Considering college in New York?

By Genevieve Wong, NYU Film School
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You love the movies. You probably have a script you’re working on, and you dream of directing a film of your own. You just know you can make it if you get one lucky break. And film school seems like the perfect place to pursue your dreams. Well, my friend, I don’t want to break your heart, but let me give you a word to the wise.

New York University‘s film school is one of the best, but all I have to say is that attending the school has truly been a maturing experience and a great risk. I’m a senior, but I have no jobs lined up after graduation and that makes me very scared. I started all this with the same dreams that everyone has—to be a film director, or at least work in television. I wanted to make romantic comedies and make people laugh. NYU seemed like the way to make that happen. Not to complain, but nobody’s scouted me and I don’t seem to have made any big Hollywood connections as the coffee girl at a major studio in New York.

The low down on film school is that you’ll get through it—with tons of money. While my mom is covering the big costs—close to $40,000 a year including tuition housing and lab fees—I have been scrimping and saving so I can put $10,000 into my student film. A professional-looking film costs $1,000 a minute. This film is supposed to serve as my calling card at the Sundance Film Festival, which accepts very few shorts. If I’m lucky, this festival will screen my film and if I’m even luckier, an agent will see it and sign me. This agent will supposedly get me jobs for life, with a little help from all the fabulous connections I made in film school. It sounds like a movie, doesn’t it?

How do you get jobs in this town?

I was a production assistant for South Park a few years ago. I got that job through a connection, but since then I’ve been rejected from everything. I got rejected from Blue’s Clues! Even inside the school, there’s an air of tension. I look around me and see all these talented kids—and I know I’m competing with every single one for a chance at success.

With all the backbiting and jockeying for position that I see going on around me, I’m pretty disillusioned with the entertainment industry right now. I’m going to do my film and the internships—and to be on the safe side, I’m applying to law school.

On top of the pressures of school, we’ve also had to deal with the terrorist attacks and the dust and chaos that followed them (see story at left, "Considering college in New York?")

Crisp autumn mornings were beautiful

My favorite memory of New York so far has been the fall mornings before the attacks. Bundled under layers that don’t match, there’s something free about walking on a New York sidewalk with a cup of coffee in your shivering, mittened hands. I’d pass by brownstones and falling leaves, thinking about how great it was that I could study what I love.

I’m currently writing a script for the TV show "Sex and the City" and a movie for my thesis, which I would describe as American Pie meets Cruel Intentions meets Election. To sum them up, I think that my pieces reflect the confusion my generation feels about gender roles and not living up to ideals.

And I’ve learned an incredible amount about the complex process of film production. In addition to the humanities and math and science requirements I take at NYU, I study all aspects of movie-making at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Each day I can feel myself improving. I’m learning video and film editing, various animation and photo-relation computer programs, Internet skills, lighting, cinematography, history, writing and directing.

It really keeps you busy

In a given day, I might be reading about cinema, helping a fellow student with his film, coordinating a shoot for my own project, working on a new script or staying up until 3 a.m. in the editing bay choosing sequences. I had one friend who did an entire documentary about a guy in a Subway sandwich costume. I did a documentary about making pizza and another about some New Yorkers who fought to save a local park. It’s a lot of work, especially when you have to grab a taxi to haul your heavy camera equipment through the congested New York streets!

So far, my favorite class has been my first screenwriting class, where 10 of us sat around and told life stories. My professor called it therapy. We all tried to outdo each other, convincing the others that we had the most serious mental and emotional problems. (Later at lunch we’d admit we had lied.)

The movie industry is so daunting. I know how hard it is, how expensive, how you have to have connections, how you have to work 12-hour days, how you have to constantly watch your back—but I don’t regret studying film. Few people can say that for four years they did nothing but live, breath and pursue their dreams. And I have learned enough computer skills to get an editing or post-production job, which, I guess, was the point of film school in the first place.

Genevieve Wong wrote for L.A. Youth when she attended Beverly Hills High School. She will accept any and all donations to her student film.She’d also like an agent or a job. Please send all inquiries to L.A. Youth.

There are only three film schools in the country, and pretty much in the world. They are USC, NYU and UCLA. There may be film majors at other universities, but these three are the most extensive in terms of training and resources. Trust me, real studios and camera equipment cost big bucks. USC is geared toward mainstream cinema and NYU is geared towards independent cinema. UCLA’s program is the last two years of college; there is no guarantee that just because you got into UCLA you’ll eventually get into the film program. NYU admits about 150 people each year and USC about 100. Some famous NYU film alums are Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, Amy Heckerling and Ang Lee.

I knew my chances were slim, so I applied to both the film and screenwriting departments at USC and NYU. USC rejected me. NYU rejected me from film, but accepted into its screenwriting department. It wasn’t until my junior year that I was granted the double major in film and screenwriting. It was my third try. If you don’t get into film school as an undergrad, try again for grad school. Whether or not you attend film school is really not a make-it-or-break-it life decision. Your success in the film industry is really about who you know.
—Genevieve Wong

Other good film programs in California are at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, Chapman University, Loyola Marymount, Cal State Northridge, Cal State Fullerton, CalArts, Stanford, San Francisco State, the San Francisco Art Institute

Outside California, good programs are at Columbia College of Chicago, Florida State, North Carolina School of the Performing Arts in Winston-Salem, Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, Syracuse University in New York and the University of Texas at Austin. and USC. Chapman University in Orange is building a $40-million studio complex for its film program, according to the Los Angeles Times.