Miércoles 21 de Marzo de 2007, Ip nº 184

Where’d You Go to Film School? In My Bedroom
Por Justin Peters

WHEN David Basulto decided to become a movie producer, the first thing he did was enroll in a class at a film school in Los Angeles. The second thing he did was drop out.

“I absolutely didn’t learn a damn thing from the course I took, so I went out and bought a couple of books,” Mr. Basulto said. Home-schooling worked where the classroom failed. After 45 days Mr. Basulto, who is 41, had raised enough money to produce his first feature, “18 Shades of Dust,” directed by Danny Aiello III, and had written off the traditional filmmaking education process for good.

Film schools “teach you a lot of theory, teach you to shoot on old, archaic systems,” he said. “They’re not cutting edge.”

The systems used at, say, the University of Southern California’s Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts are anything but archaic. But Mr. Basulto’s point is worth noting in the era of miniDV digital video cameras, Final Cut Pro editing systems and YouTube auteurs with development deals. Thousands of new filmmakers are just diving in, many with the help of instructional products claiming to provide low-cost, high-impact alternatives to film school.

Sold on DVDs and CDs, with names like “Film School in a Box” and “Make Your Own Damn Movie,” these programs, often conceived by people with no formal film training of their own, offer surprisingly detailed tutorials on a variety of film-related topics: blocking, editing, even fund-raising and distribution. Priced roughly from $50 to $500, they can instill confidence without the bother of hundreds of thousands of dollars of a formal education.

Whether they can really teach how to make a good movie remains open to debate.

“You’re talking about an education process that takes the teacher out of the process,” said Michael Taylor, chairman of the film and television department at the U.S.C. School of Cinematic Arts.

“I think you do learn by doing, and we teach by doing in our film school,” Mr. Taylor added, “except it’s guided by a faculty who sort of know what they’re doing.”

Still, some established film schools have welcomed these programs as supplements to their existing coursework. “I think that the DVDs are great support materials,” said Paula Froehle, associate chairwoman of “below the line” curriculum — technical skills like lighting and editing — at the film department at Columbia College in Chicago. “Certainly there are times that I reference them, because I think they can function as a more dynamic textbook than a lot of the written material that’s out there.”

Virtually all the available filmmaking software rejects traditional, theory-based education, offering instead what purport to be practical crash courses in how to make a cheap but professional-quality movie. “Film School in a Box,” a video editing program, for instance, offers its users 15 hours’ worth of unedited footage from “The Confession,” a suspense drama that was shot in one take from 11 different cameras. Using the completed film as a point of comparison, users can construct their own version.

“Let them learn to edit movies, not old TV,” said David Kebo, the program’s co-creator and co-director of “The Confession.” He means that literally: Mr. Kebo tells of working on another feature, “Mojave,” with an editor whose film-school training in the 1990s began with recutting old episodes of “Gunsmoke.”

Other programs derive from a sense that existing instructional materials are incomplete. When the director Per Holmes, for instance, decided to shift from nonlinear music videos to traditional narrative films a few years back, he ran through the existing literature in two weeks. Unfulfilled, he decided to create his own master class. The result was a comprehensive instructional DVD set called “Hollywood Camera Work,” which teaches advanced blocking and staging techniques. The course resulted from a “tremendous amount of watching, pondering and systematizing,” Mr. Holmes said.

Offhand dismissiveness of traditional education is an article of faith among the makers of such software. “You have the people who come out of the other end, and they don’t know anything, and they’re not ready to make movies,” said Mr. Holmes, who said he would rather not bash film schools, many of which use his product.

To Jason J. Tomaric, 30, a film director and creator of a DVD course called “The Ultimate Filmmaking Kit,” “the big problem I’ve seen in film schools is that you’re taught by academics who have never made a movie before, let alone had one distributed.”

Mr. Tomaric’s DVD, like most of its competition, claims to offer hard-won lessons from the trenches of independent film — in this case from his production of a feature film called “Time and Again,” which cost $2,000 to make and was released in 2003. “We actually did it,” he said. “We made a movie that got distributed and made a profit.” Not surprisingly, the distrust runs both ways. Many educators say that a few hundred dollars’ worth of software cannot replace years of study, never mind the network of industry connections that often pave the way from school to a first job in the industry. “Asking what role does the film school play is like saying what role does the liberal arts college play if one has access to an encyclopedia?” Mr. Taylor said. “The idea that you can do it yourself is, I think, rather ridiculous.”

Tom Denove, vice chairman for production in the film, television and digital media department of the film school at the University of California, Los Angeles, contended that educational software often misses the real point of making a film: the inherent power of a narrative. “What’s lacking in so many films from people without a film-school education isn’t the technical expertise,” he argued. “It’s the ability to turn that expertise into a compelling story.”

Even so, democratization appears to be an irreversible trend in cinema. The thousands of movies each year now submitted to festivals around the world are testimony to a guerilla mentality that says no one needs official permission to make a film; and the advocates of teaching software often see themselves not so much training, but liberating new filmmakers.

“We try to inspire people to understand that they do not just have to work for Paramount or Sony — that does not necessarily validate their lives,” said Lloyd Kaufman, the longtime president of Troma Entertainment, whose book-and-DVD combination program, “Make Your Own Damn Movie,” offers lessons on everything from script conferences to presentations to potential investors to creating inexpensive yet realistic special effects.

As Mr. Kaufman sees it, those who want to make a movie should, and avoid the studio system entirely: “They don’t have to pitch movies to 23-year-old idiots who have never heard of John Ford or Charlie Chaplin.”


  11/02/2007. The New York Times.