Before coming to NYU Prague, a lot of people had warned me that the FAMU (short for “Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague”) program would be really difficult, which is vague, to say the least. Beyond it being “difficult,” I didn’t know a ton about the program before coming here, aside from the fact that we’re working with FAMU, and we’re shooting on 35 mm film (as opposed to digital video that almost everyone shoots on in NYC). And we certainly did work with FAMU, on 35 mm film, and it was definitely difficult, for better and for worse.
Before production started, we had a full class schedule nearly every week — it wasn’t unusual to be in class from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. It was a cool experience to have Czech professors teaching us about screenwriting, cinematography and directing, and the fact that all of our classes were working towards helping us with our final short film this semester is something we can never get in New York, where every class operates independently from one another and often times film students aren’t just taking film classes. On the other hand, the classes were definitely a lot more theoretical and lecture-based than what I was used to in New York, but we had a few hands-on workshops in the weeks leading up to production. Speaking of production…
They warned us it would be tiring. They were right. Our semester had 20 straight days of production: Each student had two days to shoot their film, and the film shoots were back to back for all 10 people in our program. Everyone had a few days off sprinkled throughout the production period, but they were definitely needed to both recover from the sets they had just done and also to prepare for their own films. Days on set could often be up to 14 hours: one hour to load equipment in the morning, 12 hours actually on set and finally one hour unloading equipment at night. I don’t know if I even so much as saw a non-FAMU face during our production period. Those three weeks felt like they lasted three months but also only three days.
Photo Credit: Daniel Londoño
As FAMU students working with Czech actors, sound mixers, camera supervisors and production managers, we were definitely able to immerse ourselves in the Czech culture more than most study abroad students probably do through their coursework. This had its ups and downs. It definitely made my study abroad experience unique and specific to working in Prague, but one of the biggest challenges I faced with this program is that a lot of the film industry in the Czech Republic is still catching up with New York’s in terms of issues like sexism. Something that became a running joke in the program was how the Czech men didn’t want the women to lift the heavy equipment even though seven of our 10 students were women. At times, being talked down to by the older crew members was definitely a frustrating issue to have to deal with, but it’s one I’m certainly going to need to be prepared for in the world after film school.
Despite how exhausting the semester at FAMU can be, one of the most rewarding aspects about the program is that, by the end of the semester, you will have a finished short film. Picture lock, sound design and color grading are all done by the end of the semester in time for a public screening of the films, which is a basically unheard of timeline for an intermediate shot in New York, where these processes often takes months to complete before a film is finished. I didn’t get the chance to make an intermediate in New York, so being able to walk out of this semester with a finished short film is such a gratifying feeling.
Photo Credit: Zoey Schilling
One of the other rewarding aspects of the program is just how close you get to everyone in it. I guess that happens after having all of your classes with the same group of people for two months and then spending three straight weeks with them on set. That’s an experience you just can’t get in New York — classes get in the way and crews rotate with every new director you work with.
Overall, the FAMU program definitely wasn’t what I had expected, especially with my previous experience working on intermediate sets in New York. But that’s okay! I think I’m a much better filmmaker and crew member for it — especially having crewed on eight sets this semester, which is something I never could have done back in New York. (Usually, students crew on a maximum of five sets per semester there spread out over the course of two months.) I’ve made a lot of really close bonds with some really great people because of this program. This semester was definitely challenging but, looking back, I’m glad I did it.
Photo Credit: Megan Mathieson
Editor’s Note: Screenings of the short films the FAMU students produced this semester will be held on Thursday, May 16, from 1-3:30 p.m. on the first floor of the main FAMU building (Smetanovo nábřeží 1012/2), and on Friday, May 17, from 2-4 p.m. in the Mucha room in the RD.