Sunday, 11 January 2015

NYFA & USC South African Student's.

I have been curious about International film schools. With quite a few options out there for young people who are looking to study beyond South Africa, I wanted to get a better understanding. So I did my research and found three people in the TV and Film industry who spent time abroad studying. Dylan Valley went to the University of Southern California. Sphumelele Sibeko and Arti Gopal Attended the New York Film Academy. All three give good Insight on how they applied, got accepted and spent time in America.
Dylan Valley

University of California - MA Specialized Journalism.

Nthabiseng Mosieane: Please give a brief bio of yourself.

Dylan Valley: Born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa. I studied film at University and been chasing the dream ever since. I'm a Documentary Filmmaker by trade and a writer and DJ in my spare time. Although I'm open to trade in those arena's!

NM: What drew you to the career you have chosen?

DV: I always loved TV and Film growing up. As a child, when I heard that home video cameras existed, like you could just film your day, or make your own movie, I was fascinated. I would love to make features and different kinds of films, but I was drawn to the DIY aspects of documentary, not to mention its capacity for social commentary.

NM: You studied at the University of Cape Town, what were your courses?

DV: BA Film and Media, UCT.  Honor’s, Film Theory and Practice, UCT.

NM: In the United States you went to the University of California, what was the interest?

DV: My studies were actually based in the Journalism school - Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. I was able to do classes in USC's School of Cinematic Arts as well, which has a big reputation in Hollywood (some say it’s the best film school in the US.) I was attracted to USC because of an amazing professor named Erna Smith and friends who had highly recommended the program to me. It was an MA Specialized Journalism. (The Arts).
The course was designed for arts practitioners (filmmakers, dancers, architects) who want to also gain some journalistic skills. I had already been writing film and media related stuff for Africa as a country and had wanted to develop more of a journalistic muscle. Also the degree was interdisciplinary, meaning I could tailor the course to my specific interests. Also there was funding attached (very important). I was there for one year.
The program had a scholarship attached which covered living expenses and fees. All I had to do was get myself to Los Angeles and secure a place to stay.

FB: What Impact did this course make on your professional career?

DV: I gained so much that it’s hard to put in one concise answer, but to sum it up I learned how to raise the bar in terms of my capabilities. Setting limitations on yourself is pointless. 
Also, I learned to sharpen my thinking around film and documentary, as well as my reading skills. I was able to read way above my reading level because I forced myself to by taking this really difficult Globalization class. But it was one of the best things I ever did.

FB: Fill me in on your general experience during your study and did you do any traveling?

DV:  I didn't get to go out as much as I thought I would. The rand/ dollar conversion was crazy to get my head around - R90 for a beer? Eish. But Los Angeles has a vibrant music scene, so I managed to see some amazing musicians (I got to see The Roots on my last night.) Once I settled in I also found out all the free stuff you can do, the local hangouts. Also I made some amazing friends and met some interesting people. 

 I love collecting vinyl as well, and brought a whole crate of vinyl back with me on the plane.
I traveled but not as much as I would have liked. I would recommend saving as much money as possible to travel widely during your studies. Budget your time and money in advance.

FB: What were your highs & possible low's while away from home?

DV: Highs: Learning new things about yourself, being challenged in new ways. Also, being part of an academic network, having academic peers. Thinking Freely. Seeking out knowledge. Sharpening your tools. Eating new food. Drinking good coffee (although Cape Town's coffee was better).

Lows: Not having your usual support structures around. I got bed bugs which was really crazy. I had to end up moving out of my place. Luckily I had a friend who helped me out with a place to stay. I got many crazy stories but maybe that’s for another time.

FB: Impart some words of wisdom. 

DV: Discipline makes things easier/ organize your life.

To view Dylan's work click on VIMEO.

Sphumelele Sibeko
New York Film Academy 

One Year Conservatory Producing Program.

Nthabiseng Mosieane: What is your current occupation?

Sphumelele Sibeko: Commissioning Editor – Local Interest channels – M-Net.

NM: What are your qualifications?

SS: BCOM Honor’s Marketing (Wits), Producing Diploma (New York Film Academy).

NM: What drew you to the career you have chosen and what is your academic qualification?

SS: I’ve been involved in drama since I was about 6 and my Interest and passion for the arts and entertainment grew from a young age. I went the roundabout way but I eventually got here.
I did my BCOM Honor’s in Marketing at Wits and then worked in branding for about 3 years.

NM: New York Film Academy was your institution of choice, how was that for you?

SS: I wanted to study in New York specifically and looked up the main institutions for film and TV study there. After reading up on the school as well as speaking to some people I found NYFA to be my best option based on what I was looking for (course specifics/duration/cost).
I did a One year Conservatory Producing Program.
I was looking for an intensive course that would help me understand the industry and my role within it. This course was not only very strong in theory, but it was also strong practically so I learnt quicker because it was so hands-on.

NM: How was funding sourced?

SS: I had wanted to go study overseas since I was about 18 so I had to build up my funds over time (waitressing while I studied and then my full time gig post varsity). With savings, part-funding from the school, as well as a good burst of income from about a year before I left, I was sorted.

NM: Was this your first International trip? If so what were the cultural differences you came across. If not, how was spending time there different from other places you have been to?

SS: This was not my first international trip and I had already been to New York a few times, however living there was a completely new experience for me. I got to really know the city and all its nuances and really found my place there. What’s really beautiful about New York is that no matter who you are or where you are from, you will always find someone or something that makes sense to you. There’s so much variety and so many opportunities to meet amazing people and do so many amazing things. It was a crazy city and remains one of my favorite places today.

NM: How has the course impacted your career?

SS: I learnt how to think bigger when it comes to my work. I learnt that there always options to get your projects done, and to open yourself up and explore those options. I learnt how to sell myself and my work. I learnt what to look for when it comes to finding people to surround myself with because these are the people you build and grow with. These were all vital things I learnt during my studies and have made a big difference to the way I am and the way I work today.

NM: Were you able to see other places while you were studying? 

SS: What’s great about a lot of places overseas is the opportunity to travel. There are a lot of really great places you can get to cheaply, and quickly. Our year of studying was very intense but we got to go to a few places like Boston, Philly and Miami.

NM: How are you applying what you have studied in your daily life?

SS: What I studied is very relevant to me as I am applying all my knowledge into my job in television and film today.

Arti Gopal
New York Film Academy

Digital Filmmaking.

Nthabiseng Mosieane: What is your current Occupation and academic qualification?

Arti Gopal: I am a Video Editor and I hold Diploma in Digital Filmmaking. I did a two year course at Wits University.

NM: You attended New York Film Academy, tell me more about it.

AG: After being an editor for so long, I wanted to tap into the field of Directing, so I wanted to do a quick course just to get an idea of what to look out for as a Director. I chose Digital Filmmaking. It was a 4 week course.

NM: How did you source funding and accommodation?

AG: I saved a lot. Regarding accommodation, I was lucky because the producer that I had worked with on a documentary was from New York. She had offered me her place to stay while she was in SA, so it was kind of a house swap, she came to South Africa while I house sat for her in New York.

NM: Was this your first international trip? If so what were the cultural differences you came across. If not, how was spending time there different from other places you have been to?

AG: I have been to India and I have been to London and Europe on holiday, as well as Thailand. The cultural differences are immense in every Country. Whenever I visit a country, I know not to expect anything, because everything is so different, people are so different the food is so different. New York and Europe is much like Johannesburg, it’s city life, but the public transport in those countries are so much better than ours, I’ve met people in New York who see no reason in even getting a driver’s license because there is no need to. Thailand and India is also city life but they are chilled out, there’s no rush to do anything, just go with the flow of the day. But still, there are many differences in the way of life in all the Countries that I have visited.

NM: What vital knowledge do you believe you gained while studying and how has it helped you?

AG: I did study in South Africa before, so some of the things that I had learnt was known to me already, but I did attend all the lectures anyway, and I found that lectures on the technical side of things are absolutely amazing, they are taught by industry professionals who have been working in the for many years on some well-known Hollywood films. These people are passionate about what they do and are willing to share it, every bit of information they give is valuable. What stood out for me was screen writing, they encourage you to write your own story and make a film based on that. This has made a huge difference to me now, because initially, I wanted to come back to South Africa and find work as a Director, but after my experience there, my entire perspective on my career has changed. Instead of directing someone else’s vision, I now want to write my own story and direct it as I now have the skill to do so.

NM: Mantra you live by?

AG: I believe that nothing in this world is permanent, everything is always changing, so do whatever makes you happy now because you never know what tomorrow holds, never worry about what others have to say about the way you live your life, because they don’t know what you’re going through and most importantly we are all going to die one day, so don’t take everything so seriously, it’s ok to break some rules sometimes and not feel guilty about it (as long as you’re not hurting anyone in the process).

NM: What drew you to the career you have chosen?

AG: I don’t think I was ever drawn to Video Editing, the passion grew with time, my dream was to be a choreographer on some massive Bollywood film and I think I just fell into this because of my love for dancing. I have studied Indian classical dance and because of this, I have a great awareness of storytelling and music. This has given me an advantage when I am in edit, as I am able to sit for hours and craft stories. Editing is not just slapping shots together, every shot you put on your timeline has to have a motive, it has to add to the story you’re trying to tell, and I only appreciated my craft once I understood this. It takes time and a lot of patience. When you’re sitting at your edit suite at midnight and you know you can still push another 3 hours, because you love what you do, then you know you’re in the right industry.

NM: Were you able to see other places while you were studying?

AG: I did a short course, which means that, they had to cram a lot of classes in a short time, so they had given us a very tight schedule there, I did manage squeeze in some tours in my free time, and mostly on a Sunday, but you have to come to terms with the fact that you’re there to work during the day and it is a 6 day week. Having said that, New York only shuts down after 2AM, so we experienced most of the night life almost every night, and it was absolutely amazing. We did get to go to empire state and central park and many other places because you never know when you will be going back, so we pushed in as much as we could, we were exhausted by the end of it but it was worth it.

NM: How are you applying what you have studied in your daily life?

AG: I have registered my own production company and started writing my own film.

NM: What is your take on the TV & Film movement in South Africa today?

AG: I feel that there is a lot of potential in this country but not a lot of money, I think from the time I started in the industry till now, it has grown quite a bit but there is still a lot of growing that needs to happen.

NM: Filmmakers you admire in Africa and Internationally?

AG: South Africa: Akin Omotoso. International: Steven Spielberg.

NM: What advice would you give to people who are looking to study overseas?

AG: My advice to anyone going to study in another country, is to be open to anything, you cannot go to a country and want to live like how we do in South Africa, you have to be able to adapt to whatever situation you’re placed in, whether it’s comfortable or not. Try new things, don’t hesitate to eat something you haven’t eaten before, it’s the perfect opportunity to be whoever you feel like being because nobody knows you there. You cannot go with a closed mind because people do things very differently, you just have to be in the moment and embrace it.

NM: Last words.

AG: It is a difficult industry to get into, and once you’re in the most important thing to know is that “reputations go out fast” so you’re only as good as your last job, if you make bad impression, the company will never hire you again, so you have to do your best in everything you do and be careful of which bridges you burn. Other than that, have fun, travel safe and never throw away any opportunity that comes your way, you never know where is may lead.

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