-of-class projects as you can, because that I where you really learn things. I know that there are a larger number of filmmakers shooting all year at Columbia, so volunteer to grip or assist on as many as you can, when you are a senior, you too will appreciate the help. Also,
an internship is so important because it is real experience, jobs love to see that you have experience and people who trust you. I'm sure that wherever you go, if you are very serious about working in the industry, you will need to work hard on your own time to gain experience and become more desireable than the next guy.

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grinner hester
Re: great film school in illinois
on May 29, 2010 at 3:05:05 pm

Sounds like hands on would be your best bet. Make some films, shop em around, build a great reel, get some gigs, and work your way up.

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