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by Seth Hymes, guest contributor [May 4, 2010]




[]  You've probably heard some prestigious names associated with NYU Film. Martin Scorsese. Oliver StoneSpike Lee. And Martin Scorsese.

A few famous men who graduated from the Graduate program 25+ years ago when the program cost well under $5,000 and there was no such thing as a camcorder have become the definitive reason why you should spend $200,000 to attend the Undergraduate program today.

Sounds reasonable to me.

If you do go to NYU Film, be prepared to hear the names of these men invoked frequently and vigorously in the same manner that George Bush invokes "September 11th" to justify policies and programs that, at first glance, might appear be to unbelievably stupid. After all, even though Freshman year is pointless and costs you more than a down payment on a house… Scorsese went here. (Kind of.) 

Lo, the school's entire reputation may rest on the laurels of these famous men, it brings to the inquiring mind one question: What of the professors? Shouldn't the people who actually teach the classes, rather than a few famous alumni, be the soap box upon which the school can boast its merit, and upon which hang the metaphorical lapels of its sterling reputation?

I would have thought so. 

This blurb is taken directly from Tisch's website:


Save the Faculty

Faculty Support

One of the hallmarks of the Tisch School of the Arts is its faculty of working professional artists -- in fact, they one of the reasons the very best and brightest students want to come here. We currently face significant challenges in attracting and retaining the very best faculty members. The cost of living is always a central factor in the life of an artist, and in New York City that cost can be prohibitive. Many people we would like to recruit choose to accept positions elsewhere, where salaries are higher or, at the very least, will stretch farther. In addition, the commitment to students at Tisch is considerable, leaving these individuals little time to develop their own work. Artists should not have to abandon their own artistic endeavors in order to teach. In short, we cannot have distinguished and cutting-edge artists as teachers unless we make it possible for them to continue working on their art. We seek to raise $20 million for faculty support, which will be used in support of 8 new endowed chairs.  $5 million would sustain a "Leave Fund," thus making it possible for faculty members to engage in activities that would enrich their development as artists and scholars through sabbaticals, research, and special projects. The Leave Fund could also support junior faculty members and adjuncts, as well as distinguished visitors.


This blurb sheds a lot of light on why NYU's film program is so retarded.

The people who teach at Tisch are, by the school's own admission, unable to support themselves financially through their work. They rely on the school to essentially subsidize their artistic endeavors.

How can somebody who has not been able to support themselves through filmmaking possibly teach a young person how to support themselves through filmmaking?

They can't.

Which is why the school is so fatally artsy fartsy and impractical. If you look at the resumes of the faculty members, you will see listed among their prestigious accolades a number of grants and fellowships. These are the Oscars of the world of Academia. They carry a kind of intellectual prestige, along with a few bucks -- but you can't produce a $10 million movie, or even a $100,000 movie, on a grant. You can't base a film career on having won an award back in 1982, or making obscure documentaries for public television that nobody has ever seen.

The only thing that these types of accomplishments can do is secure you a tenured, paid position as a film professor.



But the rest of us have to work for a company that is making things that people want to see, or we must make things ourselves that people want to see.

Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock have shown that documentaries can be popular, but their success has more to do with their ability to understand marketing, humor, and muckracking than any intrinsic artistic ability.

Brett Ratner, director of X-Men 2 and Rush Hour, graduated from NYU Undergrad. He is a success not because of his Fundamentals classes or the tutelage of his professors, but because he knows how to shmooze and work it. He spent more time on music video sets than in his classes during school.

He says so himself in the book Breaking In, by Nick Jarecki. Promotion, marketing, fundraising, networking, business sense. These are the tools a young person needs when trying to get a film career off the ground.

Most students at Tisch are overflowing with artistic talent. That's not where they need help. They need help learning how to mold that talent into a career where they can express themselves as artists and enjoy financial success. It's called entrepreneurship.

But you won't learn anything about entrepreneurship at Tisch. Instead, you will learn how to be the quintessential "starving artist". The Administration and the Faculty look at Tisch as an "art" school.  They do not recognize that film is an art that is inherently and organically linked with money.

Filmmakers do not work in a vacuum. Yet the professors are afforded an environment in which they get to work in a vacuum, with no financial responsibility. Since the professors do not know what is required to succeed in the business, the students waste the first 2 years of their time and money doing baloney "exercises" with the camera, rather than building a reel highlighting their talent and skill which is suitable for the marketplace.

And when each student graduates, he enters an unfriendly and highly competitive marketplace where he is under-prepared and deeply in debt, without any real clue about how to land a job or finance his feature project.

And yet, the school is actively seeking Twenty Million Dollars so that Professors can continue to work on their documentaries and experimental art without worrying about rent.

Here's an interesting idea. Why doesn't the school raise Twenty Million Dollars to help fund recent graduates' Feature Film Projects? That could finance 200 films with budgets of $100,000. Or 100 films with $200,000 budgets. Or 50 films with $400,000 budgets. Or 20 films with $1 million budgets.

If the school would help graduates pay for their films, they could be spared much of the drama, heartbreak, and humiliation of typical independent feature film financing. Just imagine a trust fund of millions of dollars for the sole purpose of making the student's filmmaking dreams come true. It would be awe inspiring and heart warming. It would justify the years of time and millions of dollars in loans and tuition the students have invested in the program over the years.

It would be something the school could proudly display on their website and present in their news. It would make film school worthwhile.

But I know this is not to be.

Seth Hymes is an NYU film school graduate. 

This article is excerpted from his book, Film School Secrets, which offers low-cost alternatives for students seeking a career in film!


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