If you stop any student on the Ryerson campus and ask them how they’re doing financially, their response will probably range from “broke” to “really broke.”
It’s no secret that university students are short on cash. Tuition fees are hard enough to pay on time, but students in the Radio Television Arts (RTA) program face additional costs in order to finish their degrees.
Fees for full-time undergraduate students at Ryerson can range from $7,300 to $11,700. On top of that, RTA students are forking out thousands of dollars in their final year of university to complete a semester-long practicum project. The assignment is crafted by each group and varies in the required technology and budget. Short films, documentaries and web series are among the most common undertakings.
Students typically have a budget ranging from $5,000 to $10,000. To get that money, they turn to crowdfunding, though most students pay at least $500 out of pocket regardless. Friends and family become the main source of income for practicum projects, with group members exchanging services like credits in the movie, free headshots and resume designs to thank those who donate.
Cara Pomanti is the producer of a five-episode comedic, reality web series called Hobbyists. The project is still in the production stages, but according to Pomanti, compromises have been made while shooting in order to stay within their $7,000 budget. She also said that when she started her first year at Ryerson, she had no idea about the additional expenses she would incur because of the practicum project.
“I knew that there was a big assignment at the end of the course that we would have to make, but I thought that we had a lot more help in terms of the grants we could apply to or opportunity for funding,” said Pomanti.
Not many Toronto film grants are available for students. Even when they are, there isn’t enough time left for students to apply since projects need to be approved before funding can be gathered.
Ellis Poleyko is the producer and co-writer of a fictional indie short called Foxy. It’s about a girl who faces the daily struggle of having alopecia, a type of hair loss that occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks hair follicles. The passion project is a big undertaking with a budget of $10,000. Yet, the group has struggled to raise even half of their goal, even with the help of 43 backers on Indiegogo.
Poleyko said that some other groups met their goal almost immediately because they come from higher-income families. She said that it not only makes it easier for them to create something of better quality, but it also takes away some of the stress of working on the assignment.
“Even if people care about your project and are interested, they can’t always support you [financially],” said Poleyko. “I haven’t been able to work at all this semester because I am so busy with this project, so it makes it that much harder to pay for everything.”
RTA professor and practicum advisor Richard Grunberg said that although it is expensive, Ryerson tries to help keep the cost as low as possible for students by giving free access to expensive equipment, providing development funds and slicing down the cost of insurance from $2,000 to $15.
Grunberg said Ryerson also connects students with Casting Workbook, a casting agency, so that they can bring in talented actors who have been on shows like Gotham, Saving Hope and ER.
“By bringing in these things to help the students out, I think that it helps to balance out the difference between those that don’t have so much money to put in,” said Grunberg. “They all get the same talent pool and equipment. It is all just their vision.”
Students like Pomanti feel that despite the high fees, it is a great experience for students to segue into the industry.
“We have just kind of been kicked out into the world and told to go make a project. Yes, it is a course, but it is a lot of trial and error and learning on our own,” said Pomanti. “It still feels weird because we are using a lot of the school’s resources, so I think, ‘How the heck would I have done this if I wasn’t in school?’ ”