Film School Opinions

I feel that shooting film and video are very complicated processes, evidenced by the enormous cost and large specialized crews engaged in feature film and TV production. Entering a professional movie or TV set is like entering a foreign country having no language or cultural skills and no map or guide. Both businesses have vocabularies of thousands of special terms, many having several different meanings. Every different job is filled with a trained specialist.

In the old days technicians were trained at the studios step by stop up the ladder to learn a specific skill. On the way they also learned set etiquette. Studio training programs are almost gone now and the success of a few of kid wonders has inspired a lot of want-to-be filmmakers.

Today's affordable digital cameras and editing systems make high quality images possible, but the complex skills of the trade don't come in the box with the camera. Without training the want-to-be director/cameraperson still shoots "home movies," because he is spending most of his consciousness on the content of his movie and not on image and sound quality. Rotating students through the different positions on film school projects will not train them for all the different skills and little of any one specific skill. Students have different temperaments and aptitudes. Some are technical and some more verbal, but are few are both or have time to excel in both.

So, what can a film school teach? They can teach writing, acting, directing, editing, and film appreciation. It is unrealistic for students to write, direct, produce, shoot and edit a project with only a few courses. Today's inexpensive camcorders are affordable tools that allow most of camera and sound skills to be learned without shooting expensive film, but on the negative side, "filmmaking" appears too easy.

Immersion in film projects taught by teachers with real world experience or professionals, who can teach, can teach some of the skills and the realities of the business. A full load of other courses like English 146-B to "round out" a student won't help learning useful industry skills other than writing and directing.

The skills that are hard to teach by text and classroom are camera, sound, gripping, gaffing, and production. There are a few good textbooks on some of these skills. Some books, written for engineers are not for the on-the-set technician.

To sum up, I feel that real world experience is best for the technical skills. Schools can provide a "taste" of the film and video business. But somehow a student must become proficient in one skill to have a chance in the business. There are few openings today, but hopefully more will be created in the future. Each class will have only a couple who will make it. Film school has to be tough to expose students to the realities of the business and eliminate those with an "island/beach" attitude.

© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.