Here are some questions that I often get, or that I wish would be asked – hopefully they answer some of your questions. I will try to be honest and not hide from answering the more personal or painful questions.
- Who are you and why are you writing a blog?
- I want to move to America and study film there. What do I need to know?
- I want to work in the US Film Industry. Tomorrow. How can I do that?
- How much does it cost to study in the US as an International Student? How do you afford this?
- How much does it cost to live in LA?
- I remember you made some collection of many filmmaking resources, but where can I find it?
- Is there something like the Film LTK for Berkeley? I study Film here but have no idea about what to do or where to find resources?
- Where would you recommend to study film making?
- Why the hell do you go to Berkeley then?
- Your film work looks very professional. Why would you waste your time with an Undergraduate degree? You should be working in the Film Industry.
- What do you actually want to do later? I can’t figure that out based on what you write.
- What do I get if I read your entire blog – like, all three chapters?
- What three chapters are you talking about? I thought this was one blog.
- You call yourself a visual artist but the photos and illustrations I see on this blog are sub-par. Your “art” sucks.
- If you could give me ONE piece of advice – only one – what would that be, and why?
- I still have questions left. They burn in my belly. How can I get in touch with you?
Disclaimer: Consider these answers personal advice and opinion, especially in the immigration category – always consult with an immigration attorney. Their initial consultations are free, professional, and many of them are surprisingly nice people.
- Q: Who are you and why are you writing a blog?
A: My name is Toby, a 24-year old Austrian visual artist and filmmaker, now studying at UC Berkeley for my undergraduate degree. It’s quite an extraordinary opportunity to do this – it’s not easy to move abroad, and it’s very expensive to study in the United States as a foreigner.
First, I strongly believe that if you have some sort of privilege in life, you have a moral obligation to share the lessons you learn with others who possibly don’t have access to the places you go and the people you meet. It’s an unfair world already, so appreciating privilege by sharing as much of it as possible is what drives my writing.
Second, in the arts it is nearly impossible to find out how someone became successful. Filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, George Lucas, James Cameron – how did these guys get so famous? An autobiography doesn’t cut it because it’s written in a massive retrospective, and a book like “Rebel Without a Crew” just seems too condensed to properly reflect reality. No idea where I will actually end up in life or if I reach my ambitious goals, but in case I do this blog series is a comprehensive documentation of what happened – optimally, a blueprint for people in the future that they can comprehend and use it as a guide to becoming filmmakers themselves.
That’s why I created resources like the Film LTK or the Cal Film RUB – so that people can skip the years of searching and learning the wrong stuff, and go right ahead with grabbing the meat.
That answer ended up being longer than I expected.
- Q: I want to move to America and study film there. What do I need to know?
A: First, studying in the US is expensive, so financial security is a major point. Then, moving to another country is a big step, so brace yourself. On the same token, moving abroad will be one of the best things you will ever do in life, and you will most likely never ever regret it but rather try to convince your friends to widen their horizons too. The US is an awesome place but has – like any other country – shadow sides too. Do your research about the city you want to move to (quality of life, public transport, crime), and the Universities/Colleges available.
I would personally recommend to first study at a Community College for 2 years and then at a University for 2 more years for your Bachelor’s. Or do an exchange semester / exchange year if you already started your studies elsewhere. If you want to do a master’s or PhD, then you have no option other than University; community colleges only substitute the first two years of a bachelor’s.
There is also the option of Extension Programs at Universities, which usually are 1-year certificate programs.
If you speak German, I wrote a long and detailed article about studying in the US and the options you have – “Eine Anleitung zum Studium in den USA“.
- Q: I want to work in the US Film Industry. Tomorrow. How can I do that?
A: Hold your horses mister! Working in the US has become increasingly difficult for foreigners. You have to have connections to people who will employ you and sponsor a work visa for you (H1B, O1, J1 etc.). If you have relatives in the US, there are some options, but I have no experience with that. The other option is to become a student in the US and finish a degree or certificate (Associate’s, Bachelor’s Master’s, PhD, Extension Certificate) – they usually grant you 1 year of Optional Practical Training (OPT) which allows you to collect practical work experience and get connections in the Industry you studied for.
Some people go Student > OPT > H1B or O1 > Green Card > Citizenship, but out of the thousands of foreign students I have met in the US, I can literally count the people that achieved this transition on one hand.
- Q: How much does it cost to study in the US as an International Student? How do you afford this?
A: It depends on the institution and state. In California (data: 2013) , it costs about $12.000 per year to study at a Community College like SMC, about $ 18.000 to study at a CalState university like CalState Long Beach, about $36.000 to study at a UC university like UC Berkeley, and about $50.000 to study at a Private University like USC. For us Europeans, these costs are insane; Americans either save up money their entire lives to finance their kids’ tuition or take out large loans. I personally have the extraordinary luck that my parents can support my tuition, otherwise I could never afford it myself (this is the usual case with other international students I met, they are financed by their parents).
- Q: How much does it cost to live in LA?
A: I wrote an article with a detailed breakdown on it. It’s even illustrated with funny pictures. Cost of Living in Los Angeles (“Lebenserhaltungskosten”)
- Q: I remember you made some collection of many filmmaking resources, but where can I find it?
A: I call it the “Film LTK” – it has Links, Tutorials and Knowledge about different areas of filmmaking. These areas are Writing, Producing, Directing, Cinematography, Rigging & Grip, Sound Recording, DIY (Do it Yourself equipment), Makeup, Special Effects, Production Design, Costume Design, Editing, Sound Design, Color Grading, Visual Effects / VFX and Distribution / Marketing. Here is the link to it: The Film LTK – Filmmaking Links, Tutorials and Knowledge .
- Q: Is there something like the Film LTK for Berkeley? I study Film here but have no idea about what to do or where to find resources?
A: Today is your lucky day! It’s called “Cal Film RUB”, standing for University of California Filmmaking Resources at UC Berkeley. In there, you can find: Relevant Film Courses, Student Organizations, Film DeCals, Facebook Groups, Shooting on Campus Conditions, Production Equipment & Studio Spaces at UC Berkeley and Official Filming Resources in Berkeley. Here is the link: The Cal Film RUB – Filmmaking Resources at UC Berkeley .
- Q: Where would you recommend to study film making?
A: The question would rather be – should you study film in an institution? The answer is, simply put: Depends on each individual. From my experience, you don’t go into a University, College etc. as a completely lazy idiot and come out as a talented superhero. The best students – whose work the school uses to advertise itself – were already very talented and dedicated when they entered the school; each University, if they offer challenging instruction and exposure/widening horizon opportunities can contribute to the student becoming more skilled, informed or well-rounded as a filmmaker. Sometimes, schools can provide production equipment that is otherwise more difficult to come by in the “real world” – and it gives people a few years of safety where they can experiment and learn before having to do a great job in the real world.
If you want to study in the US really badly and have an unlimited budget, I would recommend to study at UCLA, USC or AFI. I would recommend to avoid schools like LA Film School and New York Film Academy, because they don’t carry the prestige/reputation of above institutions but have a similar cost – if you already go to an expensive school, go to something that people look at as the Ivy League of Filmmaking.
You should visit each school beforehand to make your decision. If you are “on a budget” in LA (that’s a ridiculous term to use at these tuition mega-sums) then I recommend Santa Monica College and CalState Long Beach. If you want to study in New York, go to Tisch School at NYU.
For Germany, from my perception Filmakademie Baden-Wuettemberg has the best reputation. For other countries, do research online and look for what Alumni of each institution say, and listen especially to negative feedback. Also, consider alumni networks as an asset.
- Q: Why the hell do you go to Berkeley then?
A: As you may have noticed, UC Berkeley – the University I study at – is not mentioned in above list. The reason is … complicated, here’s the detailed description of why I went to UC Berkeley instead of USC (about halfway down the text, with the headline “What about UCLA, USC or Long Beach?“). No doubt, going to Berkeley was one of the best decisions I made in years.
To summarize above story (I recommend reading it though) is that USC’s undergrad thesis film screenings left a deep impression of groundless compliments and lack of substance; people seemed shallow and self-absorbed. I needed to surround myself with a different crowd of ever-critical, ever-complaining, never-satisfied people who would appreciate constructive criticism more – for me, that is the driving force of an artist improving in his craft. Hence, I went to Berkeley – where I also expected to develop more radical ideas, fresh concepts and do research. All of these expectations happened beyond my anticipation, so I am perfectly content with the decision – despite the lack of a production program and a relatively poor stock of equipment compared to USC or UCLA.
- Q: Your film work looks very professional. Why would you waste your time with an Undergraduate degree? You should be working in the Film Industry.
A: This is a difficult one. In 2011&2012, Hiroki and myself actually opened and ran our own little production company and worked pretty much year-round on smaller and bigger projects (around 30 projects in 2012, to be precise). The thing is though – in order to keep working, I would have had to switch my Visa status to an O1 visa. I worked all year long to build up enough reputation to get that Visa, and once I was pretty close to getting it, I decided that it was quite a big risk (I’d say, 35% risk) – getting denied the O1 would have meant to not be able to come back to the US for a while, and then only with lots of suspicion. More than that though, I realized that working kept me so busy that I was not able to develop my larger concepts, my feature film screenplays, and conduct my research in storytelling and film psychology, which was long over due for me. Going back to school would allow me to widen my horizon, get smarter, and develop the concepts that will carry me for the rest of my life. And within 6 months of being at Berkeley, all of these hopes were fulfilled. Now I have 1.5 years left to do even more of that. More about my personal decision to choose education over career here.
- Q: What do you actually want to do later? I can’t figure that out based on what you write.
A: In 2012, I made my living with Directing and Cinematography – that’s what I want to do after finishing school as well. I plan to work for 2-3 years in the industry, then go on a trip to live on every continent of the planet for 6 months and become part of the continental culture (including Antarctica), and later return to Hollywood to make ever-bigger feature films that thematize the exploration of the human mind and subconsciousness; hopefully triggering a cultural shift towards scientific advancement and more people dedicating their lives to solving the big questions of life. As filmmakers, I think we have much more responsibility and influence on culture than we realize – and we should put that to good use, not make mindless entertainment: The audiences around the world are a lot smarter than the usual blockbuster assumes (proof for this are films like The Matrix and Inception).
- Q: What do I get if I read your entire blog – like, all three chapters?
A: A very, very yummy cookie. It might be a bit hard to chew because of the postal delay.
- Q: What three chapters are you talking about? I thought this was one blog.
A: Yes, but the U, S, and Toby Blog is broken up in 3 sections. The first two are mixed Germany/English, this installment is completely in English. The first chapter revolves around my experience of moving to Los Angeles and Montreal, and working in Holocaust-related institutions in the two cities; it’s the most raw, un-censored and funny one. The second chapter is about my studies at Santa Monica College, founding the production company Prodigium Pictures, LLC with my long-time collaborator Hiroki Kamada, and working in the Indie Film Industry in LA. The third chapter – this blog – is about moving away from LA and going to UC Berkeley, starting a harder regimen of student filmmaking here and doing some research or participating in experiments in Neuroscience.
- Q: You call yourself a visual artist but the photos and illustrations I see on this blog are sub-par. Your “art” sucks.
A: Hold your horses mister! I don’t use this blog as a portfolio, or at least I’m not blatantly advertising my skills that I accumulated in the last decade. Also, photography for this blog happens rather on-the-spot and without lots of care in post production. In this blog format, it’s more important for me to capture the content in its real than light it all fancy. For a more complete body of work please visit my portfolio website at www.tobiasdeml.com
- Q: If you could give me ONE piece of advice – only one – what would that be?
A: That is a clear and simple one. Whatever you will do later in life – regardless what industry you will be in, what kind of love or family life you plan to have, what you want to do in the world:
Live Abroad For One Year. Not travel, live.
It will be – and this is a promise – one of the best experiences you will EVER have on this planet. It will enrich you beyond your wildest imagination, open your mind and widen your horizon. It will make you a wise person with a far-reaching global perspective, even if you are only 18 years old. I would recommend to wait until you are 18 or older, since with increasing age, the amount of things you are able to comprehend and appreciate will rise. So, serioiusly, my one piece of advice is: Move abroad, to a different culture and possibly different language – and soak it all in. It will change your life.
- Q: I still have questions left. They burn in my belly. How can I get in touch with you?
A: Please feel free to choose the communication mode of your preference on the Contact Page.