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Jonathan Spear

Had a little "run in" with NYFI on Facebook...

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Hey y'all, haven't been here in a while. I've been seriously considering NYFI's cinematography program... until today. NYFI posted this quote from Paul Rand on their Facebook page:


"Don't try to be original, just try to be good".


I was one of the only people there to have a serious problem with this. For starters, NYFI's tuition costs an arm and a leg. "Good", is not worth 100,000$. I was also shocked that a school could post something like that in the first place. Since when do schools, especially film schools, have the gall to downplay originality?


So my response was:

"Wow. I couldn't disagree more. What a stupid post, especially considering the fact that there are so many prospective students lurking about. On a brighter note, thanks for saving me over 100,000$ in tuition :)


To which they responded:

"sorry to hear that. But please keep in mind there are many world-famous directors who would disagree with you. Quentin Tarantino, for one. There's hardly anything that's original in the world. We only get to *play* God. Thanks for getting in touch!"


I imagine that they must have thought I was an 18 year old with delusions of grandeur that idolizes and emulates Tarantino (like so many of their applicants). I was offended that they did not take me seriously and used such a cliched run-of-the-mill response.


So I finally wrote this:


"NYFI, are you kidding me? You are an EXPENSIVE school and you're training the future generation of filmmakers. WE deserve for your standards to be high and for you to demand excellence and nurture creativity and originality. Quentin Tarantino can wax philosophical all he wants, do you think he'd be where he is today if it weren't for his ingenuity and originality? In fact, despite what Quentin Tarantino might think (and why you would think it would interest me in the first place) he is the EMBODIMENT of originality. And don't forget, at the end of a student's relationship with your school -- WE STILL NEED TO FIND JOBS! What studio in their right mind would let a "good" directer lead a big budget project? What director/producer would hire a "good" DP? What DP would hire a "good" lighting technician? What agent would sign a "good" writer? None would, and I wouldn't blame them. Hollywood is STARVING for originality... and y'all know it :)"


Am I wrong here? Did I misunderstand their intent?


Some of these film schools, if not all of them, are just as much business enterprises as they are educational institutions. NYFI will survive if 99% of their students don't find work after they graduate. Not only will they survive, they'll flourish. We, the students and potential students, will suffer if we spend 4 years and an ungodly amount of money and not find work. As a business, they have nothing to lose and kids will continue to still swamp them with applications every semester.


I don't know, maybe I overreacted but it really pissed me off.


What do you think?

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I think you over-reacted -- "good" is not a negative term. It may be a bit lukewarm and you could have told them that, but it all depends on how you define good. There are days when being just good is not easy even for a professional. Consistently good would be a major achievement! Anyone can be occasionally brilliant after all.


Maybe it's just me, but I think terms like "exceptional" get tossed around too much, almost by definition, something exceptional should be rare. Maybe it's just false modesty on my part, but if I ran a film school I would have a hard time claiming that all my graduates would be exceptional.


If you are going to charge a lot, I suppose you'd want to hype the product more than just saying it was "good", but I don't care much about marketing issues.


"Don't try to be original - just try to be good" is actually good advice, it's similar to the old saying that "perfect is worse than good". In fact, it may actually be harder to be good rather than be original, who knows? Mastering a traditional craft or skill is not easy. I would rather drive a car that was good (i.e. worked reliably) rather than one that was original.

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Thanks David, appreciate it. I see your point. Personally, and I may very well be wrong about this, I think that being good/reliable is the very least a film school graduate (or any other college grad for that matter) should aspire to. I'm not implying that being low key and hard working is bad, but the film industry is a creative industry as much as a technical industry. The truth is that almost anyone can learn the technical side of filmmaking, just like anyone can be taught scales and modes on a piano. It's hard work, but it's possible. Originality needs to be nurtured and developed.


Besides, who gets the job at the end of the day? People like you. Sharp, hard working, intuitive, original and creative (and don't sell yourself short David, you are VERY creative and original, I've seen your work :)). Today's job market is a rat race for many college grads. How else is someone going to stick out from the crowd if their unique voice and originality isn't developed? If my entire class learns how to operate a camera and light a scene, it's obvious that not all of us will find work after graduation, but I have a feeling that the people that do get jobs in the industry are not the mediocre, timid, safe and reliable types but the unique, original, extremely passionate, highly motivated types.


I do see your point though and I agree, I did overreact.

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Universities and Film "schools" are businesses and exist to make a profit. If some education happens to take place in that process, then more power to them. But their primary purpose is to make money. To accomplish that, they have to sell the dream that everyone who goes to their school WILL learn everything they need to know and that will enable everyone an equal chance of fulfilling their goal(s) in the professional industry.


Of course, reality is different than that. It's one thing to sit in "film appreciation" classes and write about movies. And while it is valuable to some extent to work on/make your own student films, neither truly prepares a student for the real world either.


I suspect that the quote you objected to initially was speaking to the "reality" of the filmmaking world where it truly isn't always about originality. In many cases, being derivative of previous work can seal a deal faster than an original concept. Just count the numbers of sequels lately.


In any case, in my opinion, dropping a large amount of money (and time) into "film school" just isn't worth it for most people. While there may be some valuable lessons one COULD potentially learn in the classroom environment, most of them can be learned far cheaper while working on low budget sets (ie, music videos, indie films) where you are earning money while getting a crash-course education.


Of course, it's all contingent upon the specific job you wish to have. Just about any below-the-line crew member will not benefit greatly from spending a lot of money and time on a film school. An aspiring Director or DP...maybe, depending on the specific curriculum the schools offers. But the "degree" (or certificate) itself is meaningless in the professional industry. Nobody cares where or if you went to film school (or any school for that matter). What matters most is A) who you know B ) who knows you, C) what you can do and D) your personality (can someone stand being around you 14 hours a day?)


I feel that the best way to "get into the film industry" is to know how it actually works on a day-to-day basis. Having stumbled through it myself, I later wrote a book detailing everything that I wish I would have known BEFORE I went to film school and later moved to LA. I recommend it to anyone who has a genuine interest in working professionally in the industry. Read it first and then decide if you want to go to a film school. The more you know before you invest time and money, the wiser choices you'll be able to make every step of the way. Good luck!



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