By Hammad Zaidi | December 6, 2011

Two weeks ago, Going Bionic discussed professional development opportunities at UCLA and Sundance, as part two of our series on “Breaking In From The Outside.” Then, after last week’s Thanksgiving detour professing my love for The Muppets (2011), we’re back to continue our mini-series on “Breaking In From The Outside.” This week we’re going to discuss professional advancement opportunities that are far easier to take advantage of than getting into UCLA or Sundance. Of course, UCLA and Sundance come with pedigrees that will open doors and jumpstart your career. However, if you desire an opportunity that doesn’t demand a minimum of three months to one year of time commitment, today’s may be more your speed. Namely, today we’re focusing on short-term film schools and their pluses and minuses. Thus, without further ado, let’s see how someone can go from zero to filmmaker in 48 hours!

The Dov S-Simens’ 2-Day Film School
Dov Simens is a teacher and motivator, and he’s quite good at both. Mr. Simens claims that over the last 15 years, graduates of his “2-Day Film School” have gone to “shoot, direct or produce” films that have generated over $8 billion dollars. That’s $540 million per year, or $45 million per month, or $1.5 million per day for the past decade and a half. Furthermore, graduates of the “2-Day Film School” have included Quentin Tarantino, Chris Nolan, Guy Ritchie and Will Smith.

Now, before you get too excited; here’s a little dose of reality:

1)   There is little proof that the success of the “celebrity graduates” is attributed to taking this 2-Day Film School. Many professionals will take seminars as a way to learn aspects of the film industry that they are not experts in; i.e. actors and directors learning about producing.

2)   $8 billion dollars in film sales may not be what it seems, especially it includes the entire box office, television, DVD and all ancillary income generated by the careers of Will Smith, Chris Nolan and Quentin Tarantino. Those three guys alone probably account for more than half of Mr. Simens’ stated amount. Attributing the successes of Smith, Nolan and Tarantino to Dov Simens’ 2-Day Film School is like attributing five of the Lakers’ 16 NBA championships to me, because I’ve been a Lakers season ticket holder since the ‘90’s. Just like the money I’ve paid for my tickets may have played a tiny part in the Lakers successes, the information these celebrity graduates absorbed at Dov Simens’ 2-Day Film School may have played a tiny part in their subsequent successes. Remember, tiny is the operative word here.

Pluses +

Accessible To Everyone
One definite plus about the two-day film school is that all you have to do is pay for it. That’s right, unlike UCLA, USC, and NYU, other hard as hell to get into film programs, you probably won’t be denied admittance to Dov Simens’ 2-Day Film School (as long as your check clears or credit card doesn’t get denied while paying for it). This is good, because being given the access to learn is a very positive thing.

Location, Location, Location
Dov Simens’ 2-Day Film Schools are generally held in Los Angeles, New York City and London. In the event you can’t get to any of those three amazing cities, you can also buy the two-day film school on DVD.

The Price May Be Right
Currently on sale for less than $400, (regular price is under $600) this 2-Day Film School costs a lot less than attending a four-year film school. Thus, if you’re just now “getting your feet wet” into becoming a filmmaker, it may make more sense to spend $400 over two-days to see how you like the film industry, before you spend $40,000 per year to get a degree in it, or spend $400,000 on an indie film.

Minuses –

Beware Of The Pipe Dream
On the Dov Simens website, he claims that you can make a $2 million dollar producing fee on a $20 million dollar budget, and if you film is successful, you can make “$9 million to $24 million dollars in profits.” In all my years in the film industry, I have never, and I mean never heard a more ridiculous statement. Never mind the fact that in this economy, or in any economy for that matter, a producer without a seriously successful track record could never command 10% of a $20 million dollar film budget as a producing fee, but that producer would never see his or her $9 million to $24 million dollar profits, even if it was owed to him or her. The reality of the film industry makes it next to impossible to get profits from films paid to you, unless you are the sole person in charge of the money stream. Thus, selling the dream of making millions by taking a two-day film school is just plain wrong.

Lack Of Substantial Contacts and Credibility
Short-term film schools tend to inspire and encourage people to “just do it,” but they do so without offering the contacts and credibility offered by better-established film schools and film festival sponsored programs. While often time’s students in the weekend film schools collaborate and make films together, they may fall victim to “the blind leading the blind” if they have the same basic knowledge base.

As for the second short-term film school, here’s information on the New York Film Academy.

The New York Film Academy
The New York Film Academy is the single largest hands-on filmmaking learning institution in the world. With campuses in New York City, Los Angeles and Dubai, and workshops held at Harvard, Paris, Seoul, Switzerland, Florence, Italy, Moscow, and Tokyo, to name a few, this school also offers accredited university degree programs, in addition to short-term seminars. As for who has attended their classes, here’s a sample of whom they list on their website:

Steven Spielberg, Terry Gilliam, Stephen Frears (The Queen)Peter Bogdanovich (Last Picture Show), Jim Sheridan (In The Name of the Father)Roger Donaldson (Bank Job)George Romero (Night of the Living Dead)James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment).

Al Pacino, Kevin Kline, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Robert Downey Jr., Jamie Foxx, F. Murray Abraham, Melanie Griffith, Val Kilmer, Jodie Foster, Sharon Stone, Amy Irving, Pierce Brosnan, Drew Carey, Jean Claude Van Damme.

Three time Oscar Winner Arthur Cohn (One Day in September)Charles Gassot (The Taste of Others), Sheila Nevins (HBO President, Documentary & Family).

Needless to say, the New York Film Academy has attracted top talent to its classes. Furthermore, it is a more widely regarded option than the Dov Simens 2-Day Film School, because the programs demand more of a commitment than two days. Additionally, this film school offers courses in acting and photography as well. Of course, since these programs demand more of a time commitment, they also cost more than a few hundred dollars.

Pluses +

Accessible To Everyone
Like The Dov Simens’ 2-Day Film School, The New York Film Academy is accessible to those who want to learn from it.

Minuses –

Because these programs are far more elaborate than a two-day film school, they often times cost as much as going to a more traditional university based film school. Thus, if cost is a factor in your choice of where to learn film, you may be better served at a university. However, if lack of time is your main concern, and you can afford to pay a private film teaching organization several thousand dollars to teach you the ”nuts and bolts” of filmmaking, then this may well be a solid option.

The main thing to remember about short-term film learning programs, is that while they can certainly offer you vital information in a very short period of time, they cannot give you time itself, which is the answer to mastering all crafts. Hence, you can learn a concept in a few days or a few weeks, but true mastery comes with time and experience, not with being overloaded with information over two days.

Thank you once more for lending me your eyes, and I would be honored to borrow them again next Tuesday! As always, I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal.

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