Is The New York Film Academy Worth The Money? A Few Thoughts

NY Film Academy

Dear New York Film Academy,

Scout, I wonder if you can help me, I’m a student at the New York Film Academy and I need a free location to shoot in for next Monday and Tuesday…The space I am looking for would be either a stage or a gym

I have a favor to ask.

I am a directing student at the New York Film Academy…I need a doctors office examination room (with the exam bed, and an Ultra Sound). I have a very small budget
Can you please, please start teaching your students how to make movies in New York?
I’m looking for a fully furnished apartment/loft in NYC. It’s a short film approximately 8-10 minutes long. I have a crew of 8 people and 5 actors. Unfortunately I’m working on a tight budget
Every semester, I receive dozens of emails from your students (actual examples quoted here) asking me where they can find unique, iconic NYC filming locations available at next to no cost for several days of rental at extremely short notice…and I just don’t know how to answer these emails anymore. What they’re asking for simply doesn’t exist.
This is a student film so our budget is tight…I’m looking for a hospital to shoot…

I am happy to give advice when I can (I’m an aspiring filmmaker too!!), but honestly, your students are paying tuition costs ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 to learn this kind of information FROM YOU – and this is Filmmaking 101 stuff that should be taught on day 1.

I am currently getting ready to shoot my thesis film…I am looking for a luxury apartment for a 3/4 day shoot. I have an excellent script…But I have no location and no budget for it. 

Furthermore, the locations your students most often ask me about tend to be notoriously expensive and difficult to shoot in: doctor’s offices, jail cells, luxury apartments, high-end restaurants, etc. That students aren’t being warned off writing scripts around such high-priced filming locations they have no prior access to is really, really strange.

I have to shoot my thesis and I’m facing a lot of problems regarding my locations: my story in fact takes place during World War II, and I need 4 peculiar interiors: a bedroom, a living room and a kitcken that can be believable for that time. In order to make my life easier, I also need a jail, ‘40’s-looking as well.
The bottom line, as I’ve written to your students time and again: outside of public streets and parks, THERE ARE NO FREE LOCATIONS IN NEW YORK CITY.
I am doing the 8 week filmmaking program…I came across your site and read your post about 5 Beekman…Being a student, the problem is that my budget is next to non-existent. Is there any possibility that we could get this location next week?
I am a professional movie scout. I would kill to have a roster of locations that are free, or only cost a hundred bucks a day. They do not exist!
I stumbled upon your website while looking for a cemetery to shoot a short film in NYC. I am a student at the New York Film Academy. I was wondering if you had any other suggestions for me for a cemetery to shoot in this weekend. I would prefer to not to have to pay money

But the more upsetting trend I read in these emails is a lack of understanding for just how important the locations element of filmmaking is – and this is simply inexcusable. I do not blame the students – after all, the whole reason they’re attending your school is to learn this sort of thing. What I’m wondering is if it’s even being taught.

My budget is about $400 for location expenses…I’m searching for a warehouse type setting to shoot all five scenes in a matter of three days

A location is literally the canvas you paint your film on. Look past your actors and props, and you’ll realize that 95% of your frame is your location.

Originally l had a story written about an elevator operator…if you have any elevator locations that can be used on a micro budget film – please let me know.
The number one mistake student filmmakers make is thinking that locations are something they can figure out later, often focusing instead on the quality of their equipment, as if that “film look” will make or break the movie. Consider this e-mail:
I’m seeking for a locations for 2 days shooting in NYC area. I will shoot in 35mm, with a panavision camera. maximum i can pay 150$ per day for location.
Why would you ever pay for a 35mm Panavision camera package – and then cut corners in your budget for what goes in front of the lens?? Remember: there’s a reason that Locations is the first department hired after accounting on major movies shooting in New York City.
The final project is a ten minute short film. I’ve estimated a budget of $800, $500 of which will be spent on film stock and processing. I can only spend about $150 as an absolute maximum on securing a location. I don’t even have a story yet…

It is occasionally possible to beg your way into a location for free. But there’s a very, very important reason why you should advise your students to avoid this at all costs: something will go wrong.

I need 2 locations in my film: a hospital and a church. As you probably know these are really hard locations to get permission to shoot in….Since it’s a student film it’s low budget
Yes, students often have the best of intentions and the purest of hearts – but they’re also inexperienced, and something always gets broken, damaged, scratched, burnt, electrocuted, flooded, etc. Without fail. And now you face two possibilities: either 1) the kindly property owner gives you the boot and you are fucked, or 2) the kindly property owner who has let you into his home now has to deal with NYFA insurance claims, hours of headaches, and a mess of problems he never asked for. For free!
I’m planning to shoot my semester film this june for five days and i need a restaurant location that it is supposed to look a bit fancy or romantic. i dont know what is the budget it for that.
There’s a very simple way to avoid these problems, especially if you’re just doing a homework assignment: write around locations  you have access to. As always, your two most important resources are friends and family.
For my final film, I had a perfect location. But we had no idea that you have to have permission even to shoot inside a apartment. So we were kicked out of the apartment.
Back when I started this site, I used to always give advice to students working on low/no budget productions, like how you can secure a New York City public school absurdly cheaply, and get a wealth of locations from it. And then the New York Film Academy emails started pouring in.
Location sought in or near NYC that could give the appearance of an abandoned cottage or house in a forest / woodland. Dates: 4 days.  I’m asking on behalf of a deserving student at the New York Film Academy for her thesis project. I unfortunately have to give you the usual plea of poverty

Again, I don’t blame students for emailing – they’re only doing so because they haven’t received answers at the school they’re paying for.


PS – Note to film students: I love talking locations, and I’m happy to continue giving general advice on, say, what neighborhoods to go to when scouting for Victorians. However, I cannot point you toward no-budget locations because I have yet to find them myself.

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  1. You know what I find interesting about this post is that it reminds me so much of the series of questions I’ve gotten repeatedly over the years about how to get into touring with bands, which is what I’ve done full time since graduating from NYU in 06. I feel like in the ten years since I graduated high school, a lot of students have lost their ability to be self starters, and opt for taking the easy way out – just ask somebody else for the answers. This is a prime example of that.

  2. Or they could just hire you to give classes on that kind of stuff !

  3. I’m a NYFA graduate with a soft spot for the school, so I want to step in here and share some counter-statements.

    What’s really important to remember is that the majority of NYFA students in all programs are not American. There are also large numbers that aren’t from the NY-area. Regardless of NYFA’s curriculum, many of them already have cards stacked against them, both because they are totally new to the unique wonder that is NYC (you, better than anyone, probably know how different it is from everywhere else), and because they may not speak English.

    The school is also a different type of experience than, say, NYU. I chose to go to NYFA because I had already attended undergrad, and had been working in film since I was a kid, but I needed to get hands-on experience and start making films right away. That’s what I needed, as well as what I wanted. That’s why I chose NYFA over a standard grad school program.

    So the student body isn’t made up of people looking for the typical film school experience. They’re looking to do, with like-minded people, outside of the constraints of a rigid curriculum. The youngest students are using it as a different type of community college experience, a stepping stone to a longer program; the older students are trying to get into a whole new industry after spending years and years, idk, in accounting. Everyone else is like me, people who have some level of education/life experience, and know ‘school’ isn’t really what works for them.

    As a result, there are a lot of people who are more likely to go ahead and do whatever they want, even if their teacher tells them it’s not a good idea. Since the school has no grades, it’s a great way to learn by trial-and-error, because you can’t fail just because you’re overambitious.

    There’s no denying a good quality for a filmmaker to have is being able to adequately budget and plan. Of course, I learned that at NYFA, same as everyone does when they start making films for themselves, whether they went to school for it, or learned everything they know from watching movies ravenously.

    So… yeah. For anyone who stumbles across this post & this comment, NYFA is a great place to go if you want to start making films asap, but it will definitely behoove you to try and keep things easy (my advice for this is, befriend someone who lives in an awesome apt or house, and just set all your movies there, haha… my apt with roof access & a view of some bridges was v popular).

    • “What’s really important to remember is that the majority of NYFA students in all programs are not American. There are also large numbers that aren’t from the NY-area.”

      I amended the post slightly, because I realized it almost sounded like I was blaming the students for emailing me, and this is absolutely not the case. The numbers of emails I’ve received suggest students are writing not because they are lazy, but because they are not receiving these very crucial answers in the curriculum they’re paying for. In particular, the number of foreign students only further emphasizes the need for a solid explanation of how locations work in film.

  4. Scout, thanks for this. I’ve been avoiding any NYFA student films for a while, and I was beginning to wonder if I was doing myself a disservice. Guess not. They need to get their act together. Their breakdowns are consistently the most poorly-written I ever come across.

  5. NYCActor, you’re not doing yourself a disservice. I’ve been cast in two NYFA student films, and have held days for them, and neither one of them ended up being shot. (Well, one of them did, but it wasn’t on the day they’d asked me to hold, and I was unwilling to give them another day of my time when they were so unreliable.)

  6. I’m a Production Designer. On my site, I have a ‘student interview’ that is based on any number of questions I used to receive about twice a year. It seems that there is a high school assignment given regularly; interview someone who does something you might like to do as a career.

    Now, I receive infrequent emails and I know that student is an idiot. Or they are asking follow-up questions and then I jump in to help.

    I have a colleague that has a whole section on his site critiquing and expressing his philosophy in regard to resume writing. I often refer students to this resource. Why reinvent the wheel.

    So, I suggest you have an area for students with some basic information and guidance.

  7. haha i love this post. there’s a lot that students do not learn while in school, and it’s interesting most of your requests come from that school.

  8. So, on the theme of learning how to scout for locations, how does one start? I’ve loved finding hidden architectural treasures and special spaces all my life. I’m no longer in NYC, so wouldn’t be in competition with you!

    • For a personal project, simply type up a flyer with the necessary information to your shoot and start leaving it at houses, offices, or wherever you’re looking to film, or simply cold call. If you mean how do you become a location scout as a job, contact your local office of film and television (most major cities have one) and ask for a list of productions in town. Fax your resume over specifically addressed to the location department asking for a job, perhaps as a PA or Office Coordinator to get your footing. You’ll be scouting in a year or two.

  9. There’s another side of this that bothers me. I’d be shocked if these same students were trolling the websites of D.P.’s, Art Directors and Editors asking them to come work on their films for free even though that’s exactly what they’re asking you to do. It’s one thing to ask you for advice on how to go about finding a location, but they’re asking you to pull one out of your pocket and hand it over out of the goodness of your heart.

    Note to film students: Finding and securing locations to shoot in is how we make our living.

    Note to film school: Teaching your students a bit about this skill makes for a more well-rounded graduate.

    • Yes! This is what bothered me most about those emails: they were essentially asking you to give away your expertise. I’m not saying you should charge people for help, but the excerpts you post make it sound as if these students just assume that you will do their job for them. It’s shocking to me.

    • I completely agree! It looks as though for the most part, they aren’t emailing to say, hey scout, i’m looking for some advice from a professional. how does one begin the process of finding locations? (which yes, again as was stated, the SCHOOL should be teaching them this) but instead they are sending VERY specific requests of what they’re looking for and expecting to just have a list emailed back to them? How exactly are they expecting to LEARN to find the perfect location in the future if they don’t actually learn how to scout?

  10. I’m surprised that the film school doesn’t have a building somewhere that students could use for filming, that has sets for doctor’s offices, jail cells, luxury apartments, high-end restaurants, etc. If they had that they could teach set design and construction as well as the behind the camera stuff.

    • Yup – they could solve all these problems by just getting some large space way out in Brooklyn or Queens for cheap and convert it to a studio with pre-made sets.

  11. NYFA is a film school? I thought they just made sweatshirts.

    • What bothers me especially is that, while we in the US have an idea about the caliber of its education, I think a lot of Europeans are easily tricked by the name, which sounds pretty authoritative and official. Buyer beware, I guess…

  12. Not that I’ve ever tried, but I can’t help feeling that someone who’s really passionate about the craft could take that $300-400 budget, and do something reasonably convincing with some painted plywood and canvas in whatever space was normally available to them.

    Me, I’d make a point of writing a script which could benefit from Ed Wood’s production techniques.

  13. Interesting article, prompted some thoughts. I was a film student at NYU in the 1980’s. Even back then you didn’t think much about big location shoots and such — too expensive — most student films were made using makeshift locations. Filmmaking education there was very much grounded in reality that it’s a tough business. Granted, it’s a full college program, and I was very grateful I could go. A school like NYFA, I think of as more of a trade school — you’re there to learn the skills, but that’s it. Not knocking them — they’re a good school. But while they’re good at teaching you filmmaking skills, if you don’t know the deal you can also come out with the fantasy that this is all you need to have a career as a successful filmmaker — the deal being that when you finish the program you’re going to have to work your butt off, and handle the setbacks and limitations that come with starting out in the business, a realistic budget being one of them.

  14. Film Finance 101 anyone? I am amazed that anyone with a thought of getting into a profession such as film would do so without any idea of how to fund their projects. And isn’t this supposed to be a creative medium? Get creative people. Remember that where there is a will there is a way, where there is a won’t there is another way.

  15. As for:

    “But we had no idea that you have to have permission even to shoot inside a apartment. So we were kicked out of the apartment.”

    Did they just break into someplace and think that was OK?

    • Ha, I believe they were referring to an apartment building hallway. But yes, I think they just showed up to a random apartment and started filming in the hallway.

  16. I get the calls as well… Students: The film business is not what you read about it People Magazine and probly different from a lot of what you might have been told by the school admissions office. The property owners that reach out to me inviting me to use their property for shoots are doing it because they want / need extra cash. Additionally, being a small business person, I have a hard enough time keeping my own business afloat – any down-time I might have is necessarily spent marketing myself or tending to internal office chores. You *might* find your location via the local film offices – the film offices usually maintain location libraries and there are people who have never hosted a shoot that might be thrilled at the opportunity to be a part of a shoot, however, as I mentioned, most people are in fact seeking to have their property used because they want / need extra cash *and* the film offices themselves are usually overseen by an Economic Development Board of some type who’s general purpose is to increase business activity in the area, so spending their energy on free favors runs counter to their directive. The nuts and bolts of being a location scout? Knocking on a LOT of doors. Face-time opens many doors. Get off the phone / laptop and put your shoes on. And for goodness sakes get insurance and if you say you are going to show up with your crew on a certain day be there with a camera in your hand.

  17. has anyone canvassed airbnb for filming locations? Not sure what’s involved with filming in apartments but there’s a truly enormous collection on there, larger and larger every day, in almost every configuration from enormous soho lofts down to cozy brooklyn brownstones. And they all have one thing in common: their occupants are looking to vacate the place to make a generally-very-reasonable buck or two for a few days/nights in a row.

  18. Hello Scout,

    I understand your frustration with students seeking expensive locations last minute and assuming you will be able to help facilitate their dream spaces. However, I think you are overly harsh in your argument that New York Film Academy does not train students to make films well.

    As a producer myself, I have filmed in hospitals and gorgeous luxury locations on virtually no budget. I have transformed ordinary spaces into unique settings. I have, in fact, booked last minute locations by just reaching out and asking only to find out that there happens to one day in a space that isn’t booked and has no issue with us borrowing it for a few hours.

    The best producers are people that are proactive and get out there and network. However, there is no harm in putting your feelers out there to try and find out what resources are available. Believe me, I went to a different film school and can guarantee that people were sending similar messages along.

    If you are so frustrated with the emails you are getting, create a Q&A that answers what services you can provide and what realistic expectations are. Being a student filmmaker or low budget filmmaker is difficult and not every student that comes through the academy ends up being good at every craft involved in filmmaking. However, we have some incredible alumni who are doing amazing work in the industry.

    • “If you are so frustrated with the emails you are getting, create a Q&A that answers what services you can provide and what realistic expectations are.”

      But I ask again: why do I have to educate your students??? This is your job!!

      As I said before, I have no problem helping out when I can, but the sheer amount of emails suggest a significant portion of your student body is floundering when it comes to some very basics of filmmaking. Of course you can acquire locations for free, and of course sending out feelers is important, but the emails I receive might as well be text book examples of how not to do it. And this is what they should be learning from you.

    • This is an amazing response. Scout’s time is valuable too, you know. Just because they share their work with us on this site doesn’t mean they want to go above and beyond for the NYFA’s student population for free.

  19. This building used to host Tammamy hall, a bastion of incompetence back then. I am pleased to see that some things in New York haven’t changed.

  20. I attended NYFA’s screenwriting program a few years back. I have no complaints about what I learned about screenwriting and storytelling in general. I feel like it was a valuable experience. I fall under the umbrella of students attending NYFA who had an undergrad and a previous career and I was looking for a new path. I moved to New York from elsewhere in the U.S. Most of my fellow students were from outside the U.S.

    I don’t agree with Joi’s suggestion that being from a foreign country is an excuse for unreasonable expectations in location choice. We only had a single quarter series of classes for a short film project in the screenwriting program but our projects had to be approved by our instructor. As I recall, that was a requirement for all student projects. I also distinctly recall that our instructor who was supervising our project made a point of asking about our locations to make sure we knew where we were planning to shoot.

    So, if these students contacting you have these kinds of expectations, I would absolutely put it on the shoulders of their instructor for not setting reasonable expectations and providing sufficient guidance.

    NYFA was great for fostering creativity in students and providing a lot of artistic encouragement, but I think it fails some students when it comes to the business of filmmaking. From what I saw producing students get a very solid education in business but everyone else is pretty much left with a basic course (at most) to help them to find their way in the industry.

    Students are given a lot of information and guidance in their specialty area but the practical aspects of the industry, or at least their particular area of the industry, tend to get very little attention. That was what I saw and was my experience, anyway. I think it’s a failing of the school. Since graduating I’ve had really mixed feelings about the school. As I said, I learned a lot but I also think that there was valuable information about filmmaking as an industry and as a business that isn’t addressed as well as it should be.

  21. Wait. Why would anyone pay $20k for a film school with no stages to shoot on, and gives you next-to-none of that money to use as a budget for your thesis film?

  22. I realize that you just said that this is the job of NYFA, but as someone who is not in the film industry I’d be interested in knowing how you go about getting permission to shoot at a location. Also, what factors you take into consideration when looking at a site in terms of required space, difficulty in getting actors, props and equipment in and out, who you have to go to in order to film in public space, and so on. You often give us an insider’s view of film, and it’s fascinating, so I’d like to learn a little bit more of the inside of things.

    And just think! Next time you get a request from a student you can refer them to the post.

  23. People don’t seem realize how much time and effort is spent just looking for places to film/photograph, how you spend years living here in the City searching for these places. I receive questions from time to on my much smaller scale website asking for places to shoot, locations to get a specific shot or the “best place to shoot in the City”. I’ve spent seven years living and working here, crawling around neighborhoods, digging through the brambles of the parts, trying to find interesting and unique places to photograph, and I do it for fun not pay. I want to help folks when the ask, but part of me wants to say “move, do your research, live here, get to know it, then you will find them too!” There is a lifetime of things to experience here, no one can distill it down to a quick “go there, talk to Eddie, tell him I sent you!” I can only imagine how hard it is for you!

  24. Its one thing to have a name for yourself, like the New York Film Academy does its a whole other thing to live up to that name and it seems here they are not. I’m starting a BFA (specializing in film) at Canterbury University in New Zealand this year and one of the reasons I was so keen to go their was because of its location. As a result of the earthquakes there’s going to be a lot of rundown, abandoned, ruined buildings that I can take advantage of while I’m there for the genre of film I prefer to shoot. The fine arts school also has a studio that can be used to create sets. Before I even start thinking about the plot of a film I take into consideration all the locations, props, actors, resources available to me. The fact that these students clearly are not doing that shows a flaw in the NYFA curriculum. I think its really unfortunate for the students that they haven’t learned that although your creativity can exceed all boundaries you must still work within some, thats just how it is and thats not going to change.

  25. As a former New Yorker, I am grateful that Scout shares his hard work with the world via his web site. To the students, Scout does not work for you. Period, end of story. To Scout, can you simply ignore request for locations and not post them? Since we do not know the character of these students, we cannot assume that they reflect the standards of the school. Some college students plagiarize term papers others ask you to do their scouting. To the faculty of the film school: Scout does not work for you either. You do not dictate the design of his site (i.e. make a FAQ). FAQ’s take time and time is money. YOU tell your students if you want them to know something.

  26. So damn sad, if I don’t get a chance to shoot because of tight budget and unavailable locations, how will I ever know whether I am good at shooting or not? Is NYFA worth the money? My answer is NO.

  27. First, I beleive Scout’s points (and frustration) to be very relevant. That said, I attained a masters’s in fillmmaking at NYFA. Having first hand exposure, the problem is not their curiculum. The importance of locations, location scouting, budgeting, insurance, etc. is thoroughly covered. However, the problem lies in their admission’s standards! A majority of their students are foreign (barely speak english), but most importantly all seem to come from very “well off” backgrounds. They are used to getting whatever, whenever they want (from mommy,daddy, whoever) and no exposure to discipline, respect, focus, punctuality, deadlines, etc. Most of the students I encountered there couldn’t make it doing ANYTHING, let alone the rigours, challenges, planning, and foresight to accomplish completing a mediocre student film. BUT to defend the curiculum, and the school itself, NYFA gives you everything you need to be on your way as a filmmaker, most of the teachers there are excellent. As far as is NYFA worth it? It is what you make of it and how hard you work. I ersonally found NYFA very much worth the money (regardless of the abyss of debt I am in). It helped me develope an number of projects, further my craft of directing holistcally, and provided numerous networking opportunities which has payed off dividends.

  28. Locations on my last project at NYFA included Paramount Ranch, Sherayko Ranch, Mentryville Historical Park, and Central City Studios… and they were not for free, insured above and beyond what the school covered, and scouted thoroughly months before production.

  29. Stumbled on your fantastic site today, and wanted to weigh in on locations. Most of the students who write to you probably don’t know the definition of “chutzpah” – but asking you for free help, someone with your expertise, who is a stranger to them, is outrageous. If the teachers at their schools aren’t teaching about locations starting on Day 1, and hammering that home until the final day, they’re not doing their job. I’ve had three short films that have done well in the festival circuit over the last few years – and the FIRST question I’ve asked myself BEFORE writing was: what locations can I use for FREE. That helped me shape the script throughout, and in many ways improved what I was doing because this was part of the process from inception to execution. Love your site; love the pictures; love the stories. Keep it up. I’m now a loyal fan. -paul

  30. hello there. i would like to have acting lessons for film or tv. i am from europe, greece. i am between two acting schools. nyfa and tvi actor studios. what is your opinion?

  31. Hi Scout,

    Thanks for posting this. I’m currently working as a producer in Australia and looking to branch out the the US. I was considering attending the 4 week NYFA course while i’m over there to become acquainted with the location and some local film contacts. I figure paying $3000 for access to film equipment alone for the duration of my stay would be worthwhile. Do you know of any other courses in NYC that use film as opposed to digital as a medium that are perhaps run by film industry professionals? Nothing frustrates me more than full time academics running film courses.

    Thanks very much for your help in advance


  32. Wow, the lack of ingenuity is sad. 90% of these people could probably make a simple trade/barter with a building owner if they just used some creative thinking and a little negotiating.

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  34. As a student at a different NYC film school, I can attest that hundreds of good locations in this city have been burned/ruined for student filmmakers because the owners were pissed off by NYFA students who don’t know how to treat a location. In my school’s producing classes, it’s strongly emphasized exactly how much of an onus is on the filmmakers to leave locations in the condition we found them in — I even spent seven hours helping the art department on a shoot restore a beautiful DItmas Park home to the state of grotesque compulsive hoarding we found it in after a shoot.

    It’s a serious problem in this city — there are only so many good locations, and it sucks to not have access to them because some know-nothing NYFA PA ruined a location’s paint job by hanging up duvetyne with duct tape (true story).

  35. Hi am an international student. from india..
    and i saw convert your i-20 to nyfa.( what do it meant)(any additinal benefits )
    Pls neeed a reeply

  36. Hello guys,
    I just graduated and was lookign forward to do my MFA in producing from NYFA?? GOOD idea?
    After reading this I have gotten into a dilemma and since I’m on the other side of the globe here in
    INDIA. Could you suggest me other alternatives? I mean, other universities that give you a good
    MFA education in NYC ? Please do reply as it is extremely difficult to scout for universities from out here.
    It can be universities from other parts of the US as well. Thanks in advance!!

  37. Christopher Edwards


    I noticed that you are taking donations in order to create a movie. Are you looking for actors too?