“When I meet other filmmakers and we talk,” says Film Connection grad Rob Chiola (Orlando, Florida), “you always come up with, ‘Where did you go to school?’ And they don’t believe that I went through a mentorship program…They’re like, ‘Wait, you learned all that in 9 months?…You only spent that much?…Where was this when I was going to school?’”

For Rob, externing at the Film Connection was much more than just a cheaper alternative to film school. Learning on-the-job actually enabled him to work full-time as a cinematographer, leaving his dead-end job behind.

“I’m always working; every day I’m working,” he says. “You know, I barely have time to sit…It’s really just like my life has done a complete 360. Lost like 85 pounds…I bought a house…”

When Rob says his life has turned around, he means it. He’d always been interested in film, but he remembers the point at which he decided to pursue it seriously as a career:

“I was working this dead-end job as a manager at a group home, and I pretty much reached my limit in that company,” he says. “And my girlfriend got pregnant, and I was like, ‘Oh man, we’re about to have a baby. I need to get a career going…I need to figure out what to do.’ So I was sort of researching some schools…I live 30 minutes from Full Sail, but the tuition is crazy…then your website came up, Film Connection.”

With a much more affordable tuition and the chance to learn on-the-job, Rob was hooked. He was placed in a production company near where he lived, Post FX Digital Studios , where he apprenticed with Film Connection mentor Dean Baker. From his first lesson at the studio, Rob was amazed at how quickly things progressed for him.

“The first day I was with Dean, he had me editing—the first day,” says Rob. “I didn’t know anything about anything, and I was working every day…After a couple months, he’d trust sending me out for shoots by myself.”

And that’s not all. The difference between on-the-job training and expensive film school really hit home for Dean when he found himself teaching Full Sail students how to work their gear!

“All these Full Sail students in their 3rd and 4th year, or even some graduates, would come in and hire Dean to teach them how to use their equipment,” he says. “And Dean would just say, ‘Rob’s going to teach you.’ These are kids going through college…at Full Sail, the place I couldn’t afford…What they didn’t learn going for a four-year degree, I’m teaching them 6 months into your program. I’m teaching them how to use their stuff.”

Things have continued to move upward from there. Through connections he made and the work experience he gained in the program, Rob now has a full-time workload as a cinematographer, between freelancing for his former mentor, an ongoing gig with Orlando Aerial and several other jobs along the way.

“I’ve never been turned down for a job,” he says. “I’ve never been in a situation where people have asked to see a degree. They just want to see work. ‘Send me over a sizzle reel. Send me over a demo reel.’… They never ask where I went to school or how I got educated.”

For Rob, the experience he gained at the Film Connection is invaluable. “I mean, the program is awesome,” he says. “I recommend it to everybody because these connections that I’ve made [are] going to be worth a thousand times the price for the tuition.”

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