By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
It should be remembered that he came out of the old Hollywood that was rough and tough and where the wildest bluffs hold.
--F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Last Tycoon
In Wim Wenders‘ 1982 homage to filmmaking, The State of Things, a director leaves his crew on location in Portugal, where they are shooting a remake of Roger Corman’s The Day the World Ended -- presciently titled The Survivors -- to return to sun-blasted L.A. to beg for completion funds. Unable to track down his producer, he aimlessly circles the parking lot of the Cinerama Dome on Sunset Boulevard, half-heartedly tailed by loan sharks, in an endless, static aerial shot that elegantly summarizes the futility of filmmaking in Los Angeles.
“He‘s in a lot of trouble,” says Corman himself, playing the producer’s lawyer. “Use your imagination.”
Those words, still hanging heavy in the air 20 years later, might serve as a cautionary inscription for the Los Angeles Film School, situated directly across Sunset from the Cinerama Dome, just out of frame. Housed in the old RCA studios at 6363 Sunset, where both Elvis‘ post-Sun catalog and the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” were recorded, this “apolitical, non-aligned, floating graduate conservatory” was conceived a mere 15 months ago in a moment of idealistic largess and visionary chutzpah by one-time Universal Studios head Thom Mount and Vancouver venture capitalist Bud MaLette, sometimes referred to as “the Warren Buffet of Canada.” In April 1999, they embarked on major construction, even though the lease wasn‘t signed until May. In September, the first students began attending classes. And this July, the first graduating class of 16 will emerge from the 10-month total-immersion program (with subsequent graduating classes to follow at two-month intervals), much of their time in the classroom having been spent in hardhats.
Part academic institution and part professional training school, part art institute and part technical college, the Los Angeles Film School was conceptualized to fill a gap in the marketplace. On the one hand are the USC and UCLA film programs or the AFI MFA track, all of which serve to some degree as pipelines into the industry. On the other hand is the sudden proliferation of quick-time boiler rooms such as the New York Film Academy, which promises to teach the art of filmmaking for a mere six- or eight-week investment. With applicants at USC or UCLA being turned away at a rate of 10 to 1, and with the unprecedented historical confluence of digital technology, streaming video, indie fever and Internet plutocracy, the time may be right for the Los Angeles Film School’s foreshortened, intensive, specialized film curriculum for producers, directors and below-the-line trades such as editor, cinematographer, production designer and sound engineer. The price tag is $20,500 (many top-tier four-year programs are $75,000 or more), and students are handed a camera literally the first day of classes. (A two-year screenwriting program and an ambitious second-year production curriculum, whereby three low-budget feature films will be under way at any given time, are both in the active planning stages.)
“How many moments do we have that are revolutions in capturing technology and in distribution at the same time?” Mount asks rhetorically. “It doesn‘t happen.”
And in fact, once past the vaguely cheesy green neon sign that announces the school’s sudden presence to its Hollywood surroundings, and discounting the sawdust on the floor and the cables hanging from the rafters, reminiscent of a latter-day vaudeville or live television, it is impossible to argue with the level of commitment manifested in the investment in equipment, or the caliber of the faculty. Focusing on digital video, Digi Beta and Hi-Def, the school has 19 XL-1 Mini-DV cameras with upgraded manual-lens systems and XLR sound inputs, plus a number of state-of-the-art 1080 Progressive digital cameras with variable 24- and 30-frame-per-second shooting speeds (the kind George Lucas has announced he will shoot the next Star Wars with). There are 21 Avid editing systems on premises -- 12 top-line Media Composers and nine newer Express DVs -- and one of the only working broadcast-ready Hi-Def sets in L.A. outside of the Sony labs and the Jay Leno stage. The school also has two 35mm cameras --an Arriflex BL4 and a borrowed Panavision -- and two ARRI SRII 16mm cameras, which all students are required to use. Principals say the initial outlay of capital has been “somewhere north of 5 and pushing 10” -- between $5 million and $10 million, that is. The SSL digital mixing board alone cost $1 million.
Similarly, cinematography classes are taught by William Fraker (Rosemary‘s Baby), Ralf Bode (Coal Miner’s Daughter) and Janusz Kaminski (Saving Private Ryan); the directing faculty includes Jon Amiel (The Singing Detective, Entrapment) and Donald Petrie (Mystic Pizza); editing classes might be helmed by Dede Allen (Bonnie and Clyde), and Ron Judkins, Spielberg‘s sound mixer, might bring by the wild tracks from Saving Private Ryan for students to remix. Joe Byron, the school’s technology director, holds eight patents in motion-picture lighting and optical systems from his work with Colortran lighting-manufacturing company and Birns & Sawyer equipment rentals. The revolving faculty of professionals is a concept that would only work in Hollywood. In exchange for this kind of access, the school neither has nor apparently seeks accreditation, with Mount labeling the application process “an onerous burden.”
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