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How effective are film schools?

Fierce competition fuels enrollment

In the current job market, it’s tougher than ever for graduates to start their careers. But the hurdles are especially difficult for anyone hoping to enter the entertainment business, where competition is fierce and a few success stories of teenage millionaires sets up unrealistic expectations for grads.

Programs as diverse as Boston U. in Los Angeles; high-school prep course Inner-City Filmmakers; the nonprofit Ghetto Film School; and Los Angeles County High School for the Arts have different approaches to training youngsters about the industry.

All agree, however, that the thing students need most is something that can’t be taught.

“You need a lot of drive and endurance to have a filmmaking career, and sometimes students think that they’re going to instantly make it at 18 or 19,” says Jon Artigo, film department chair for LACHS for the Arts. “The reality is that you may be in your 30s, 40s or beyond before you get a really big break, and you have to figure out a way to make a creative life work until that point.”

But in the meantime, does the training in any such program help students get jobs?

“We’re really in the attitude and life skills business,” says Bill Linsman, director of Boston U. in Los Angeles and associate professor in the department of film and television. “Our students come out to Los Angeles when they’re at least juniors and do two internships and take courses, so they’re immersed in the entertainment business here.”

The program relies on an alumni network of Boston U. grads at work in the industry, including Jason Alexander, Emily Deschanel, writer Corinne Brinkerhoff, Lauren Schuler Donner, Michael Chiklis and CBS entertainment prexy Nina Tassler. Those leads help undergrads by supplying a stream of internship opportunities, meeting with students studying in Los Angeles and speaking to classes about their work in the industry.

Linsman estimates that 80%-90% of the students find jobs related to the business.

However, it doesn’t come cheap. The cost for a fall or spring semester internship program with BU in Los Angeles is $24,564 for the 2011-12 school year; the cost to do a summer 2011 internship program in L.A. is $13,100.

Nonprofit programs offer a less expensive route for students who may not have had to the opportunity to go directly to college after high school. Inner-City Filmmakers was founded in Los Angeles by Fred Heinrich after the Los Angeles riots in 1992.

Heinrich, who had been a successful editor for years, noticed that the only people who applied for positions when he had an opening at Wildwood Films came from a narrow background. “To be blunt, all the applicants were white and male,” Heinrich says. “I think the film industry is one that has good jobs that pay well and that if we (give) people from different backgrounds the opportunity to get experience, they have a chance at a better life.”

The program accepts students ages 17-22. More than 75% are from families who have recently immigrated to the U.S. Roughly 33% are female, better than 60% are Latino and more than 20% are black.

While full cost of the program is $18,375, few pay that much. The vast majority of participants are on full scholarship; others pay based on income level. Long-time sponsors who help fund the program include the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., CAA and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Inner-City takes on between 30 and 40 students for its intensive summer program — a kind of boot camp where students take classes or work on projects daily. Those who complete the summer program graduate, and can attend intermediate and advanced courses in the winter and spring for free.

School alumni include “Monster House” director Gil Kenan, though most who have found work are in below-the-line positions, and have worked on films including “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” “2012,” “Tron Legacy” and “Battle Los Angeles.”

“We’re here to help them build skills like networking, teach them how to go on a job interview and have good attitude at work,” he adds. “Our students find work as animators, assistant editors and digital artists, but we encourage all of them to go on to college.”

Ghetto Film School, another nonprofit program, was started in New York and consists of a 15-month, three-course immersion program for students ages 14-21. Students must audition to become part of the highly competitive fellows program, but once they’re in, they’re often able to meet with helmers like Spike Jonze and Mark Romanek through their classwork.

Students don’t pay to participate in the program but they have to go through a rigorous admissions process.

“The students who come to us already have a passion for storytelling,” says Ghetto Film School president and founder Joe Hall. “I think we’re here to help them find out how they want to do that in their lives..”

Artigo agrees. He believes learning to collaborate with other students and learning to carefully plan and execute a shoot are abilities students need regardless of where they go professionally.

In the meantime, L.A. County High School for the Arts’ program can put cameras in the hands of its students and give them the chance to go out and create. And though filmmaking is not yet a major area of concentrated study at the high school, Artigo believes it will become one in the next few years.

“We’ve had tremendous support from companies like Warner Bros. for this program and that only makes sense,” says Artigo. “They’re just as interested in finding the next generation of great filmmakers as these kids are interested in becoming filmmakers.”

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