The Price Tag for a Film Major

All photos shot behind the scenes at Cold Cut shooting.

Many ambitious Brooklyn College film department students are putting hundreds and even thousands of dollars into an anthology of projects that they say are the key to their futures.

“What I’ve been told from other students that have graduated is that your thesis film is the main thing you put on your resume…this is everything I’ve learned in those four years packed into one 10 minute film,” said Mikey Ruggiero, a senior who’s thesis film costed him $3,000 and took three days in an upstate location with an 18-person crew to film.

The time and money put in to make the short isn’t just for a grade to Ruggiero. Instead it is his first chance to make a name for himself, and signal, from the plethora of production graduates, that he is talented.

“So if you apply to a bunch of festivals and your film gets a lot of backing by people that like it, then if someone that is looking for help, they would say, ‘oh hey, I saw this film, this guy that directed it is really good. Maybe we’ll hire him on as an assistant producer or an assistant director,’” said Ruggiero. “It’s kind of our department’s way of getting your foot in the door after college.”

According to students, higher production value means an easier time producing. More crew means a faster shoot but also requires more money spent on food and transportation. Pouring more money into the project usually allows the director the satisfaction of an end result closer to the vision they want to launch their careers. But it isn’t impossible to get a high-quality thesis on a budget.

“Don’t get me wrong some of the people that spend close to $10,000 or more may not come out of it with a good film. It makes sense that more money might make a better film, but if your story isn’t interesting, or the way you edit it together isn’t right, then you might end up with a flop,” said Ruggiero. “I’ve seen some great low budget films that didn’t come close to reaching $1,000. It depends on who the director is….”

Though the thesis film is the largest and most individual assignment, it will not be the only place where students spend money. With each production comes the choice of how much money to devote and what aspects to allocate it to.

Each student will complete at least two short films, two scene recreations and his or her thesis film. They will also learn how to use sound, camera and editing equipment. While the department provides free rentals for certain sound and camera equipment and designated areas for editing, the sets, costume, props, crew and any other production aspects come out of the student’s pocket. Some students may purchase their own editing software and camera instead of renting.

Students typically spend at least $200 to $400 each on scene recreations, $240 on a light meter, $60 to $70 on a portable drive and even more on their props and sets.

Some students can not afford costly projects and are forced to skimp and save to find the money. Spending thousands by her junior year, Krista Cohen said the major has put a strain on her wallet and her personal life.

“I’ve had to take off work so much to put time into my projects, and then I’ve had to pour money into those projects,” said Cohen with an exasperated sigh. “My family, I haven’t seen them in weeks. I’ve been staying in Brooklyn to keep up with my work and be involved in projects.”

She says the productions she works on, along with the money and time she puts into them, are important stepping stones. The people she connects with and the reel she builds are what will make her career.

“I do see it as an investment,” said Cohen. “The film industry in New York is really booming. It’s worthwhile for us to put down the money now while we are students so we can hit the ground running after graduation.”

Some students Not all students see the worth in putting money into these projects. Funke Adeniyi, the student’s film name, is a junior in the department who says she has spent at least $1,000 on projects, but feels that her reel is not what is going to land her a job.

“It’s like I am spending all of this money and all of this time to get a passing grade in the class, but where is that going to take me afterwards? I still have to work hard to get a job. So what is the goal? A degree, yes, but what’s after that,” said Adeniyi who believes energy is better focused on networking.

Adeniyi continued saying that she feels the department could be doing more for students who don’t have the income to put into these two to five minute shorts and scene recreations by perhaps providing things like basic furniture and sets.

Judith Kenny, Director of the Film Department, said that a professional looking reel is crucial, comparing it to a buisness card. But, she said, that doesn’t mean student should feel obligated to spend outside their means.

“The department does not encourage spending for spending’s sake. In fact, the department encourages students to think creatively and use the tools that are available to them to make the best films they can within their means,” said Kenny.  “That being said, it is inevitable that a film student will incur costs associated with production.  This is made clear to all students who are considering a BA in film production.  The department is committed to working with each student on an individual basis to ensure that they have the resources required for success in the program. We are also committed to supporting students in crafting stories that they within their means to produce.”

No matter what price tag, each student puts passion and dedication into the projects that they hope will launch their careers.

“When you have those passionate people who did care about it because, you know, this is our livelihood, this is what is going to make us money in the future,” said Ruggiero. “I feel like you have to take it seriously.”

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