Film School & Education | Interviews | Screenplay Doctor

Prague Film School: An International Melting Pot for Filmmakers

1 Sep , 2012  

Written by Susan Kouguell | Posted by:

Screenplay Doctor Susan Kouguell spent her summer at the Prague Film School. She interviews Co-Founder and Co-Director Tariq Hager about his school: a haven for passionate filmmakers of all shapes and sizes tucked away in a city that is as beautiful as the program is intense.

I had the honor of teaching screenwriting this past July at the summer workshop in filmmaking at the Prague Film School in the Czech Republic, one of Europe’s leading film schools. My screenwriting classes were comprised of 18 students from 16 different countries. The city of Prague combined with the international student body makes it an inspiring setting for aspiring filmmakers looking to create.

Susan Kouguell: Tariq, you received your undergraduate degree from Brown University, which gives you a “six degrees of separation” connection to NewEnglandFilm.com readers. What inspired you to create a school in filmmaking and specifically in Prague?

Tariq Hager: Prague is a city with great film charisma. It has a deep and impressive film legacy extending back to the early 30s, through the Czech New Wave sixties (Forman, Menzel, Klo and Kadar), to today. The city is awash in film talent and film resources, enticing Hollywood to Bollywood productions to shoot and post produce their films here.

Co-director Tomas Krasauskas and myself were confident we could tap into this talent and set up a quality film program offering international students an alternative to the extremely expensive film schools in the US and the crusty antiquated film academies in Europe. We knew that Prague would be a film student’s heaven: beautiful, inexpensive and inspiring on a meaningful level.

SK:The summer programs at the Prague Film School offer students the opportunity to write, direct, shoot, and edit, all in four weeks. Seeing it in action firsthand, it’s certainly an intensive program for students. How would you describe the benefits of this summer program for prospective students?

Hager: Students get the opportunity to make real films in one of Europe’s most interesting capitals while building concrete hard-skills. Students also find great solace from studying with others from different countries and continents but cut from the same cloth as themselves, creative birds of a feather with a deep interest in film. Teachers are also recruited from all over the world. A collateral and enduring benefit of the course is that students learn to look at films differently, coming away from the program with a personal understanding and deep appreciation for all that goes into the shots one sees on screen.

SK:What is the general age range and backgrounds for both the summer filmmaking program and the yearlong program?

Hager: For both programs, the average age hovers around the mid 20s. The summer programs do attract students younger and older than generally found in the year program, with students as young as 16 turning 17 and as old as in their 50s.

A common profile of our year students are those in their mid to late 20’s who have had a lifetime interest in film and filmmaking. Due to circumstances presumably out of their control, they find themselves approaching their thirties but alienated from their true vocation. They come to Prague Film School to get the skills to become professional filmmakers and thus make a living doing something they enjoy. This profile of “existential U-turn” student spans five continents and 35 countries.

We also have students enroll in the year program after graduating from other film schools but who feel that their education is still incomplete. A number of students also come to us from the professional film industry with the intention of getting the training to get closer to key crew positions, typically as directors or DPs.

Annually we have a cohort of US students from film programs at various elite US colleges on semesters or year abroad programs. We have formal consortia agreements with Oberlin and Vassar Colleges and students from such schools as Wesleyan, Bard and Boston University also regularly matriculate.

India is a staple provider of quality students, and each year we train 5- 10 Indian students who return home and report back to us with great successes in the Indian film industry. Our Indian students have been very successful finding work in powerhouse production companies or even launching their careers with commercial feature films.

Sweden and Iceland are two additional countries that are regularly represented at Prague Film School and students from these countries receive state funding covering most of the tuition and accommodation costs.

In other words, we have students from different backgrounds. But one common feature is a deep and true interest in film and a desire to make a living as a filmmaker.

SK:What are the criteria for admission to the yearlong program?

Hager: The nature of film work is highly collaborative, the stress level on set can be very high and the students work very close together — in and outside of class. For this reason we have to be very careful to select students who are the right fit for the school — students with whom we will work well and for whom our school would be the right decision.

In this context we look for the following in the applications:

Students who wish to make a career in filmmaking; students who gravitate towards art house or independent films, as we are an auteur-oriented school; students who have a solid knowledge of film; students who demonstrate great creative potential (ascertained from the creative portfolio accompanying application); students who demonstrate intellectual ability (ascertained from essay questions); and not least important, students who can work well with others and who are positive and open.

All students applying to the year program must have completed high school and demonstrate substantial potential in filmmaking.

SK:How would you compare the yearlong program at the Prague Film School to other international film schools?

Hager: Prague Film School makes a strong impression on just about anyone who visits as a unique place. The first sense is one of intimacy – the main building of the school is situated in an 11th century parsonage distinctly contrasting with the substantially larger secessionist residential buildings surrounding it. Entering the premises, one is surprised to find a leafy courtyard smack in the center of downtown Prague; a courtyard teeming with young filmmakers hashing out the details of their next project over a coffee and sandwich from the school’s cafe. I guess similar to many film schools, the overriding impression is one of creative buzz. Distinguishing attributes of Prague Film School are the following, however (as articulated on our website):

Praxis-Oriented: One would be hard-pressed to find a program that provides as much practical exposure to filmmaking. More than 400 films are shot per year at Prague Film School and students in the year program participate on as many as 30 productions. The operating principle of Prague Film School is training, and we believe as with instruments or with languages, the only way to develop fluency is to practice.

High-End Facilities: Prague Film School is well-stocked with the latest cutting-edge equipment used in professional film productions throughout the world. Students have immediate access to the school’s fleet of cameras, including RED, Arri, Canon and Sony high definition cameras, in addition to high-end lighting, sound, and grip.

Intensive: The type of student who chooses Prague Film School comes to us because he or she has essentially only one year in terms of time or financial resources to cross from where he or she is in life at the moment into the world of professional filmmaking. We then have only one year to bring these students to a level of competence where they can operate professionally. As such the program is highly squeezed.

Faculty-Student Relations: Core faculty are brought in from around the world. While all teachers are accomplished professional filmmakers, their primary purpose in Prague is to teach students at the Prague Film School. The dynamics are then what you find at exclusive boarding schools and small colleges in the U.S., where the teachers are highly devoted to their students and accessible. Faculty also embody the school’s ideology of integrating European art house with American independent cinemas.

Intimate: Different from many national film academies or major private film schools abroad or in Europe, Prague Film School is characterized by its small size, accepting a maximum of 60 students in its year and semester programs. This lends close work relations with teachers and students and ensures easy access to filmmaking facilities.

Diversity of Student Body: In a student body of 60 students, 25-30 countries are represented. Nearly every other student is from a different part of the world, but there’s a sub-cultural glue binding them together. Students live and breathe film together.

Liberalism: Most students at our school have completed undergraduate studies, and see their time at film school as a cherished chance to wed their deep interests with a vocation. As such, the administration treats all students as responsible adults and trusts students to take full responsibility for their studies. The school does not interfere with students’ artistic choices.

Prague: Prague is one of those very rare cities that manages to combine cosmopolitanism with beauty. Its magic is apparent to just about anyone fortunate enough to spend some time here.

Prague is a major European film center with one of the continent’s largest and oldest film studios. The city is regarded among the world’s most beautiful capitals and productions come from all over the globe to capitalize on the city’s beauty and film resources. For a film student, Prague is a dream city, providing a setting for virtually any type of film, a charismatic metropolitan buzz for inspiration, and affordability still unique in the developed world.

SK:How has the school evolved since its inception and what can you share about future plans for the Prague Film School?

Hager: We ran our first filmmaking program in 2003 with 18 students from 12 countries (a summer workshop). Our faculty was almost entirely Czech at the time. With the school’s growth, the faculty grew increasingly international, our facilities increasingly robust, and our programs increasingly varied. Today we run our courses from two buildings and have introduced full-time documentary and acting for film programs to our curricula. Now annually we have up to 80 students from 35 countries studying in our three programs. Last year 10 of our films were screened at the Cannes Film Festival short film corner.

Our plans for the future are to continue to ensure the high quality of our programs. We will persevere in our policy of rigorous faculty placements, active upgrading of our facilities, and screening for talented students.

For more information about the Prague Film School, visit http://www.filmstudies.cz/.

Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker Susan Kouguell teaches screenwriting and film at Tufts University, and is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and film executives worldwide ( www.su-city-pictures.com; su-city-pictures.blogspot.com). Susan wrote The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! (St. Martin’s Griffin) and SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises, which is available at $1.00 off by clicking on www.createspace.com/3558862and using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD. To read an excerpt go to: https://www.createspace.com/Preview/1089452. Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell Twitter page for more Savvy Tips.


Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker Susan Kouguell teaches screenwriting and film at Tufts University, and is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and film executives worldwide ( www.su-city-pictures.com; su-city-pictures.blogspot.com). Susan wrote The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! (St. Martin’s Griffin) and SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises, which is available at $1.00 off by clicking on www.createspace.com/3558862and using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD. To read an excerpt go to: https://www.createspace.com/Preview/1089452. Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell Twitter page for more Savvy Tips.