Is it necessary to go to a film school to become a successful filmmaker?  How important is the knowledge of technology and film theory to getting into the business? Or is it better just to become a production assistant and move through the ranks? Starting this month and over the next few newsletters our correspondents will be taking a look at the many film and television institutions throughout Gauteng.

There are many filmmakers who didn’t go to film school – Quentin Tarantino didn’t even finish high school, German director Werner Herzog went to the Munich Film School only so he could ‘relieve’ the college of a 35mm camera which he would use many years later on his spectacular debut feature “Aguirre, Wrath of God”.

Locally, filmmakers like Darrell Roodt, Khalo Matabane and John Barker never went to film school, but Gavin Hood did. You can learn some of the nuts and bolts of film and TV production just by being on set; but you won’t have the chance to make your own short films, to experiment and fail, you wont have the chance to hone your talents alongside your peers and you wont have the time and luxury to realise exactly what you want to specialise in – after all not everybody wants to direct.

Most filmmaking – beyond the technical stuff – is storytelling, so anything you study, read or watch that improves your storytelling ability will help you as a filmmaker. Hollywood director Robert Rodriguez (“From Dusk Till Dawn”, “Spy Kids”, “Sin City” etc.) made a famous video called ‘The Ten-Minute Film School’ where he claims you can learn anything about moviemaking in less than a quarter of an hour.

He says the moment you think you are a filmmaker you are one, “Do you have experience in movies? You do, right - you WATCH movies. Now you need to have movie experience - you're not going to learn from just watching movies, you'll learn some things, you'll learn more picking up a camera, making your own films, making your own mistakes - mistakes don't have to be mistakes, everything is subjective - a mistake to one person is actually a piece of art to someone else.” You can check out his anecdotal advice at:

No writer or director has ever been denied the Oscar because he didn’t finish his master’s thesis and a film degree isn’t a prerequisite for any job in the film industry from actor to gaffer to executive producer. The Industry is one of the last bastions of apprenticeship, perseverance and pure luck. All that really matters is whether you can do the job. However a film school can give you the tools and the confidence to prosper. You can learn the specifics of any trade on-the-job but film school can give you a broader perspective. 
Film theory can help you figure out how to compose a shot and how to create a style and of course film school is a place to make contact with peers, experts and people who you can work with or whom may ultimately hire you.

In the last few years there’s been a major surge in training institutions that focus on film and TV production, with the introduction of new broadcast channels the need for production talent seems at an all time high. This series will profile the many places around Gauteng who train people in film and TV production.

41 Frost Avenue, Auckland Park
Tel: +27 (0)11 482 8345

AFDA started its operation in 1994; it operates at the high-end of the market in Film and TV training and is possibly the country’s foremost film school. They function according to an outcomes-based learning system and many of AFDA’s graduates are working successfully in the industry today.

Bata Passchier, CEO of the school, says, “Filmmaking is a lot more than humping a camera up a hill. There are many things one can learn from doing the apprenticeship thing, like self-savvy, learning craft and set skills but we strongly believe that filmmaking is an intellectual exercise. There has to be some substance behind your narrative. We believe we’re training students who will challenge society and actually contribute to making worthwhile South African film and television.”

The school has 600 students at its Johannesburg Campus (there’s a small Cape Town branch) and Passchier believes it’s a completely integrated learning programme that’s fully reflective of Gauteng.

AFDA offers several courses –

Bachelor Of Arts In Motion Pictures

This course consists of several disciplines: Scriptwriting, Directing, Producing, Cinematography, Production Design, Animation, Special Effects, Editing, Sound Design & Multiple Camera Production.

Master of Fine Arts In Motion Pictures

This is a recognised post-graduate degree that is designed for students to develop, produce, market and exhibit two feature films.

Students are encouraged to specialise in a discipline of their choice after their first and second year of ‘boot-camp’ training.

The Johannesburg Campus boasts a dedicated production department that is fully equipped with everything from Super 16mm Cameras & Digital Camcorders to Cranes, Tracks, final Cut and Avid Editing equipment and two fully operational Multi-cam Studios.

Although there is some film theory the emphasis at AFDA is definitely hands-on and although entirely independent it has the financial muscle to supply students with the technology and materials needed to make movies, so you won’t be sitting behind a desk all day.

The school produces over 300 short films a year, some of which go on to achieve greatness. In fact “Kammakastig Land” an Honours film written and directed by AFDA graduate Brandon Oelofse is representing South Africa in this year’s 35th Student academy Awards this June. In 2006 another AFDA production “Elalani” won the Student Oscar for Foreign Film.

All the courses are fully accredited by the Council on Higher Education (CHE) and registered by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) and so one can apply for bank loans to study, the School also offers bursaries on application.

Costs depend on the courses taken, but for more information contact the finance department at the above e-mail or phone number.

AFDA is a full member of CILECT – the International Association of Film Schools – visit their site at

Office suite D14, Banbury Cross Village, Olievenhout Avenue, corner Malibongwe Drive, North riding
Tel: +27 (0) 11 794 3000
Fax: +27 (0) 86 640 6035

The Portal to Infinite Learning was established to assist the Media industry in promoting a learning culture in the working environment, while endorsing Lifelong learning – and effective workplace mentoring.

With a wealth of experience, training, networking and active industry participation, the Portal to Learning offers the knowledge and expertise that is required to equip a company with the relevant Skills Development requirements in South Africa.

The mission is to provide access to lifelong learning and to produce quality mentors in the media industry, while ensuring that the rights of learners are upheld.

The goals are to promote a learning culture within the media industry, increase the employment rate, to increase the number of females employed in the media industry, to increase the number of disabled individuals employed in the media industry, to assist historically disadvantaged individuals to gain access into the media industry, to develop a wider mentor-base in the media industry and to ensure succession planning for competent learners.

Several workshops are run including ‘what is Animation’?, ‘Learn about the ins-and-outs of Animation for NON-Animators’, ‘Networking - The industry's finest reveal their secrets about the art of networking’ etc.

Learnership opportunities are available when finance is secured and the programme is approved by the MAPPP-SETA. These include Further Education & Training Certificate: Film, Television & Video Production Operations (NQF 4), National Certificate: 2D Animation (NQF 5) and National Certificate: 3D Animation (NQF 5).

Practical/hands-on training for learnership programmes takes place at an employer site, whereas theory training and short courses take place at Portal to Learning.

39 Gwi Gwi Mrwebi Street
Tel: +27 (0)11 634 9840

CityVarsity School of Media & Creative Arts is situated in the vibey Gwi Gwi Mrwebi Street in Newtown close to creative giant Ochre Media.

CityVarsity is well established in Cape Town having been there for the past 12 years however the Johannesburg campus was only started some two years ago by Principal Harry Penberthy an ex-advertising man and previously involved in the Midrand Campus.

CityVarsity offers two options including a two year diploma course, and an option to remain on for a further year to complete an advanced diploma. Courses are in the following subjects: Film and Television, Acting, Animation, Multi Media Design, Motion Picture make up, Motion Picture Production Design and Sound Engineering.

There are also short evening courses of between 3 - 5 weeks in a number of disciplines. These include Creative Writing and Journalism, Basic camera work and lighting, Graphic design for print and others.

All courses are accredited with the Council for Higher Education, and CityVarsity is registered with the Department of Education. There were some 90 students enrolled in the 1st year (2007) and this year (2008) there are a total of 190 students registered.

CityVarsity prides itself on its personlised approach and the fact that it has partnered with various companies operating within the industry, including stalwarts such as Network BBDO, Trinity Session, Half Loaf and Sound and Motion studios who exchange space for the training of students – a unique advantage to the students.

There are a total of 25 staff members of which 13 are full time and the remainder part time lecturers.

Industry projects are brought on campus – a recent example last year being a combined Ochre Media/Wits production of episodes for a new ‘mobigo-tv’ for cell phones.

The fee structure varies according to the course selected, but is fair and in the case of short courses very reasonable.