Local school sets filmmakers free to create their own blockbusters
Groundbreaking documentaries to Hollywood blockbusters: Most filmmakers, both amateur and professional, have big aspirations. But how does one turn these dreams into a reality and, more importantly, a box-office smash?
The Prague Film School thinks it might have the answer.
The intensive program offered here aims to teach students, as one co-founder puts it, that “film is art; film is work.”
Most students entering the Prague Film School, which will undergo a curriculum overhaul this fall, aren’t expecting just to float through. The strenuous course load, which will soon include everything from animation to acting to full-on movie-making, can be daunting, instructors say, but students seem like they are more than up to the challenge.
“We have demanding teachers. It doesn’t matter if you have experience or not,” says Sophia Stocco, who came from Poland to attend the film school. “They demand a higher level with each project, and it prepares you. There are no excuses.”
Giles Hulley, a student from South Africa, agrees.
“It’s an element of the testing of the will,” he says. “It’s a demanding situation, but you get in touch with your abilities and discover what your strengths are.”
Formerly known as PCFE Film School, the Prague Film School began offering a full-time film-making program in 2003. PCFE was a continuing education school offering a range of classes from art to dance. But then Sony got involved. As Tariq Hager, one of the school’s founders and co-director, explains, the electronics company asked administrators if they’d be interested in teaching classes with Sony’s new cameras.
“We did a course for Czechs on documentary filmmaking,” Hager says. “Then we decided to do something for the international community, so we held a summer program in 2003 and had 18 students from 16 countries.”
Co-founder and Director Tomas Krasauskas says the yearlong program evolved from these courses.
“The program kept growing, and it’s more interesting to design a full-year program than just a class,” Krasauskas says.
That first year, the school had local filmmakers teaching the courses but quickly realized they needed to expand to a more international faculty.
“The second year we had a team of international professors,” Hager says. “Local filmmakers had a lot of commitments elsewhere so we brought in international filmmakers or academics, so the person’s main purpose for being here was to teach.”
This set the bar for how things would be from then on.
Today, there are 14 facility members, four of whom are full-time. Hager says the practical courses are taught by people who have spent years in the business, while the theory courses are taught by academics.
The program develops each year, responding to changes in the industry as well as the needs of students. But now, after five years, Hager and Krasauskas are making some big transformations in the school’s curriculum. Starting this fall, in addition to the traditional filmmaking program, the school will offer animation, acting and documentary filmmaking. There will also be an intense second-year filmmaking course. The programs are all independent of each other, but each will bring an extra advantage to the school as a whole, administrators say.
“All the programs will help each other,” Krasauskas notes. “The acting people can act in the films. The animation students can help the filmmakers on things like explosions. Everyone benefits, because the other programs exist.”
Students should be prepared for a tough year no matter their chosen discipline. With only a brief nine months, the course schedule moves fast.
“We have a workshop concept that combines practical and theory work,” Hager says. “Every three weeks a 10-minute film is produced. A screenwriter, editor, cinematographer and director are all involved, and students rotate the positions.”
Notes Krasauskas: “It’s not just the results, you get the process.”
This practical aspect is one factor that drew Stocco and Hulley to Prague. The reasonable fees and up-to-date equipment were also pluses, but it’s the constant actual filmmaking work that keeps students motivated, they say.
“The best part has been making movies. We are making movies all the time,” Stocco says with a smile. “You are shooting your movie but also working on other people’s, so there’s a lot of practice.”
Students create four short films of their own — which means writing, directing and editing — during the first semester and complete two larger projects the second semester. The demanding schedule forces students to adapt quickly, as well as identify their strengths.
“It’s the intensity of the program,” Hulley says. “I came in wanting to be a cinematographer but now I think my instincts are more [toward directing] and screen-writing. The practical nature of the program forces you to deal with that.”
With about 50 students from 30 countries, the program is very international. Hager says their students come in very “no nonsense” and are ready to hit the ground running.
“The logical step is to do a program in your home country,” Hager says. “But these people were driven to get into film, to wed their passion with a vocation. They have sacrificed a lot to come here.”
Hager says most of the students at the Prague Film School already have some kind of university degree, and some may have even been working in another field before realizing what their true calling is.
“This is a very intimate school, everyone has access to everything,” Hager says. “We are also very sensitive to their needs. If there’s a general will of the students to do something, we are flexible and will respond to that.”