David Azoulay • President of ESRA - École supérieure de réalisation audiovisuelle
“For nearly 50 years, our main mission has been to teach all of the theoretical and practical aspects of the audiovisual industry”
- Our conversation revolved around the school's primary teaching goals, its degree programmes and the different opportunities it offers to prospective students
We caught up with David Azoulay, president of ESRA (École supérieure de réalisation audiovisuelle). ESRA is the only private film school entitled by the French government to issue and deliver three-year bachelor and five-year Master's degrees. Based in Paris, ESRA has also had campuses in Nice since 1988, in Rennes since 1999 and in Brussels since 2015. The institution is part of both GEECT (European Grouping of Film and Television Schools) and CILECT (International Association of Film and Television Schools).
Cineuropa: How is ESRA structured? What is the school’s main teaching mission?
David Azoulay: For nearly 50 years, our main mission has been to teach all of the theoretical and practical aspects of the audiovisual industry. We started with teaching cinema back in 1972, and we now have three main departments. The first is our film and television school, ESRA; the second is ISTS, focusing on the industries of sound and music; and the third is ESRA Animation, a school for 3D animated films. Our pedagogical approach is based on giving students the opportunity to explore all of the aspects of and roles within their industry before choosing an elective in the third year. This versatility is very important. For example, at the end of the second year, an ESRA student must choose an elective between production, photography and lighting, editing and VFX, or one of the three directing electives: directing for film, directing for series, and TV broadcast, which includes the making of documentaries and TV shows. Speaking of said versatility, it's great to see that, for instance, a student in production may have worked during the first two years as a DoP, grip or camera operator. The same goes for ISTS students, who can choose as their electives music, live events, radio or even sound for image, where they can collaborate with ESRA students.
Do you teach in French only?
Last year, we opened an International Programme in Paris, which works exactly like the one provided by ESRA in French. The only difference is that it is taught fully in English. It's open to international students coming from all around the world. We're eager to develop it further!
What are your admission requirements?
We ask our applicants to have a high-school diploma or equivalent. Then they will do an entrance examination. Of course, we look at their educational background, but what we focus on is the candidate's personality. Applicants must take three exams. The first is a general-knowledge quiz. Next, there is an individual oral exam, where one of the teachers tries to assess the candidate's interests and potential. Here, the student's cover letter works as a supporting document. Finally, there is a collective exam; one of our teachers shows five students a film we selected, and we ask them to guess what will be happening throughout the rest of the movie. This test helps us to assess their interest in directing, screenwriting and mise-en-scène. It also allows us to evaluate how the students work in a team. And, most importantly, we try to detect your passion. If you decide to start a career in film, you must be excited about your work because that's what you'll probably end up doing for 30 or 40 years. So excitement and passion are essential!
Where are the campuses based?
Currently, we're in Paris, Nice, Rennes and Brussels – we opened the Belgian campus four years ago. We offer all our graduates the opportunity to take a fourth year – and that's totally optional – in New York. They can complete a one-year programme there. It's an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the American market. This programme is offered in partnership with Stonestreet Studios, a Manhattan-based acting school and a partner of NYU. Besides, we're also planning to launch a new course taught in English in Nice next year. Our Nice branch is part of the Université Côte d’Azur (UCA), and we'll also be adding a brand-new campus set to open in Cannes, in addition to the one already active in Nice.
Do you provide any scholarships?
As our degrees are recognised by the French government, students can apply for state scholarships, which can amount to up to several thousand euros each year [find out more here]. These funds are assigned on the basis of income. We also offer ESRA scholarships based on merit at the end of the academic year [find out more about the scholarships offered by the Paris campus here]. These work as waivers on the students' tuition fees. Students are eligible for both forms of support.
How are you adapting your teaching activities in the wake of the pandemic?
We've decided to teach all of the theoretical classes on Microsoft Teams, whilst we still have the right to keep doing the practical subjects and workshops in small, in-person groups.
Do you also offer short courses or master classes?
We regularly offer master classes taught by French filmmakers. Luckily, we managed to keep these events running last year. Some of our recent participants include Benoît Jacquot, Patrice Leconte, Jean-Paul Rappeneau, Claude Lelouch, Gérard Jugnot and producer François Kraus.
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