Paying It Forward

A college-bound filmmaker gives back to the program that gave shape to his filmmaking aspirations

Jonathan Schneider, an 18-year-old graduate of Scarsdale High School is headed to Drexel University to study film and video production. He credits a week-long intensive course he took at International Film Institute of New York (IFI) in the summer of 2016 with helping him to realize that his love of film wasn’t just a hobby, but the career he wanted to pursue in college. He returned to IFI earlier this summer to volunteer as a producer’s assistant, helping students on the set of their short films for the second year in a row.

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“When I took the one week course, I learned about the bones and what goes into filmmaking and what the industry is really like. I was with some gifted teachers who showed me how in-depth such an art form can be and I got really into it. I saw that that’s what I wanted to do and that was only reinforced when I was asked to help out a week after and I was on a different film set every day,” Schneider says. “Not a single day was I unhappy or tired. I loved every second of it. I knew that it was something I wanted to do.”

IFI co-founder Misael Sanchez also got Schneider and two other IFI students positions as production assistants on Three Christs, an indie film that shot on the Sarah Lawrence College campus last year, starring Richard Gere, Peter Dinklage, Juliana Margulies and Bradley Whitford, among others.

“We basically would do whatever needed to be done. I sat for an hour watching Richard Gere’s green tea to make sure nobody got it,” Schneider recalls.

His experience on a professional film set was invaluable. “I got a feel for what it meant to be in a professional environment. It scared me a bit because I saw how stressful it was and how sometimes it’s not always a happy-go-lucky job, but I just think it was amazing. It also gave me hope because I know there’s a lot to do and there’s a lot of passion,” Schneider says. “It made it very real. Maybe in a month I went from seeing it as a hobby to seeing it as something I want to do with my life. And, I can only thank Misael and IFI for that.”

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At Drexel, Jonathan plans to double major in film and environmental studies. “What I’m really interested in is becoming an environmental documentarian or photographer of some sort because I care about the environment,” he says.

Thanks to the hands-on experience that IFI has equipped him with, he feels he has a head start. Besides his time volunteering with student productions and his PA experience on Three Christs, his connections with IFI instructors have paid dividends outside of the Sarah Lawrence campus, too.

“Last year I met IFI cinematography instructor Kate Montgomery. We worked outside of IFI for a while, I also PA’ed for her, doing gigs here and there. I met a lot of the people I know in the industry now through the IFI summer film program.”

It’s only natural that he’d want to pay it forward. Schneider says he came back to help out this summer not just for the experience, networking and connections, but the fun of seeing the lightbulb go off for budding film students.

“I love the atmosphere here,” he says. “It’s very creative. You have people who have never done film before but you also have people who do it all the time and they all get something different out of the experience. And, I love to teach so I love when somebody needs help with something and I can say, ‘I got this! I can help you out,’ it feels good and it makes me feel a lot more secure with my skills.”

At the end of the day, it’s fun.

“I wouldn’t really call this a job so much as just me doing what I like to do, helping everybody else out,” Schneider says.

 


The elements of a successful movie have remained constant since the inception of the art form. The International Film Institute of New York (IFI) was founded in 1997 to provide those with a sincere and abiding interest in filmmaking with a high-quality, low-cost education in all aspects of the filmmaking process: screenwriting, directing, producing, cinematography, and editing in a curriculum combining classroom instruction and hands-on technical workshops. http://www.nyfilmschool.com 

Is Film School For Me?

Back to school with IFI

As the sun sets in the sky ever earlier and a chill creeps into the air, it signals the time has come to head back to school. But, with the end of carefree summer days comes the excitement and back-to-business buzz of fall. Sharpen your pencils because International Film Institute of New York (IFI) founder Misael Sanchez is here to take you to school on the benefits of studying film. Whether you’re a teen testing the waters, a passionate filmmaker considering a graduate degree, or an adult looking to learn a new skill, Misael’s got you covered from immersive courses to film school, and how to evaluate the options:

What are the benefits of attending a film school?

Misael Sanchez: First, it is an opportunity to completely immerse yourself into something you are passionate about and be able to devote 100% of yourself to making films. Of course, if you are attending an undergraduate program that requires you to complete other degree requirements you’d still have to balance, that’s still an amazing opportunity. Second, you surround yourself with like-minded individuals working toward the same goal. Yes, it is fun gathering your friends and making them act and work behind the camera for you. But, in film school there is no arm twisting. You fuel each other’s creativity and spend several years developing relationships that will last long after graduation. This is definitely the one aspect of school that I have witnessed be the greatest benefit. And lastly, some might consider this the most important, you get to work with faculty that have been in the field for years and can provide you the support and guidance to find your voice. Equipment and facilities, to me, do not make a film school great. Yes, it is nice to work with good cameras and have lights and sound production resources, but to base your choices on what school to attend based solely on that is not something I would encourage.

Misael WorkshopWhat advice do you have for younger students (i.e., teens, undergraduates)?

MS: My advice to young people considering film as a career is to make sure this is right for you before committing time and money. Filmmaking is not cheap. Tuition alone is enough to send you to the ER. On top of that, you have the costs associated with your projects followed by years of trial and error to make it all come together. Find a way to explore what film has to offer. Consider short term programs to test the waters. It is definitely not all about the red carpet. Filmmaking is a job that takes commitment.

What advice do you have for older students (i.e., adults, graduate candidates)?

MS: There is also something very interesting about adults entering the field. There is a very strong desire to succeed and make it happen fast because you are not a recent college grad and you believe you have more experience to make it happen. My biggest advice for adults is to leave the ego at the door and take in the experience. As adults we pretty much know who we are and what we want to express about ourselves and the world we live in. Make every effort to open your mind to different interpretations of your world and allow yourself to be vulnerable. Allow for mistakes. Most of all, allow yourself to let someone else show you something new. Maybe it won’t be as groundbreaking as you might want but it will be different.

What are some other programs or courses available without the full-time commitment of film school?

MS: Aside from our immersive IFI courses that cover all aspects of the process from script to screen, there are other degree programs that could offer opportunities. Researching and making sure a program fits your needs is key to a positive experience. Online direct student reviews are a great way to read about what others have experienced. Filmschool.org is a great third-party website where students give honest reviews of their experiences. It is where we tell our students to go when we have inquiries about our classes. Also, when communicating with the programs, you should feel like you are being respected as a prospective student. There are never too many questions and the answers should flow. From my perspective, when we discuss our courses with students we see it as an interview process that goes both ways. Are we right for you and what you hope to get from school and are you right for what we provide? We never hesitate to tell a students that maybe our curriculum is not what they need right now. Or, perhaps, you need something longer term.  Best we tackle these questions before you register to make sure our time together is fruitful and a pleasant experience.


The elements of a successful movie have remained constant since the inception of the art form. The International Film Institute of New York (IFI) was founded in 1997 to provide those with a sincere and abiding interest in filmmaking with a high-quality, low-cost education in all aspects of the filmmaking process: screenwriting, directing, producing, cinematography, and editing in a curriculum combining classroom instruction and hands-on technical workshops. http://www.nyfilmschool.com