Film vs Digital Cinematography: What's the Difference?
What you need to know about the differences between our digital cinematography and film curriculum.
Full Sail University's deep roots in entertainment, unique teaching style, and impressive alumni have earned us a reputation as an incredible place to come to learn how to become a filmmaker. But if you're considering attending Full Sail for Film & Television, you might have questions about which area of study is right for you: film or digital cinematography?
Here, we'll clear up how each curriculum is different in terms of format, equipment, collaboration, and career goals with Program Directors Jeff Planck (Film), and Bob Truett (Digital Cinematography).
Online vs Campus
One of the first major differences between the two is where you'll be learning; film studies are on campus and digital cinematography is completed online.
A Creative Playground
On campus film students are surrounded by creative environments that are modeled after the real thing, from our Dolby-approved dubbing stage to a working production office. That also includes several professional soundstages where you can film in-studio scenes designed to your exact needs, and with two construction mills, students can also build custom set pieces right on campus. In the backlot, outdoor building facades create backdrops for a variety of environments, including a gas station, loading dock, nightclub, and different unique architecture styles from around the world.
Film Program Director Jeff Planck also encourages students to get involved in some of the other productions happening on campus in one of Full Sail's many entertainment venues and broadcasting studios. The Full Sail University Orlando Health Fortress and Full Sail Live Venue, for example, both host several esports events, panels, award shows, and other opportunities to gain behind-the-scenes experience throughout the year.
Location. Location. Location.
And while film students may have a filmmaker's playground on campus, digital cinematography online students focus on finding their perfect location in the wild. "So in any project that you're doing, you have to make sure that you have the right location," says Digital Cinematography Program Director, Bob Truett. "It depends on what type of project it is and what type of feel you're trying to get. What is the emotional impact? What is the story all about? So you have to pick the right location."
In the Digital Cinematography courses like Art Design & Location Shooting, students learn how to contact their local film commission office and how to obtain permits unique to their specific geographical areas including releases required for talent and property owners. "This is an integral part in the process for students learning how to properly shoot their projects," says Bob. "So we try to make it as real as possible when they're working on their assignments."
Students also use what they've learned in courses like Art History, Composition of Visual Design, and Location Lighting to further enhance the visual components of their films.
Hands-on curriculum is a main focus for every area of study at Full Sail, whether on campus or online. Students get firsthand experience using the same equipment used by the pros.
For a Small, Mobile Crew
With Project LaunchBox™, Digital Cinematography students get their own production package including a laptop, professional Sony full-frame digital cinematography camera, lens, three-point LED lighting kit, tripod, shotgun mic, memory card, headphones, and carrying bags as well as filmmaking software.
Bob says that in the Composition and Visual Design Class, instructor Randy Baker leads students through the ins-and-outs of each piece of equipment virtually. "They do an unboxing, and they go over all the different equipment, what every piece does. Randy has put together different videos to help instruct on the camera itself, but he also does one-on-ones with students. So if they need more one-on-one instruction as opposed to the live sessions or anything, he'll do that." says Bob.
"Sometimes the instruction takes a little bit longer for some people. Sometimes it doesn't take long at all. But with the equipment in hand and utilizing Zoom sessions, it's easier to make those instructions and help guide the students along the way."
For Big Crews and Productions
For students studying film on campus, the equipment is more representative of large-scale productions and crews. "We certainly have high-end cameras," says Jeff. "We work with ARRI camera systems, Canon and Sony cameras... We have dollies from Chapman and Leonard, and if you ever watched the credits at the end of movies, you'll usually see their logo go by, because they're industry standard," explains Jeff. Campus filming locations are also outfitted with professional lighting and grip equipment.
Film students also receive a Project LaunchBox that includes a laptop with professional editing and production software.
Collaboration & Communication
Both options place an emphasis on the thing that can make or break a filmmaker's career: their ability to collaborate, connect, network. However, each takes a slightly different approach to learning this important art.
Working as a Team
“That's really what I would say is the heart of the film curriculum,” says Jeff about the importance of collaboration on large-scale productions. He explains that by being on campus, film students have the opportunity to reach across to other creative disciplines to enhance their art.After all, they're surrounded by other students studying in fields like recording arts, computer animation, music production, and more who can lend their talents to create a soundtrack, shoot a music video, or develop 3D animation. And with our sportscasting facility, film students have the opportunity to offer their hand in broadcasting labs as well.
Students can also find themselves working with others studying film who may not be in their same classes or on the same level. "So it sort of forces them into what we might think of as more of a real world situation where they're not working with just people that they know or that they're most familiar with," Jeff explains. "You go out onto a job site for a film or a freelance job. You may not know anyone there or there may be one person you know."
Making Virtual Connections
For the digital cinematography student, communication with the client is key. "Our teachers act as the client, and we tell the students this because it is a client-based business. Most of the work is going to be done for someone else."
Bob explains that learning how to effectively communicate virtually with clients is a big component of their success. "There are a lot of businesses that work remotely. You don't always have to be face-to-face, it's nice to be face-to-face, but it's about getting the work done and making the connection with your client."
And learning remotely does not have to stop them from finding other Full Sail students nearby, says Bob. "I tell students all the time, 'The first thing I want you to do is reach out and introduce yourself to your teacher. Also, get to know your fellow students in your class. Especially with your general education classes, because you may find someone that lives in your area, and you can connect, you can collaborate on projects together, and you also can be building a workforce to help you with your projects.'"
If students studying digital cinematography find themselves in Central Florida, Bob encourages them to let their instructors know. "If we have any projects that are ongoing, they might be able to help out with those projects, because we've had teachers bring different projects on campus, whether they be a TV show or a commercial project, or what have you," he says. "But we always want to let the students know that there's something going on and to get involved."
While both options are certainly made for the aspiring filmmaker, editor, producer, or director, each is specifically designed for different types of projects, work environments, and skillsets.
Wearing Several Hats
Bob explains that those studying digital cinematography often want to start their own company. "They tend to look at more independent-type projects because they're going to be wearing several hats. The digital cinematography student is used to doing every facet of their project," he says.
"So they have to be the director, they have to be the editor because it's their project. If they can find some help to help them set up equipment, that's great. But pretty much, they're in charge of everything, they're producing, directing, editing, every project that they do [while they’re here.]”
Many digital cinematography students find themselves working in smaller crews or on "run-and-gun" type of projects that are quick and nimble. "That could be music videos, that could be commercials, that could be independent movies, documentaries, commercials, things like that," Bob explains.
Finding Your Fit
Film students also learn the ins and outs of each position in editing, producing, directing, camera, lighting, and more. "We teach our students to be well-rounded," Jeff explains. But this area of study also puts an emphasis on roles you'd likely find on large motion pictures and projects.
"They're going to feel more comfortable working in a major motion picture, film set, or film crew, because they've had similar experiences before, while they've been here on campus," says Jeff. "They're going to work with lights and camera, so that's basically cinematography. Or if they want to work in the directing or producing departments, they're also going to learn sound – whether that's production sound or post-production sound, editing, art direction, production design, and even some makeup."
Jeff says with that wide variety of skills they can apply, "It really just depends on what they're most passionate about and where they tend to want to follow."
If you're interested in learning more about the Film or Digital Cinematography degree programs, find more info here.
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