Education

Lights. Camera. Classroom: Action at Aurora’s Colorado Film School

“We are the enablers of a bunch of misfits, essentially, who are known as filmmakers,” Lahey said with a chuckle. “It’s our students that excite us and it’s their work that excites us and them. Our students are getting work into international festivals – but we want someone to win.”

AURORA | Frederic Lahey is proud of his role as a misfit and an enabler.

It may seem like an odd way to frame his longtime post as the director of the Colorado Film School, but Lahey doesn’t shy away from the terminology. It’s a role that Lahey started to fill about 20 years ago, when he launched film classes at the Red Rocks Community College. Those first efforts have morphed into a local creative institution, a film school based on the Lowry campus that’s earned praise from film professionals around the world and drawn requests for satellite schools everywhere from China to Nigeria.

Frederic Lahey, director of the Colorado Film School, poses in front of the school Monday afternoon, Aug. 6 near Yosemite Street and East Lowry Boulevard. The school will be shifting to a more selective application process to help it compete with its more expensive peers. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

“We are the enablers of a bunch of misfits, essentially, who are known as filmmakers,” Lahey said with a chuckle. “It’s our students that excite us and it’s their work that excites us and them. Our students are getting work into international festivals – but we want someone to win.”

For the past three years, the film school has occupied its current location in a 250,000-square-foot building on the Lowry campus. In its academic programs through the Community College of Aurora and Regis University, CFS offers associate and bachelor’s degrees in writing/directing, writing/producing, cinematography/videography, post production and acting for the screen, as well as a new major in writing for the screen. The school also offers a one-year advanced immersion program. While the school is wholly owned by the CCA, a current agreement with Regis University allows students to pursue Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees after three years of enrollment through CCA.

That menu of options is constantly expanding, Lahey insists. Major changes are on tap for the coming school year, transitions that include a move away from open enrollment and a push toward industry readiness.

“We’re constantly evolving. When I started the program, we didn’t have a camera, we didn’t even have a room. We started from absolutely nothing,” Lahey said. “Now, we’re extremely well equipped and the most affordable, high quality film education in the world.”

The push to propel CFS students into the national and international radar is a work in progress for Lahey and the rest of the college’s roughly 25 full-time faculty. The college will phase in several new programs in the 2012-13 school year that’s set to formally kick off on Aug. 27, initiatives that include new classes and an added academic major, a specialty in writing for the screen that will be added to the school’s five existing areas of expertise.

What’s more, Lahey and the rest of the CFS faculty will move forward with an ambitious plan to create an online and real-time network, a tool designed to give students another level of professional experience. Funded through a $100,000 immersive education grant through the Community College System, the new system will include a CFS-based page modeled on the Internet Movie Database, as well as a common pool of actors, crew members and other resources for students.

“It will have social networking aspects, it will have gaming aspects. For instance there’s a packaging sandbox page where students can go and grab actors out of our actors’ database, they can go into our equipment database, they can go into our script repository and script market … They can go and pull crew members – find a director of photography, find a cast, find a script, develop marketing plans and distribution plans,” Lahey said. “This is all in development.”

It’s all part of an effort to help graduates succeed in the business part of the film business, Lahey said. The coming academic year will see another big change for the school in terms of enrollment. The school, which has always accepted students on an open enrollment policy, will shift to a more selective application process in the spring. Last year, the school appeared on the Hollywood Reporter’s list of the world’s top 25 film schools – the magazine declared that “the Colorado Film School may be just as they claim: the finest film school in the western states region.”

Still, Lahey said the shift to an application-based enrollment policy in 2013 will help the school compete with its more expensive peers. He’s expecting enrollment to stay steady at around 400, but he admits the new policy may have a temporary effect on the number of students.

“We want to have people who will be successful entering the program. It also just helps us with retention and with having students get the skills they need before they start in on film … Students who apply and don’t get in can still go to CCA and get their skills up,” Lahey said, adding that full-time tuition at CSF averages less than $2,000. “Most of our competitors are charging $20,000 … Initially, I think our enrollment will go down some, but then I think it will go back up. We need to look more like our competition, and our competition is basically places like Emerson College, Chapman University, a lot of the other colleges that have selective enrollment.

“Our program is even better than people think it is. The way that we’re able to do that is by being small and focused,” he added.

Reach reporter Adam Goldstein at agoldstein@aurorasentinel.com or 720-449-9707

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