Help me become a man with a movie camera!
September 26, 2012 9:09 PM   Subscribe

Where can I find cinematography courses in New York City?

Describing my dream of someday writing & directing a film often has a way of feeling as impractical and nonsensical as telling my friends I want to be a cowboy when I grow up... so in that spirit I'm eagerly searching for some creative outlet and if I'm not directing I can easily see myself behind the camera-- getting practical experience in shot composition, color, lighting, mise-en-scene, etc.

So I'm looking for good technical & formal cinematography courses...

New York Film Academy is the one that shows the most promise, or at least shows up the most. But it does seem legitimate and as intense of a course as I'm looking for. It's 19,000 per semester and two semesters long.

They offer filmmaking courses of a similar length (1 yr or 2 yr) but I'm skeptical about learning anything practical in that span of time.

Other than that my search has brought me to unfamiliar territory and dead ends so if anyone with more experience than I could help me find some great options it would really help!
posted by dr handsome to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, I was going to suggest NYFA.

On the other hand, I would stress two things.

A) You do not by any means need to go to film school to make movies. In a certain capacity it can help, but it's not necessary at all. You can learn almost everything you need to know by watching movies, reading, and actually making your own stuff.

B) Do you know what a cinematographer actually is? It's really not a skill you'll need to have to direct a film. Let alone write one. When you make a movie, you hire a director of photography who will take care of the cinematography bit. Some directors get really into the technical side, but you don't have to and I certainly wouldn't spend tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege.

Your best bet, if you want to direct something but feel underprepared about the technical side, is to make friends with someone who genuinely wants to be a DP. You can probably learn stuff from them, but also you can collaborate and have them shoot your projects. Plenty of people only want to be cinematographers and have no idea about writing or directing.

If you really want to do some formal study, I'd suggest a one-off course rather than a full two-semester program.

NYFA should offer something a little less intensive, but if they don't, maybe look into taking a film course at CUNY as a non-matriculated student.

NYU may also offer some extension courses, though they'll be more expensive. You'd want the School For Continuing Education, not Tisch. It also might be worth looking into the New School, though I think most of their film courses are more theoretical than technical.

Honestly, the only reason I think it would be worth doing any kind of study at all would be to meet other people who want to make movies, thus upping your chances of meeting people to collaborate with.

If you have a little time, it might be worth checking out some of the free/low-pay jobs on There are tons of film students who need free help on short films, which usually shoot over weekends. You could definitely go on as a grip just to learn how sets work, what stuff is called, who does what, etc. And you'd be learning and helping, all for free, without having to pay anyone for it. You'd probably even get free food out of the deal.
posted by Sara C. at 9:58 PM on September 26, 2012

Response by poster: Incredibly helpful answer, a few clarifications...

I study formal stuff, structure, etc. on my own but I'm interested in gaining some hands-on intensive technical training (technical training being the opposite of that broad study film school seems to offer) because I want to get the best job I can and as soon as possible. Of those non-directing fields I imagine I'd find the most creative outlet in cinematography.

It's not that I think I'll immediately land some dream job but I'm eager to apply myself in any way possible to find something. Getting that technical knowledge seems like a logical first step.

NYFA offers a 12 week evening filmmaking intensive that would offer some structured study and might, like you said, put me in contact with other aspiring filmmakers and DPs?
posted by dr handsome at 10:22 PM on September 26, 2012

Best answer: Cinematography is a career path unto itself, not a day job. You don't need to get any sort of technical training to get an entry level job in film production, if that's what you mean by "get the best job I can as soon as possible".

Additionally, a lot of people who go on to become filmmakers don't work in the film industry for their day job, they tend bar or whatever and make movies on the side. Robert Rodriguez funded his first film by doing paid medical testing. If your primary goal is to make movies, you should focus on making them, not on doing busy work to eventually get a union card in an unrelated technical area.

Your best bet if you want to do a film industry day job (and there are definite plus sides to doing this) would be to get a job as a set PA. AD's hire set PA's on a day labor basis, all the time. It's a completely non-technical gig that requires no skill whatsoever. You're a body. Your job is to tell pedestrians not to cross the street. Bigger films -- especially in New York -- can hire dozens, if not hundreds, of day-playing (or "additional") set PAs on any given day.

The main way to get this kind of work is to fall in with a bunch of other set PAs. A great way to do that is, as I said, to do some unpaid labor on a student film. A lot of people who are already working in the entry level PA type gigs during the week spend their free time honing their skills on student shorts. Go grip on a couple of shorts, make friends, and find out who works and whether they can put in a word for you next time one of those 100 additional set PA days comes up.

Keep in mind, though, that this sort of work is mainly useful as a sort of apprenticeship-cum-networking opportunity -- it's way too easy to get bogged down in climbing various career ladders, none of which lead to writing or directing a film. Those aren't jobs that you get promoted into.
posted by Sara C. at 10:36 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

By the way, if what we're dancing around here is that you want to be a DP as your life's work, the answer is to do what I mentioned above (finagle your way into a set PA job), and then schmooze your way into a job in the camera department. From there, it's still a long ladder to climb to become a DP, and like all the other creative aspects of filmmaking, most of that climb will be accomplished by honing your skills in your free time.

If you get a Camera PA job or a Loader job (something that might literally take you years to accomplish), then you should start asking yourself questions about whether you're going to need formal training beyond what you can teach yourself. Your colleagues in the camera department will be able to answer the question of where to go for that sort of training.
posted by Sara C. at 10:42 PM on September 26, 2012

Response by poster: One more set of questions and clarifications before I head to bed, this has all been super helpful by the way!

I guess my thought was to get paid to shoot things (anything, everything), make contacts through that avenue, gain the knowledge to possibly do things independently. If the road to directing isn't through previous film experience in any field then what is it?

PA jobs lead to contacts but then what follows if I'm not trained in anything? Are directing apprenticeships a common thing?

I guess my simple question is this: someone without formal training but whose applied himself self-study since high school, what's a common trip toward some real practical hands-on work?

Thanks Sara!
posted by dr handsome at 10:48 PM on September 26, 2012

Best answer: The road to directing is through directing. If you want to direct, you have two basic choices.

- Get the cheapest camera setup you can afford (probably some sound equipment, too), and access to some editing software, and go to town. Teach yourself to use it. Fail. Make really crap movies you never show anyone, and then delete them. Keep doing this. Keep working at it till you have something you would show someone. You're now officially a director!


- Go find a ragtag bunch of people who all want to make a short film or a web series or whatever accessible format appeals to you. Have most of those people be technicians who are interested in cinematography, sound design, etc. You're now officially a producer, but as a producer your first order of business can be to choose yourself as director. You're now officially a director!

Keep doing all this stuff until you are good. Make a reel. Write a screenplay. Convince some people to give you a crapton of money. Make your screenplay into a movie. WIN.

The production day job can help you find ragtag bunches of people who want to make movies. It can help you find people who want to give money to said ragtag bunches. It can give you some basic skills so that you know how to format a script, what a day out of days is, what a genny op does, etc. But beyond that, it's just the job that pays the bills so you can play with your toys and your ragtag bunches until you direct a movie.

I have a really strong feeling that you don't know what a director does, and how that is different from being a cameraman or a cinematographer. I'm sorry if it's a bad assumption, but if I'm right, your first step is to go find out exactly what a director is responsible for.
posted by Sara C. at 11:06 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I want to helpful but I don't understand the question. Do you want to be a cinematographer? Directors of photography do not write scripts or direct movies - I mean, that's not what the job entails.

Don't doubt yourself. You can learn a lot in 1 or two years. I have to say I am shocked that NYFA costs $20,000. I went to one of their showcases and was not at all impressed.

If you want to write and create projects - NPR did a whole bit on the creative team behind Reno 911! and how they broke in Hollywood - then get your ass into a comedy class and start collaborating.

Other traditional options include work a desk at a talent agency. I don't really know who is NY, I imagine WMA, CAA, Gersh etc. have offices in NY. You can read other peoples' scripts and presumably learn how to put a movie together - from casting to post. You could even work for a feature-film or TV production company. Or, you could try to get staffed as a writer on a show.

If you are a good PA, people will want to work with you and help you out. If you are not good with people or are annoying and can't get over the pay and don't do a good job, then don't bother fucking doing it.

A lot of DP's start in photography. Maybe if you want to learn how a camera works, composition, lighting, all that, maybe still photos is a good place to start. Even making an independent movie requires a lot of people and resources. (ok im admitting a little bias here)

Also, if you can consider moving out of state, AFI has some wonderful courses. Also at USC there is something called the Peter Stark Producing Program. I would venture to say some really talented people come out of there and they can be tight-knit.
posted by phaedon at 11:14 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I understand the difference between the two but I assumed cinematography was a technical skill that could be trained similar to editing, and that it would be the sort of thing that would offer some creative outlet and something one could use to find more stable work. But I think what you're getting at is that's a weird option for someone with directorial aspirations. Which is understandable.

But then the disconnect in my mind has been where someone like me gains the technical training to do something like them. I just never quite understood the leap from PA to any real creative field.

But if all it takes is intense book/movie research and the initial dive into independent shorts/films/etc. then I'm already on the right track. It's just that right now it seems as if no amount of book reading will give me the practical skills I want, I still feel like I'm not ready to just roll film.

And your last answer Sara was the helpful answer to the question of "how do I go from being a PA to being a director." The goal of becoming a PA, you say, is just to get in contact with like minded creatives (DPs, editors, art directors etc.) and start making stuff.

So to answer all these answers:

I am longing to direct the things I write- which is to say, see them made from start to finish- but since I'm creatively interested in all aspects of cinema I figured working in cinematography might offer something practical, along with industry contacts.
posted by dr handsome at 7:26 AM on September 27, 2012

I was writing out another big "no no no you're not approaching this the right way at all" post, and then I deleted it, because it's clearly not getting through.

Go play around on a short film, web series, or music video. See who does what. Talk to them about what they're doing on this gig vs. how they actually make their money. Get a sense of what is a day job vs. what is a bona fide creative career, and what the various paths are. Ask a bunch of directors how they started out. Make friends. See if you can finagle a day as a set PA somewhere.

A weekend on the set of a music video is going to be exponentially more educational for you than two years at NYFA.
posted by Sara C. at 8:31 AM on September 27, 2012

Stop reading metafilter and immediately go read Robert Rodriguez's book Rebel Without a Crew.

The idea is to make mistakes. And make films. Figure you're going to have to put in a minimum of 1000 hours of work (on your own, as a PA, at NYFA, wherever) before you get over the 'crap' side of your work.

I can guarantee you that going to NYFA will not get you a job.
Being able to operate a camera won't get you a job.
Editing skills won't get you a job (nor are they just 'technical')

What will get you a job directing? Earn it. Make movies, make mistakes, work with great people and one of them (at some point) will say, "Mike can't help us this weekend, but I remember a guy I worked with last month, dr. handsome, who knows his stuff and is eager. Let's see if he's available."
posted by filmgeek at 11:28 AM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry if it seems like I'm not understanding your answers, maybe my replies are implying that but it couldn't be further from the truth. The point you're making seems to be...

1. Cinematography skills won't offer me a practical day job in the way I assumed.

2. Cinematography jobs won't offer some way into directing.

3. The best way to direct is to make contacts and make movies.

And all those are things I've been considering before writing this post.

I understand film school is supposedly a waste of money apart from the contacts you make, I was just considering technical courses for money/creativity's sake.

I understand what you're saying about learning the craft from intense self study (which I've been doing) and making movies (which I haven't found out how to do).

And the best part of this conversation was learning that PA jobs aren't for apprenticeship type training but rather to make contacts with skilled people who want to make stuff with you and likewise teach you about their side of the craft.

Helpful stuff, thanks!
posted by dr handsome at 10:11 PM on September 27, 2012

« Older I need a vacation - but where?   |   How do you even say Louvre??? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.