1 Way to Get Your Film Education—on a Working Lot

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Photo Source: Chris Cooper

For film students who want an education that’s closely interwoven with the industry they hope to one day enter, the Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema is taking its classrooms one step closer to moviemaking reality.

The first school of its kind to be located on a working film lot, Feirstein offers affordable education in a state-of-the-art facility—complete with a soundstage, foley stage, editing suites, motion capture studios, green screens, a costume shop, a surround-sound screening room, and more. Because no school like this has ever existed, it took a dedicated team to build it from the ground up.

“Every school out there, they all have this problem of legacy,” says founding director Jonathan Wacks. “Whether it’s old equipment, old ideas, or [the fact that] the faculty’s been there a long time and has maybe lost their enthusiasm. Here was the opportunity to build everything from scratch in an open space of 70,000 square feet at Steiner Studios.”

A division of Brooklyn College, the graduate school is based in the New York City borough, and offers producing, directing, screenwriting, cinematography, postproduction, and cinema studies tracks. When compared to other film graduate schools, such as NYU Tisch School of the Arts (where students pay up to $32,400 per semester, plus production costs that can reach $15,000), Columbia’s Film MFA program (which could total up to $27,600), or even the non–Ivy League School of Visual Arts (well over $19,000 per semester), Feirstein is an affordable option: New York State residents pay just over $9,000 a semester with nonresidents paying $13,500.

Fourteen students are accepted on a rolling basis every year into each discipline (more can be admitted to the cinema studies focus), and all work closely not only with each other through every step of the filmmaking process, but with film and television professionals working in the immediate vicinity.

“Being on a working film lot is an amazing situation for students,” says Wacks. “To go to school every day as an aspiring filmmaker and be surrounded by trucks and soundstages and people involved in filmmaking, that in itself is a unique and really exciting environment to be in.” Wacks notes recent collaborations and workshops with construction grips from a nearby show who taught students to build a set, as well as special effects and production design seminars. In their third year, students have the opportunity to intern at a Steiner production.

The aim is to have a thorough, hands-on experience of putting a film together, driven by students who have “intellectual curiosity” and ideas rather than a focus on “tech-driven” projects, according to the founding director. And the school is willing to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to getting students the funding they need to make the films they want. “You don’t need a rich uncle to get your project funded,” Wacks says. “At a minimum, everyone has some funding to the tune of $10,000.”

Feirstein also prides itself on its commitment to inclusion. According to Wacks, the student body is 50 percent women and 45 percent students from underrepresented groups. In the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and the general lack of diversity in Hollywood, shaping talented filmmakers from all walks of life seems all the more pressing.

“We have a real strong sense that filmmaking in America will be better if we have a more diverse set of filmmakers,” Wacks says. “And it starts with film schools.”

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Briana Rodriguez
Briana is the Editor-in-Chief at Backstage. She oversees editorial operations and covers all things film and television. She's interested in stories about the creative process as experienced by women, people of color, and other marginalized communities. You can find her on Twitter @brirodriguez and on Instagram @thebrianarodriguez
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