NYU Directing and Cinematography Semester Review Sam Cutler-Kreutz
To start with, I am not an NYU student. I come from Bard College, a small liberal arts school in Upstate NY, with a small film program. I am mostly a self taught director and DP because bard has such a small film program and so I was really hoping to use this semester as a way to expand my knowledge in both of those disciplines. In the end, I did learn a lot, but NOT THROUGH THIS PROGRAM, instead I read and studied on my own in my free time during this very easy semester. All this information could have been gotten at a much cheaper price. Speaking of price I was also in the unique position that my girlfriend was also studying at FAMU International in a different program (CIEE), and we spent a lot of time comparing our two programs. There is much to be said about the comparison of these two different programs, but the consensus between the two of us was that her program was almost identical (most of the same professors even) and was about half the price. Considering both of us were coming from schools with tuition that was less than NYU it made a serious difference. There is much to say about this semester and so I want to break it down into a couple of different parts. For starters I also want to recommend that you read Louis’s review of this program where he breaks down his expectations and how they were met. I agree completely with his review.
THE NYU COURSE LIST IS INCREDIBLY MISLEADING!!!
I can’t stress this enough but I will try and break it down by the classes we actually had. I’ll try and group them roughly into categories.
General Class Summary
In general the quality of the professors was very good, but the quality of the teaching was very bad. This might sound strange, but it is part of what made the classes so hard to sit through, was that you could tell the prof’s were all SUPER smart, and whenever they did decide to make comments, they were all very good, but they just seemed to have such trouble teaching us anything in any organized manor. So frustrating! The other issue seemed to be that the classes were too long in general. The profs had trouble filling up such a long class period and this often lead to frustrating situation where the seemed to waste time.
Directing Scriptwriting – Prof. Pavel Marek.
-This class was just about pitching ideas for our final film. This is what we did every single class from day 1 until the end of the semester. He would always comment on our stories, usually with quite good insights, though by the end of the semester this class got very repetitive.
Directing – Ivo Trajkov
-This class was what I expected to be our primary directing class, but ended up being kind of a joke, it was a combination of pitching and watching old films from the NYU program, made by students from previous semesters and pointing out what was wrong with them.
-I really felt disappointed by this piece of the semester. We learned nothing about “directing” no directing actors, no casting, nothing about shooting, or translating story into shots. There was some useful info about storybuilding/crafting.
Script Consultation – Jan Fleicher
This class was almost identical to “Directing Scriptwriting” Pitching pitching pitching, all the time. Fine for the first 2 weeks and then very repetitive for the rest of the semester. In general we had a lot of pitching, which was valuable, but the amount was too much and got boring.
Screenplay Writing- Pavel Jech
Because I come from a small school, I’ve never had a traditional scriptwriting class before, so this was very informative for me. We watched a few films and analyzed their story structure. I had a few classmates call this a very basic class, but in the end it was useful for me.
This was a useful part of the semester for me, I learned quite a bit about story structure, but this these classes could be been more nuanced.
Camera + Camera Technologies – Michael Gahut
I am a very technical person, and so this class was a joke for me. It was perhaps the most basic camera technologies class ever. We covered about 3 topics. How to use a spotmeter, the proper settings for a 35mm film camera, the most basic 3 point lighting overview. Anybody with any seriousness about cinematography will find this class pointless. The most fun I had was going to Panavision and wandering around looking at the expensive lenses, and 100’ technocranes. On top of all this Gahut is an incredibly confusing professor to try and understand.
Film and Video – Pecack
This class was great. The professor was very focused and the class should have been titled “the science of cinematography”. I had blast, asking every question I’ve ever had about the more complex technical pieces of filmmaking.
Camera Language – Marek Jicha
This class was also good, it was VERY well organized and everything we set out to cover we actually got to. It was sort of a combination cinematography and camera directing class. There should have been much more of this class.
In general the science of cinematography was covered well, but there was almost nothing about camera placement, shot size, lighting of any kind. I learned how to set up and use a 35mm camera but many of my classmates still struggled with it by the end of the semester. I really don’t feel like my cinematography skills were much improved by my classes here. I did take the time to learn on my own which made my semester feel more worthwhile.
Czech Film History-Michael Bregant
Quite a good class, with an organized prof. who really knew what he was talking about. He maybe had trouble making the subject as interesting as he could have, and we were often left to watch films on our own in class and then not get back to talking about them till some time later, but a good class overall.
This class is by far (and that’s saying a lot) the worst class we had here. I learned no Czech. As I’m sure any competent language professor will tell you, you have to spend more than 1hr per week learning a language. The prof treated us like we were all advanced level Czech students and she spoke only in Czech and very quickly. Maybe in some kind of advanced immersion this would make sense, but it meant that entire classes would go by without any of us understanding anything she was saying.
There was none EVER!!
There is another novel to be written on this as well, but in general it was better than the classes because you had some control over the process. That isn’t to say that it was not without frustrations. The hardest part with the production piece, was not knowing which parts of the process were in your hands or the programs hands. The division of labor between the NYU office and the students was often unclear. Who was supposed to be, finding locations, finding actors, dealing with rental houses, getting special equipment, etc. These all became clear eventually but often very close to the actual production, and often much closer than one would like. This was indicative of the GENERAL DISORGINIZATION OF THE PROGRAM.
Anyway, I had a great time with production and was on as many sets as was possible. I also took the opportunity to be on other FAMU International productions, and in total spent about 32 days on set.
Just to put it simply, Prague is one of the most beautiful cities on earth and I loved every minute of being here. I would consider moving here at some point in my life. If you want a semester of sightseeing and vacation, come to Prague.
I had a really fun semester here. A bunch of great people, and a beautiful city. I was doing WAY more film than I would have been at my small liberal arts school in NY. But academically this program is incredibly inefficient and for the amount of class and resources we had at our disposal was a huge disappointment. If you are a hardcore cinematography student from NYU Tisch, who doesn’t need a semester long break, stay away. If you are a super hardcore directing student, who already knows the basics of cinematography well, and doesn’t want a semester long break, stay away. If you are looking to chill out for a semester, and maybe advance your scriptwriting knowledge and some slight directing/basic cinematography skills, you should come. If you are looking to have a blast in another country and don’t really care about academics, this is the place for you. If you are looking to have a good time in another country, and you are willing to work your ass off and be proactive about your learning (because no one is going to spoon feed it to you here), this semester can work for you. It did for me.