Laura Soloff has more than 25 years of experience in career-focused education and human resources management. She earned her Bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She is actively involved in educational and community initiatives and serves on the Board of Directors of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce and formerly served as past President of the California Academic Decathlon Board of Directors.
Laura currently presides as President of The Art Institute of California—Los Angeles, one of The Art Institutes, a system of over 40 education institutions located throughout North America, since February 2003. She served as President of the Orange County campus in July 2000 and as a regional vice president for Education Management, a parent company of The Art Institutes.
Prior to working for The Art Institutes, Laura served as Director of Human Resources and Administration at Sony Pictures Entertainment in Culver City, California and was an integral part of Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandizing (FIDM) serving as Director of Career Planning and Placement, Campus Director, Regional Director and Director of Student Financial Services.
Bijan Tehrani: Please tell us about this school and its growth over this past decade
Laura Soloff: Well we have been in this location for over ten years. The Art Institute has been in existence for over forty-five years. This is our first campus here in Southern California, and the growth has been phenomenal. We started out with several small programs, and it has blossomed into close to 2,000 students this year. One of our premier programs is Digital Filmmaking and Video Production, among others. We’re just in a terrific location here in Los Angeles to get the best faculty. People come and go from the industry and they bring fresh approaches and give the students opportunities to get real world experiences.
BT: Has the Digital Filmmaking and Video Production program been welcomed by the students? Has it been a good experience?
LS: Yes. It took a little while to grow the program and to get it going. But under David Schreiber’s direction, the core of the program is story telling, and we have a wonderfully diverse student body with many stories to tell. They draw on their life experiences. It has become a fairly well known program here in Los Angeles. It is one of the premiere film programs in The Art Institutes, and I think it is the only one that teaches in this particular focus in Southern California.
BT: How do you see the future of this program? Do you think it will continue to get more attention, and more students? Is there a degree given for this program?
LS: Yes. We are currently awarding an Associates of Science in Video Production, and a Bachelor of Science in Digital Filmmaking and Video Production, which is a broader scope program. But we are following the trends of the industry. With our program advisory committee that meets twice a year, our goal is to keep up with the industry, the different trends and different kinds of cameras and delivery systems, so we listen to our industry folks who tell us which direction to go. So far we seem to be able to maintain an edge and give the industry what they need.
BT: The students who really like the program seem to say that more than any other school that is teaching film, they feel that this is more of a hands-on program. It lets the students start to do things themselves.
LS: What is different in our program is that from day one the students actually have a camera in their hands. They begin to experience what it is like to be in a production environment through their classes, through learning teamwork, and through learning the different positions in a production. It starts from day one, and I think that’s what sets us apart from some of the other film schools.
BT: Many film schools have strict requirements for students to get in. I am not sure how this is helping students who may have talent but do not have something already produced to show the school in order to get accepted.
LS: We don’t require a portfolio on the way in. People are not finished artists when they come to college. But on the way out they cannot graduate without a real portfolio. We see students who have a long-standing interest in these fields, who have had some experience in high school. They demonstrate the passion and drive for this, and what they put into it is what they get out of it. We have had some extraordinary results. We have had students who have won various awards. But you can’t really know who is going to be a finished product and who is going to be that next great filmmaker, because it is such an unusual path to take in your career.
BT: Do you think that your kind of program helps students who may not really know what skills they have as a filmmaker to discover what kind of talent they have?
LS: I think in general college helps students find out what their strengths and areas of interest are, and they head in that direction. I think this is a broad enough program that gives them exposure, so that when they get to graduation they can focus on direction, whether it be directing or writing. But we also suggest that they take the broadest approach to this so that they have a number of opportunities for entry into the field, and they can learn to language of the business, they can network. It really is a broad based generalist approach, but most of them figure out what their strength is as they begin to get ready to graduate.
BT: Do you have students that are coming from many different countries and cultural backgrounds?
LS: We have quite a diverse population here. About five percent of our student population comes from foreign countries; they are here on student visas. I think the breadth of experience comes from the wonderful diversity from our students, which is something you get in a place like Los Angeles.
BT: Filmmaking today is a combination of different kinds of styles. A filmmaker may use a lot of animation, or may use special effects. Are these techniques taught at the school?
LS: Among the other programs, yes, we certainly teach media arts and animation, visual effects, motion graphics, and graphic design. The students begin to collaborate together. We teach audio production, and the film student’s team up with the audio students to get their sound, or they find a student who understands flash better than they do. There really is quite a synergy here at the school, where student’s work in a cross-curricular manner on projects together.
BT: There is talk about the future of cinema and video games blending together. Is game development something that is taught at the school?
LS: Absolutely. We have a wonderful program on game art and design, and we just started a new program on game programming. The students are in a simulated environment that mirrors the game industry, and they work on projects together. It is just such a real world experience here for them. All of them blend together and they all help each other. They become each other’s colleagues in the industry when they graduate.
BT: How do you see the future of the school?
LS: Future growth has to do with new programs, and we are hoping that our game program adds students and takes off. It would be a nice balance for the game design program. We watch the trends in the industry, and our goal is to grow where the labor needs are.