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American Film Institute trains L.A.’s future movie stars

By DiAngelea Millar

It’s tough to make it in Hollywood in front of or behind the camera. That’s where film schools come in.

Southern California is home to many universities and colleges, and a few in Los Angeles offer top-notch programs in cinematic arts.

The Hollywood Reporter ranked the American Film Institute No.1 on its “25 Best Film School Rankings” in 2011. AFI started in 1969 and has five disciplines: cinematography, directing, editing, producing and production design and screenwriting.

“The idea is to train the next generation of storytellers,” said Joe Petricca, executive vice dean of the conservatory.

AFI’s fellows produce about 150 short films a year. Fellows also show their projects during the thesis showcase.

AFI has an internship coordinator who helps fellows get internships with specific companies or within the discipline they are most interested.

A new career office also helps connect fellows to employers and is available to fellows up to 18 months after graduation.

A lot of companies call his school knowing that AFI has a fellow that can do the job, Petricca said. Past graduates include Jonathan Levine, who directed the recently released “Warm Bodies,” and cinematographer on “The Dark Knight Rises,” Wally Pfister.

“They’re looking for a mix of professional craft,” he added. “More graduates are finding that initial job sooner after graduation.”

Petricca credits the success of graduates to AFI’s program that allows fellows to explore their own voice. The school is located in the heart of Hollywood, which also allows fellows easier access to companies in the industry.

AFI has a relationship with Sony that provides the institute with new equipment regularly. Fellows have access to the newest equipment, which helps prepare them for a job.

Many people leave AFI and work with a team they met during schooling, Petricca said. Film school can help people get into the industry if they work hard, but there’s no guarantee, he added.

“Some people take years to make it or quit,” he said. “Film school can help you jump out of some of the places that you can get stuck.”

The University of Southern California’s Cinematic Arts program is ranked No. 2 on the Hollywood Reporter’s “25 Best Film School Rankings” in 2011. The college’s notable alumni include Jon Landau, who produced “Titanic” and “Avatar,” and Judd Apatow, who produced “Bridesmaids.”

USC’s cinematic art’s program started with film production and introduced more programs over the years as the industry changes. The newest program is digital media, which focuses on the newest technology and online trends in the film industry.

The program offers several degrees for both undergraduates and graduate students including disciplines in animation, writing and p

Online channels and visual effects have become big tools in the industry, said Associate Dean Brian Harke. There’s a shift in Hollywood that has people dabbling in all different areas in film, he said.

“We no longer solely teach students to work in a studio setting,” Harke said. “We are now a cross-platform school.”

That’s the benefit of going to film school, he added. Students take classes across all disciplines so they understand how everything works. Without an education, you would start at the bottom, Harke said.

Everything in the industry is becoming more interactive and visual, which creates a great opportunity for students, he said. The next big thing will be streaming on wire-free platforms. He believes fewer people will be watching televisions and will instead watch everything on their laptops and phones.

The college also has a partnership with Sony that provides them with the newest technology.

“Professionals expect our students to understand the business and be assets to their company,” Harke said.

Not all graduates go into the industry, he added. Some use their USC education to go to law school or open up businesses. A liberal arts degree, such as USC’s, makes you more marketable, he said.

“An education is valuable no matter what you’re going to do,” Harke said. “A liberal arts education gives them (students) what they’re going to create. The education opens their eyes.”