"I went with Syracuse because after months of deciding, it was really the only one that felt like a fit. At such a crucial period in the growing-up aspect of life, that's what I felt was important"
We asked SOCAPA alum and Syracuse University alum Aron Romanoff for his advice to high school filmmakers preparing for college.
Alongside Syracuse, I was looking at Ithaca College, Rochester Institute of Technology, Emerson, and NYU primarily. What influenced my decision at the time was what I felt was best for me as a person. I was really just starting to fully appreciate getting into and being a part of the arts, and so I think I lot of that revolves around understanding yourself. Having said that, my decision was almost entirely based on "feeling." You tour all these schools and you get to feel out the atmosphere and whatnot, get to see all the facilities and people telling you why their program is so great, etc... so what I think it really boils down to is generally two things: what's best for me right now and/or what's best for future-me. For myself, I ended up leaning to the former. At the time, cities and city life didn't really interest me too much, so Emerson and NYU (despite perhaps being two of the "better" programs) didn't tickle my fancy. Both seemed a little overwhelming and not a good fit *at the time. Between the remaining schools, I went with Syracuse because after months of deciding, it was really the only one that felt like a fit. At such a crucial period in the growing-up aspect of life, that's what I felt was important—cliche as it sounds, I chose the school I thought I could best find myself. As for what makes the program unique, I believe that goes hand-in-hand with what was just mentioned; the program is as much or as little what you make of it. You can choose to treat it as school and classes, or as a time of expression and creation. In other words, there's so much opportunity for yourself.
As far as I can remember, applying was pretty standard fair. There was an online component, and Syracuse was one of two schools that did require a portfolio. One or more pieces no longer than 5 minutes if I recall correctly. I submitted a 3 minute film I made at SOCAPA, along with a snippet of another project I was working on.
The nature of SOCAPA's nonstop structure really inspired me to just keep creating, and so that's what I did starting in High School. I utilized online recourses to learn as much as I could about film, photography, writing, acting, technology, etc. I took applicable art classes. It's tough to tell what you're really interested in beyond a broad perspective until you've created or collaborated on a number of your own projects. To anyone just starting to build a portfolio of any sort, I'd recommend exploring. What I mean by that is explore yourself as much as your surroundings. What do you have going on about YOU? For some, that can be grabbing some friends and writing, shooting, and editing videos. If no one's interested, what's interesting about where you live? If there's nothing you think is interesting, how can you MAKE it interesting? How can you express something with a given medium? I've seen beautiful abstract photography from people just experimenting in their back yard. I've seen moving character studies of just people in an apartment. I've seen self portraits tell stories other mediums or styles couldn't exactly do. The point is that art is everywhere, but don't create just to "be artsy." Take yourself seriously. What do you have going on with yourself? What is your voice? People who feel out of place and are quiet can express themselves just as beautifully as people who are outgoing or wild or whatever. Go where yourself takes you. That could be anything. Still photography, video, film, performing arts. Like animals? Take photos of them. Find a farm. Find a friend with a pet. Like sports? How can you capture that interestingly? Enjoy the technical craft and don't really have too much interest in creativity or expression? There's even a place for you! Study camera, study the tech, and then capture SOMETHING. ANYTHING. Put together as much as you can that is truthful to you. Even if you don't really know what that is yet. It's never too early or late to experiment. During college, I made films and videos I thought would be cool at the time. I collaborated with others on projects I didn't understand. I studied different areas that weren't my focus. I abandoned some projects just as I worked religiously on others. Just do.
Taking initiative. Syracuse provides a lot of opportunity. It took a long while for me to jump on a lot of those opportunities. It's one thing to have the drive to create or what have you, it's another to actually actively DO. Or at least try.
Easy. First class of SOCAPA. First time sitting with other like-minded peers engaged in absorbing relevant knowledge together. It was cool.
Syracuse provides as much or little as you want. Seldom will things fall into your lap. If you take the initiative, opportunity is out there. The faculty will absolutely do all they can to hook you up with jobs or internships or people of interest. There's even a semester you can do in LA where an internship is mandatory. I did that program and worked at the company whose claim to fame is they made Mythbusters (I could've found something more fitting, but I didn't take quite enough initiative). There's also an amazing semester in Prague (Czech Republic)...that I regrettably didn't attend. As for faculty, there are some who stick around a while and have been long ingrained into Syracuse's program, and there are plenty who come and go. That's the way it is, people's art or career or whatever takes them different places all the time. I really really loved some of my professors and keep in touch with a handful of them. Some were scary. Some were boring. Some were ineffective. Plenty were inspirational and helpful. Almost none held your hand through classes. Very wide range. Some professors I viewed as traditional lecture-hall teachers, some professors or adjuncts or teachers or guest lecturers (lots of different titles) I would meet up with after classes to discuss my projects or their projects, and in my senior year I would even drive some of them around since I had a car. It was a good time.
Ask yourself what it is you want out of YOURSELF. Film school is great, but it's not necessarily for everyone who's interesting. There's also a bunch of different types. I went to an art school in a traditional university because I didn't really know what I wanted of myself aside from wanting "the college experience" with a focus in film. I think my decision led to the most opportunity for growth as a person. I could've gone to school in a city, for example NYU and Columbia have two amazing film programs in NYC. You're surrounded by EVERYTHING in that city. Everyone is always doing something. If you're proactive, want to be surrounded by all of the people and all of the companies, maybe a choice like that is right for you. If you KNOW all you want to do is do something like be an awesome crew member of any sort on set and really have no desire for other types of classes found at traditional colleges, maybe look into some film trade-schools.
If I had to make a recommendation, I would say pick a program that allows you to study a wide range of areas of interest. The moment you finish school, you're going to be kicking yourself and wondering why you didn't take courses you no longer have access to. Why didn't I take that photography course? Why didn't I take more acting classes? Why did I drop Sociology? Wait, there was an opening in that cooking class after all?!