Russell Jander, 27, leans toward a computer, trying to erase some of the background noise from his short film. He is one of the Seattle Film Institute’s (SFI) certificate students who is about to graduate.
After earning his bachelor’s degree, he wanted a career in film and attended SFI.
“I saw that the film industry in Seattle was still young but incorporating new technology in a way that I thought was really interesting,” Jander said. “I don’t want to make films the same way they’ve been doing it for the past 100 years — it’s time for a new process.”
An energized community
Two months ago, SFI moved to the Interbay neighborhood. The move was an improvement for Jander, he said: It’s close to his home in Ballard and close to a lot of filming locations.
SFI started as part-time and evening classes in director David Shulman’s living room in 1994.
“The original energy of the school was driven by the students themselves,” Shulman said. “It wasn’t like from up high that we designed this curriculum.
Students were coming to us and saying, ‘We want to learn filmmaking, and there’s no place to do it.’”
The program has expanded and now includes certificate programs in filmmaking, 3D animation, motion graphics, acting for film and sound design and recording arts. They also have a bachelor’s degree in filmmaking, a master’s in filmmaking, a Masters of Fine Arts in producing and filmmaking and a Masters of Music in film composition.
SFI has an articulation agreement with Shoreline Community College. Through that agreement, students can take their one-year certificate program in filmmaking and general education classes at Shoreline to earn their Associates of Arts degree.
The school offers institutional scholarships and student loans.
“One day, we were just sitting around the conference table saying if all of these programs start getting students, we don’t have enough room,” Shulman said.
That realization spurred its move from its old location on the border of Capitol Hill and the Central Area.
Before it moved into its new 10,000-square-foot location, the building was gutted — keeping only the exterior walls and floors — to create rooms specifically suited to their needs. The new facility has classrooms, a screening theater, a soundstage with a green screen, a sound-mixing room, an editing room and an equipment room.
“We were just so fixated on finding the right-size building, but it didn’t really hit us on how great the neighborhood is until we got here,” communications director Chris Blanchett Blanchett said.
One major benefit to this area is its proximity to different filming locations, Shulman said. The campus is minutes from train tracks, Fisherman’s Terminal, residential and industrial areas or a quick bus ride to downtown.
Students from across the country and across the globe chose to come to SIF over schools in other major film cities, Shulman said, because it’s located in a “liveable city — there’s an incredible richness of being here.”
The school is already getting involved in the city with its summer teen program and community groups who use their facilities for meet-ups. The staff have dreams of expanding their involvement to include hosting a lecture series, screenings or even an Interbay Film Festival.
“I like the sound of that,” Shulman said about the festival.
Interbay is such a strange area, poised between three major neighborhoods, Shulman said. He hopes the school can become a magnet for the community.
“Because we’re here, we sort of help energize the extended neighborhood because people...are coming here and finding out about the neighborhood,” he said. “But then it also works the other way; the neighborhood will energize us.”
There are about 100 students enrolled in the various programs at SFI, Shulman said. It continues to have part-time and evening classes. About 10 core faculty members and another 12 specialized staff members teach the classes.
The average class size at SFI is between 20 and 30 students, Shulman said. Even then, those students are often split up into even smaller groups.
Shulman designed the certificate program to be a full immersion into film,
where students learned all aspects, from lighting to screenwriting to production and editing.
“You want the students to have a hands-on substantive understanding of the craft of filmmaking,” Shulman said.
It was important to Shulman that his students be well-rounded, even if they were passionate about a certain area.
It’s an intense, total-immersion program.
“The majority of our students like that — they like the intensity,” Blanchett said. “They like the boot-camp aspect of the experience.”
Shulman designed the program in a way so that, while students are completing assignments or getting internships, they don’t even realize they’re building their resume and clip reel.
“It’s that old cliche,” Shulman said. “We’re fond of saying, ‘The best way to learn filmmaking is to make films.’”
The school’s motto used to be “Learn in Seattle, Work in L.A.” But things are changing, Shulman said. Now, students are finding a place in the growing and evolving film scene in Seattle. This is particularly true for the students in their scoring for film program, who fulfill a need in the Seattle gaming industry for original music.
“[The school] is really poised for some substantive growth,” Shulman said.
For more information, visit seattlefilminstitute.com. SFI’s next summer teen film program will run from July 22 to Aug. 2.
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