NEW YORK TIMES: Film School, for Profit or Not

Career College Central Summary:

  • For a university dedicated to flashy disciplines like film and music recording, Full Sail at first glance has a rather unflashy campus. To find it, you drive north from the Orlando airport to Winter Park on one of those tedious Florida streets lined with telephone poles, drainage ditches and chain restaurants. Eventually you reach a Wendy’s and a Ker’s WingHouse. Behind them sits Full Sail.
  • Yes, that crescent-shaped structure is a defunct mini-mall. Full Sail expanded into it, gutting the inside. Outside, it still looks like, well, a defunct mini-mall, but its technological facilities would make many traditional film schools drool.
  • And then there’s The Truck, an 18-wheeler tricked out with brushed stainless steel, purple mood lighting and interactive exhibits — a “mobile experience” lab that travels to and recruits from military bases and high schools. Inside the semitrailer, which is painted to resemble a galaxy of stars (the space kind, not the people kind), potential pupils can play student-made video games, watch student film clips and even give audio engineering a whirl.
  • “People always react like that,” said a grinning Jacob Abercrombie, a Full Sail events manager, as a visitor stood blinking, unable to absorb the setup in a single scan.
  • Full Sail is a for-profit vocational school, but entertainment-focused institutions of all kinds are increasingly relying on assertive sales pitches and ever-more-elaborate facilities as they compete for a generation reared on YouTube and GoPro cameras.
  • Last year, the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts opened its own Imax theater, where students are taught how to make large-format films and manipulate 3-D imagery. The Dodge College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman University, near Anaheim, Calif., has a new $52 million, 76,000-square-foot studio and classroom building as well as a for-profit movie production company where films are directed by alumni, with crews composed largely of alumni and students.
  • Here at Full Sail, one of the more aggressively expanding entertainment schools, new facilities include a three-month-old “user experience lab” devoted to the study of video game player behavior; a just-finished cabaret and cafe called the Treehouse; a Dolby-equipped dubbing stage; and a 2.2-acre complex with a sleek 500-seat theater and a recording studio known as the “audio temple.”
  • But the rapidly shifting film school landscape has led to what a business professor might refer to as marketplace confusion. Never have the film school options been so many, and never has there been greater bewilderment about where to go — or whether to go at all. “You practically need a degree just to sort through it,” said Reed Martin, author of “The Reel Truth,” a guide for aspiring filmmakers.
  • A lot of the confusion seems to be centered on the hard-charging for-profits that have stepped in to pick up spillover from more selective traditional schools. Full Sail, which offered its first bachelor’s degree programs in 2003 and master’s programs in 2007, says it received 2,800 film-related applicants last year, a 47 percent increase over 2013. Other major for-profit schools, almost all of which practice open enrollment, include the Los Angeles Film School and the New York Film Academy.

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