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February 17, 2017

How to get your face onscreen

The Prague Film School offers intensive, comprehensive training for aspiring film, TV actors

Located in a nearly 1,000-year-old building on Pštrossova Street in Prague’s New Town, the Prague Film School (PFS) prides itself on being a hands-on institution that attracts a wide array of quality teachers from the film industry to instruct its 60-odd students in the craft of filmmaking and film acting.

This international school, which brings in students from some 40 countries, has been operating in Prague for more than ten years and is the brainchild of co-founders and ‑directors Tariq Hager and Tomas Krasauskas. They founded PFS after collaborating with Sony on an educational summer program and recognizing the interest of international students to learn the skills of filmmaking at an institution that would be almost entirely praxis-oriented and cost far less than similar schools in the United States.

But studies at PFS are not limited to enhancing the students’ expertise behind the camera: Besides the programs in fiction and documentary filmmaking, the school also offers an intensive acting program, headed up by Nancy Bishop.

Bishop, who has been at the school for about five years, told the Prague Post, “It is full-on, like theater boot camp.” While part of the training can be called classical, with a focus on movement (including yoga, the Alexander technique and stage combat) and voice just as there would be at a drama school primarily interested in stage performance, the course is designed with acting for film or television in mind. Bishop says PFS is one of the rare schools in Europe that are focused on training students to perform in front of a camera rather than onstage.

As part of their schooling, the actors also work on many of the 200 films that are being produced by the filmmaking students every year.

“At a regular acting conservatory, you’d be doing plays all the time,” Bishop says. “At our school, they are doing films all the time, so they are calibrating their performance for the camera, and they have a lot of practice with that.”

The actors also get some training in basic filmmaking skills, including directing, screenwriting and editing, so they are fully equipped to enter and feel at home in the film industry after they graduate. Just like the filmmaking program, which has recently attracted individuals like the renowned Czech director Jiří Menzel, the acting program also draws on the experience of professionals in the industry.

Bishop, a casting director and acting coach by profession, recently brought in Luci Lennox, who worked on the crew of Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and Los Angeles–based managing agent Derek Power, who also represents composer Michael Nyman and Czech actor-director Jiří Mádl, to give advice and introduce the actors to different aspects of the industry.

Professionals from theater institutions in the capital, including Prague Shakespeare Company’s Guy Roberts and Prague Playhouse’s Brian Caspe, as well as teachers from Prague’s Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts (DAMU), are also involved in many of the courses taught at PFS, and Bishop says the staff’s diverse backgrounds ensure the students get the best possible training.

“We [wouldn’t] want an amateur teaching them stage combat!” she says with a laugh.

The acting classes usually have around ten students, and the rigorous training may not be for everyone: Besides the performance side of their studies, the actors also take two electives with the filmmaking students, and Hager says the “Directing actors” module is particularly attractive, for obvious reasons.

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