Monday, April 2, 2012

Film schools finally join the digital era... but why wait for them?

This is my 700th post today, and I wanted to say something more significant.  As it turns out, I'm probably going to get off on a bit of a ramble, but I saw a story that weekend that sparked  a lot of thoughts.

I graduated college about ten years ago, and I was remarking recently to another graduate of that era that most of the technical aspects of my film education are now remarkably outdated.  To put it in perspective, most of my film projects were shot on 16mm film using Arri and Bolex cameras.  Fortunately I made two digital short films during my senior year, which gave me experience with the Canon XL-1 and Final Cut Pro, but we were just at the start of the digital revolution.

On one hand, I have to respect my professors' insistence on really pushing us to tell stories with our short films, to not let them become little more than sketches.  But looking back with the perspective of the last ten years, it's hard to deny that the rise of YouTube has certainly benefited the kinds of short filmmakers who have been good at creating short, flashy and vivid entertainment.  The kind of stuff that rises to the top at Funny or Die or that goes viral on YouTube is also the sorts of things that would have been dismissed in most of my film classes.  And yet... that material is also often what gets young filmmakers noticed.

The Wrap had a recent article that highlighted how some schools are finally adjusting to the new climate.  In part they say:

“Twenty years ago, people went to film school to become the best filmmaker they could become so they could go out and make films,” said Bob Bassett, dean of Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, told TheWrap. “Today, they have to be much more calculating about developing their skills, because those skills are what lead to paying jobs.”

In all cases, there is an increased emphasis on crafting films that can be viewed on YouTube, Funny or Die, or other digital platforms.

“It’s not just learning to work on a mini-budget or simply recycling a television episode and putting it on the web,” Paul Schneider, chair of Boston University’s film and television department, told TheWrap. "It has to be content that really is outside the box."

Both BU and Chapman University, for instance, now routinely encourage students to create shorter and more interactive film projects.

 It's great to see film schools really step up and join the 21st Century.  I get the sense I have a fair amount of readers in college, and perhaps even some in high school.  I have to say that I really envy you guys.  I've talked before about how I was the executive producer on a student-run TV series in college.  In those days, no one had Final Cut Pro on their personal systems, and the idea that someone's cell phone would be able to shoot high-definition video was an impossible dream.

There is so much opportunity for those of you even if your film schools are still teaching hot splices and reversal film.  Those of you who are nearing high school graduation there is no better graduation gift you can ask for than a MacBook with Final Cut Pro.  Shoot footage on your cell phone if you have to, but start turning out product. 

You'll pick up the process of storytelling by doing, and by forcing yourself to chisel coherence out of your own raw footage.  There were some night in college where my friends and I would grab a high-8 camera and just start shooting little sketches in the bowels of the library, making the script up as we went.  A lot of times, we came back with some silly pieces, but that trial and error helped us figure out the kind of concepts that worked and what didn't worked.

Telling a story in a short film is incredibly different from telling it over a 100 pages in a screenplay.  I'm going to start highlighting some examples of good short films over the next few months because if this blog is at least going to address ways to break it, it's hard to overlook the value of short content as a showcase for storytelling talent.

I learned a lot in my film classes and I'm a big proponent of education.  But if film school isn't an option for you, I see no reason that you shouldn't get a laptop, get Final Cut and start shooting.  Even if you think you just want to be a writer, you'll learn so much from the process of translating your script to the screen. 


  1. 700 posts in one day! You are amazing! (couldn't resist)

    Out of all the different ways people evaluate talent, content is king. Whether by writing, performing, photography, filming or whatever the skill may be, people who can consistently produce quality content are the people who get the opportunity and are in demand.

  2. Really great post. I graduated from college 5 years ago and I did learn final cut, among other programs but I also had to use traditional cameras and cut and splice actual film. Even though editing real film is annoying as hell, I feel like that knowledge def transfers to the digital medium. Whenever I edit anything on the computer, I feel like I'm cutting actual film except it's a lot easier and more convenient. I just view it differently I guess because I have that background. I think learning how film is cut by hand is still important to some degree.

  3. I was in film school about 10 years ago as well (where does the time go!?) and initially learned on 16mm, but my school switched over completely to digital my sophomore year. My best times were on the weekends when my friends and I took my brand new MiniDV camera and made up shorts on the spot.

    But like the post above I am glad I learned to edit actual film because it really allows me to cut and edit with precision because I HATED splicing back cut footage. Great post.