Film Institute plays unique role in Seattle
By Lauren Elizabeth DiRe, UW News Lab
Seattle is home to the largest film school in the Northwest, and yet most people don’t even know it exists.
“I don’t think there’s any place like this in any part of the country,” David Shulman, director of the Seattle Film Institute, said of their school.
The Seattle Film Institute, or SFI, offers professional certificates and graduate degrees in all aspects of filmmaking.
After a recent expansion, SFI now offers six 10-month certificate programs and two master’s degrees, as well as a teen summer program and part-time and evening classes for those unable to conform to a specific schedule.
The “40-week total immersion” programs, the most popular programs at SFI, provide students with a comprehensive skill set that prepares them to enter the film industry immediately upon graduating.
“They’re designed to be incredibly comprehensive,” Shulman said. “The students are learning a wide range of skill sets. So in the filmmaking program they’re learning editing, directing, camera work. They’re writing scripts, they’re working with actors, scouting locations, studying film history. There really isn’t a single aspect of filmmaking that they’re not engaged with.”
In addition to their extensiveness, SFI’s programs are designed to be accelerated and intense.
“Our students are going to learn as much as they possibly can in the amount of time that we have them,” Shulman said. “And there probably isn’t a faster way in the country to get all of this under their belt.”
After finishing one of the total immersion programs, most students choose to be placed into an internship, which SFI arranges for them.
Their unique internship program is actually one of the reasons many students choose to attend SFI, Shulman said.
Chris Blanchett, communications director for SFI, is in charge of the internship program and placing students into the most ideal internship for them.
When students are about two-thirds of the way through the program, Blanchett surveys them to find out what each is looking for in an internship. And, if a student decides to forgo an internship, Shulman meets with them to ensure they have a plan for after graduation.
“I just want to make sure they know what they’re turning down,” Shulman said, “because it really is such an incredible opportunity to jump-start a student’s career.”
Blanchett has placed students all over the country, including Los Angeles, Seattle, Atlanta and New York.
The Seattle Film Institute’s past students have done incredibly well in their internships, and that is why SFI has such strong relationships with many leading production companies in both Seattle and LA, Blanchett said.
For instance, Tobey Maguire’s company, Maguire Entertainment, has had three interns from SFI, Blanchett said, “and they’ve all done really, really well, so we have a really strong relationship with them.”
SFI has also placed one intern with Roger Corman’s company, New Horizon’s Pictures, and they liked him so much that they hired him immediately after his internship, Blanchett said.
“And actually, Roger Corman’s company has been taking interns since the 1970s and Justin [an SFI graduate] was the first intern they ever hired,” Shulman said. “It’s a real feather in our cap.”
In addition to the contacts and experience students build through internships, they are also taught by professionals throughout their coursework.
“One of the great things about how we structure the program is that the core faculty members are all working professionals,” Shulman said.
“The reason why the students come here is because they have a passion for filmmaking, and they want to be surrounded by other students who have that same passion. But the faculty shares that passion too.”
The incredibly comprehensive curriculum, the accelerated pace, the staff of professionals, and the direct placement into an internship after graduation are popular reasons students choose to attend the Seattle Film Institute -- but is there one more, possibly unexpected reason?
“People want to be in Seattle,” Shulman said.
Krystal Fairfax, a current student at SFI, said that one of the main reasons she chose the Seattle Film Institute was because of its location.
“I’m not sure if I’m ready to leave the Northwest yet,” she said.
Gabriel Taylor, another SFI student, discovered the school while living at his brother-in-law’s because his brother-in-law’s nephew had previously attended it. While its location was a factor in his decision to attend, after graduating he is open to moving to LA or staying in Seattle for his internship, he said.
“Seattle’s got a lot of great production companies,” Blanchett said. “There are plenty of opportunities to make a living in the film industry in Seattle.”
And beyond entering directly into the film industry, the skills one learns at SFI can be used in many other businesses as well.
“These skill sets that somebody needs to produce an independent film are directly transferable to high-tech companies, gaming companies, interactive media and new and emerging media,” Shulman said. “For example, if Amazon needs a project manager, the skills our students are learning are project management skills.”
The Seattle Film Institute even takes it one step further. Instead of just telling students at the end of the program that they can use these skills in other fields, they bring in professionals from other industries to teach students how to “connect the dots.”
SFI is able to do this because of its unique placement in Seattle, Shulman said. Most other cities in the nation don’t have the ability to converge the film industry with the technology industry, but Seattle does.
At the end of the day, the Seattle Film Institute brings together a group of people that are excited and fascinated by film. Shulman tells students at the beginning of their program that while they’re at SFI they will “live, eat, and breathe film -- and they truly do.
“For better or for worse, this is the passion. Filmmaking and storytelling is the reason why everyone’s coming to this school,” Shulman said