Reprinted from Film Courage, 4/29/12

The San Francisco Bay Area Film Community is a vibrant, visionary, tech-savvy haven for filmmakers. As part of the regional landscape, local film institutions San Francisco School of Digital Filmmaking and Fog City Pictures have a hand in nurturing this filmmaker-friendly mecca. I sat down recently with Jeremiah Birnbaum, Co-Founder of San Francisco School of Digital Filmmaking, and President of Fog City Pictures, a Bay Area feature film studio.

While Fog City Pictures is a worthwhile topic unto itself, The San Francisco
School of Digital Filmmaking (SFSDF) compels discussion. Founded in 2005 by Jeremiah Birnbaum and Stephen Kopels, the School offers a unique combination of a hands-on education, and empowering learning environment.

Jeremiah Birnbaum, SFSDF Co-Founder speaks at recent Premiere

When Jeremiah and Stephen founded the School, they committed to give students the environment they need to become professionals in the Film Industry. Jeremiah explains:SFSDF’s commitment to Industry experience comes from a strong belief that traditional film programs fall short
Jeremiah recalls his experience at a four-year film school:

“I worked hard at my classes..took every filmmaking class I could get my hands on. But, when I graduated, I was clueless about how to find my path or get a job in the film industry.”

“When we designed SFSDF, we designed the School to embrace digital film, so that students would have a seamless transition to the Industry… Our School is a place to learn, to take risks, and gain the skills that allow our graduates to be out in the working world.”

The most impressive aspect of an SFSDF education is the opportunity it provides every one-year student to work on a Fog City Pictures feature film. It is the only school of its kind in the country to allow one-year students to bypass interning and apprenticing, and to instead, work as a professional on a studio feature – before they graduate. Fog City Pictures, with multiple features to its credit, makes films whose budgets range from 500K-2.5 million.

“Coordinating students on a feature film crew can be complex, but totally worth it. To make it in this Industry, a person needs three things: A reel of work, contacts within the Industry, and credits on IMDb. Experience as working professionals allows our students to get all three. Shooting a film becomes de-mystified; their confidence increases.”

SFSDF Filmmakers-in-Progress shoot the reel dream

Studio feature experience is not the only benefit to SFSDF students. The quality of the learning environment also elevates the School from other film educations. Jeremiah talks about the School’s approach to imparting film skills:

“Our Mentor to Student ratio is small. We also have a simple philosophy at the school – the best way to learn filmmaking is to make films. We teach theory and practical skills, of course, but then students immediately put that knowledge into practice by making movies. Students begin working on projects from the beginning of each class and build skills as they go. For example, students in our One-Year Program will make five films, each one progressively more challenging – every time, bettering their skills and developing as an artist.”

The School’s Students, Faculty, and Staff reflect the rich diversity of the Bay Area – hailing from North America, Europe, China, Malaysia, India, and Latin America. The payoff to the Industry from this stellar education is clear. Students and graduates have secured work in the Industry worldwide, including Studio and Indie efforts, documentaries, commercials, and video production. And, the Industry is enriched for it: SFSDF students and graduates have achieved film festival nods in places like Berlin, Santa Cruz and Mill Valley.

Jeremiah’s passion about teaching and mentoring students is extremely personal, and is shared by other Faculty. This passion accentuates the
educational experience for students in a way that nothing else can. “For teachers, it’s exciting for us to watch a student’s identity change and shift. That’s the payoff for us.”

Perhaps most dynamic, is the School’s philosophy of digital film education. “We are not an ivory tower. We are not that. We are a School where you can find your voice as an artist. Where Film becomes this organic process – part of your bones.”

SFSDF Green Room Rafting

The San Francisco School of Digital Filmmaking (SFSDF) offers program lengths of one-year and five-weeks, as well as one-day workshops on topics ranging from filmmaking, to scriptwriting and acting. Visit SFSDF’s website.  Find Fog City Pictures site here.


Katherine Bennett is a freelance, screen, and fiction writer. She also reviews films. She resides in Northern California. You can visit her on Twitter @VerbaVitae and her website


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