Film Instructors at Full Sail University Bring Real Industry Experience and Opportunities
Published on Oct 7, 2021 by Bridgette Cude
Our educators are active in their industry and bring on-the-job experiences to their students.
The unique culture, challenges, and opportunities that come with a career in entertainment all call for a unique education. It requires more than just knowing what to do, but also the actual experience of having done it.
At Full Sail University, that unique education combines hands-on learning with instruction from actual professionals in film, digital cinematography, and computer animation. Instructors here know more than just the theory, history, and best practices; they understand the nuances of of the job because they've done it.
"They have to have at least four years of experience working in the industry," says Jeff Planck, Full Sail's Program Director for Film, about what goes into hiring instructors. "That is a minimum requirement to work here in our degree." But of course, many come with more experience and accolades like Senior Lab Instructor Carl Verna, who was named by Variety to the industry magazine's "Top 50 Film Schools and Instructors From Around the World" list. Or instructor and cinematographer James Neihouse, who's a member of the American Society of Cinematographers, a prestigious honorary society that often asks him to be a part of conferences or to take part in testing new equipment.
"They are also active participants in the industry," Jeff says, as many Full Sail educators are still working in the entertainment field while teaching. For example, Film degree lab specialist Larry Katz has been credited as Second Assistant Director on several major motion pictures in his career, including Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Captain America: The First Avenger, Cloverfield, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. His credits also include Key Second AD on projects that are currently in post-production (The Chickasaw Rancher) and filming (Chip 'n' Dale: Rescue Rangers). He was also recognized as a member of Full Sail's Hall of Fame, which awards graduates who made exceptional strides in their field and brought their experience and knowledge back to uplift the community.
"He's deep in there with the students, I guess you'd say every day in those hands-on labs," says Jeff about Larry's role. "So he absolutely has that opportunity to be giving those real-world experiences that he's had."
Jeff also mentions Course Director Kevin O'Neill whose career has taken him from the military to firefighting, acting, and eventually directing. "We think of him as kind of a real actor's director, and he's been through his own production company, making award-winning short films for several years now," Jeff says. "We really love seeing how he's grown as he's worked here."
Experience plays a critical role at Full Sail, not just for instructors, but for the students as well. Projects are hands-on and a variety of professional partnerships with the university allow students opportunities to work alongside organizations like WWE, the Tennis Channel, and the Florida Film Festival.
In other instances, Full Sail's instructors bring the real-world opportunities directly to their students. Film Final Project Course Director Antonio "TJ" Doctor has also served as the Production Supervisor for the Sundance Institute's Feature Film Development Program. In 2014, he was able to bring eight Full Sail Film grads onto production roles at the Sundance Directors Lab. "Often, we don't have departmental lines because the crews are so small, so I'm looking for someone who's sort of a catch-all," explained TJ. "Full Sail grads often have that skillset because of everything they've learned in the program."
On campus, Full Sail is designed to replicate the professional environments students may find themselves in once they graduate. That includes a backlot for filming in front of facades spanning from Brooklyn brownstones to the French Quarter, a gas station, night club exterior, warehouses, and more. Several soundstages and a Dolby-approved dubbing stage also put students right in the action, using professional equipment in studios designed after the real thing.
And with facilities that replicate real-world environments, many opportunities have come to Full Sail's campus. Recently, Disney+ series The Right Stuff came to Full Sail to film scenes in the on-campus soundstages. Students were able to observe the process, and several graduates were hired to work on the series. "The ability to provide our students with real-world educational opportunities on our campus, in addition to welcoming our graduates home to watch them in action as professionals in their careers, is both a cornerstone of our curriculum and absolutely awe-inspiring," says Rick Ramsey, Full Sail's Education Director of Visual Arts.