A Year Of Film Production


I’ve always been interested in journalism and telling stories. I got my undergraduate degree in broadcast journalism but wasn’t quite sure television was the way to go for me. So, I looked into film schools. Being from the United States, I naturally looked to UCLA, USC and NYU. But they were all long programs and I had just finished a four-year degree. I was looking to learn about film and get my feet wet without another 2-4 year commitment.

A friend at work suggested I look into Vancouver, Canada, as there were a lot of productions up north. I took his suggestion and found a few. The Vancouver Film School seemed to be the right direction for me. Although the tuition was a little higher than other schools, it included all of the supplies and film stock we would need for the program. And the best part; it was a 12-month program. I visited the campus and city before I got started and naturally fell in love.

All of the programs have their own courses and schedules, but students often collaborate with one another to make the projects really come to life.

Overview Of The School

One of the great advantages of VFS is how many programs there are. I was in the film production, my roommate was in 3D Animation and we had friends in acting, sound design, business management, etc. All of the programs have their own courses and schedules, but students often collaborate with one another to make the projects really come to life. Every program is located in the downtown Vancouver area, which makes it easier for students to network with one another. Combining efforts with actors, sound engineers, makeup artists and writers helped me see all of the elements of a film come together.

Being a 12 month program, VFS is not a 9-5 school; students are on campus at all hours of the day and weekends completing assignments and working on productions. There’s a reason it is strongly recommended you do not work during this program; there is just no time for it. The only people I saw for the entire year were either students or faculty, which helped me focus completely on the program. There was no doubt that this school was geared for those serious about learning the art of filmmaking.

The faculty and administration made it a point to learn every student’s name and make us all feel welcome. Instructors, also active in the film world, are very knowledgeable in their field and willing to help anytime. Their support, wisdom and friendship, through the good and the bad, were well worth it. I am still in contact with many of the faculty and they continue to advise and assist me along my journey.

One of the highlights of VFS is that they do not teach just one aspect of filmmaking; they teach everything. VFS breaks it down and shows you all of the possible jobs and how it all comes together in the end. It is a great school to attend if you know you want to be in the film industry, but just don’t know what role you’ll play in it. The program focuses a great deal on cinematography, but each instructor is eager to spend time with students to help them hone in on whatever interests most suits them best.

VFS also provides a lot of the necessities, including city permits, which you still have to apply for, but are commonly accepted when being a part of the school. Although it is best not to work during the program, students have the opportunity to help on other classes’ projects. A new class begins every two months, so there are lots of opportunities to work with students farther along in the program. There are also options for volunteering on professional films throughout the city if you can find a way in. I had such an experience working on a feature film during school and it gave me great insight into the industry.

Breakdown Of The Program

Perhaps it was because of my educational background, but it didn’t seem too difficult to be accepted to VFS. There are only 30 people accepted every two months. Having such a small class allowed me to make strong friendships quickly. All of us lived the journey of the 12 intense months together and right from the beginning we were thrown into it.

The program is broken down into six eight-week terms; each one building on the previous. At the end, we walk away with five projects we can call our own.

The first eight weeks comprise of a lot of educational classes; the history of film, cinematography (how it began and where it is today), lighting techniques, editing principles and an introduction into Avid. We also had the opportunity to play with a Steinbeck and splicer as well, though we didn’t have official classes on it. There were also classes in directing, producing, scripting supervising, assistant directing, art direction, sound, and film aesthetics.

The first two months also focused on “documentary” film making. We paired up and pitched documentary ideas to the faculty and formed crews based on the ones that were chosen. At the end of the first two months, we had completed a ten minute documentary in a 5-person team. This was a great introduction into the world of film and a wonderful way to get to know our classmates better.

In Term 2 you learn to use the film cameras, starting with the Bolex and then moving onto the Arri. We practiced loading and unloading film, as well as hands on lighting exercises. This is a big term for class work, reading, and the “Instructor Shoot”; a great exercise on set with every student rotating through all departments of a film.

In Term 3, classes and workshops expand. We focus on budgeting, scheduling, location scouting, and set etiquette in preparation for the films we would soon be making. All 30 students write a screenplay and then pitch their ideas to the faculty; some are chosen to be produced in the following months. We also started using dolly equipment in lighting exercises within our teams. In order to be a director of photography on these films, students must pass an intense lighting exam.

Term 4 is when production begins; one digital and one on super 16. Starting from the approved scripts, students have 8 weeks to make two different 10-minute dramas within their team of 10 students. Classes subside and students build their own schedules to accommodate their projects. We are given a specific set of days (5) to shoot, so it is important to be ready. Although an intense term, it is well worth it to see the final product.

The big part of this term is the director’s pitch. Unlike the midterms where the writer was automatically the director if they wanted the role, the final projects are up for grabs.

Term 5 focuses on post-production of our dramas as well as sound design working with the sound campus. We also begin writing our next scripts; the final projects. This is a volunteer script. If students feel writing is not their strong suit, they can choose to team up with a writer or pass and wait until crewing. The big part of this term is the director’s pitch. Unlike the midterms where the writer was automatically the director if they wanted the role, the final projects are up for grabs. You must prepare and deliver a pitch to get the job and many non-writers become final project directors.

Term 6 is still hard into production. The final round of scripts is chosen and production begins immediately. After post-production on both final projects we cover distribution, film festivals and grant writing as well as discussions on the differences and pros/cons of independent work versus studio work. The term ends with a graduation ceremony where all of the films produced are shown among classmates, family and friends.

I learned so much in that year both about film and myself.

The Verdict

Being a 12-month program (with only 2 weeks off) made it a very intense time, but well worth it. Although a bit pricey, looking back I don’t regret my decision. I learned so much in that year both about film and myself. Overall, the experience I had there was worth every penny.

As an American citizen it is quite difficult to get a work visa and stay in the country. So after graduation in October 2007, I went on to work on live projects and films in the Los Angeles and Portland areas. I now work for a media company that specializes in video production and live events and I attribute much of my knowledge and success to my time at VFS.