Burbank school

Armen Ter-Zakarian, 19, stands between two lights during a lighting and camera class at International Academy of Film and Television in Burbank. (Cheryl A. Guerrero / Staff Photographer / July 18, 2012)

On a quiet stretch of San Fernando Boulevard, a few blocks south of Downtown Burbank, bright red and black letters on a large poster call attention to a place where students learn as cameras roll.

Inside, on a recent Wednesday evening, a small group of would-be filmmakers and a teacher discussed lighting and the history of the camera. Among them was Jason Barr, 17, an aspiring screenwriter.

“There is a lot of opportunity to learn, there are only four of us in the class, and our teacher has a lot of time for each of us individually,” Barr said. “It's one of my favorite things so far.”

The screenwriting portion of the course just wrapped up, and Barr said the instruction included a lecture during which the teacher/mentor would share the different aspects of writing, and “then we would get to work on a screenplay that we're working on as a class. He would walk us through it and teach us all the tips and tricks for writing.”

Barr and his classmates are enrolled in a filmmaking workshop, a program of roughly 100 hours, at the International Academy of Film and Television. The IAFT is one of a handful of film schools in the area offering future filmmakers an alternative to a traditional, four-year education.

Six months ago IAFT opened its doors in Burbank, said Chief Executive Officer Kacy Andrews, and the proximity to the studios is an advantage.

“We do hire working industry professionals. Most of the mentors we hire come from the studio system,” Andrews said. “They have worked with the studios at one point or another.”

Many of the mentors on staff are freelancers who worked on a film or television program and are now off in the summer so they are able to come and teach, Andrews said. Being close to the studios also makes it is easier to get around.

“It's something we looked at when we looked at where to put the school,” said Andrews, who lives in Glendale. “I'm a big fan of the area. It's very conveniently located to all the studios, Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles.”

The school opened in 2004 in Cebu, Philippines, and has campuses in Hong Kong and Miami and offers workshops, certificate programs and diploma programs in filmmaking, acting and 3D animation, among others. The Burbank program is just getting started and there are plans to offer four 10-week terms. Andrews envisions about 12 students per term, because personalized instruction is a key part of the program, along with a focus on learning by doing.

Andrews said the school is reaching out to the studios for guest speakers and possibly tours of the studios that would be unique. Costs range from $3,990 for a filmmaking workshop or certificate program in the performing arts to $12,990 for a diploma program in filmmaking.

Andrews called the program “very affordable,” adding that many competitors offer programs for at least double the cost.

One of those competitors, the New York Film Academy, offers workshops and year-round schools on the back lot of Universal Studios and in locations around the globe, according to the company's website. In the fall, aspiring filmmakers, actors, cinematographers and others interested in the film industry can add Mumbai, India and Florence, Italy to their list of options, said Dan Mackler, director for NYFA at Universal Studios.

“Being on that studio lot and students having access to props and wardrobe, and each semester having the ability to screen at the theater at Universal and Warner Bros., and shooting a class project on the lot and sound stages — that is the Universal connection that makes this unique to other locations,” Mackler said. “Being on the back lot there [gives] a feeling and sense of being in the industry. [The Universal location] is unique in that sense.”

At NYFA's annual summer camp at the studio's back lot, several hundred 13-to-17 year olds and 10-to-13 year olds participate in intense workshops over the course of eight weeks, said Benjamin Morgan, who has overseen the summer workshops for 15 years.

Filmmaking and acting are among the programs they can choose from and the older students get to direct three projects in four weeks. The courses are similar to the Master's in Fine Arts course and use the same equipment, Mackler said, adding that, “Students love it because they are making movies.”

A semester program in filmmaking with the NYFA costs $19,000 while a four-week 3D animation course costs $5,500, according to the NYFA website.

Meanwhile, the students in the Burbank program recently cast four actors for their movie, and filming could start next month.

Barr said he wasn't sure if he would attend a four-year college once he was done. “Here I'm learning all aspects of filmmaking,” Barr said. “Maybe I'm going to go into the film industry to see if can get a job as a production assistant instead of going to college — I think I'm learning enough here to do that.”

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