Monday, February 18, 2008

What They Don’t Teach You At Film School

It seems that another element of my life is turning a full circle as I spend more time back in academia (I received my degrees in Radio, Film & TV and Educational Broadcasting over two decades ago when there were only a couple of practical film making degree courses in the UK).

I’m currently advising on the validation of new postgraduate courses in interactive media at Ravensbourne College, possibly the best known vocational TV institution in the UK, and last Friday it was back to school at Aberystwyth University, where the Welsh student film festival, Ffresh, was being held in the scenic Arts Centre, so I’ve been reflecting on what I know now and wish I’d known back then.

When I graduated there were the limited possibilities for a former film student of heading to London and becoming a runner in the film and TV industry (which is what I did), or becoming a trainee at the BBC. The prospect of being a film maker (ie Producer or Director) was twenty years away, by which time even the most fervent student film maker would have become institutionalised.

Today, that has changed - outlets abound. However, the dynamics of the industry have changed less. The need to market, attract audiences and pay your way are as important as ever, and instead of the BBC there’s Google’s YouTube now acting as the main gatekeeper. The marketing and business functions of film making are too often neglected in film school. One major thing that has never, and will never change from the time of the Lumiere brothers to the holographic cinemas of the future, is that you need to attract an audience.

Indeed, from freelance prop people to producers, an essential – and often neglected – skill is the ability to act as a businessperson. This has always seemed sadly lacking on the cirricula of film courses. As a result lawyers, Oxbridge PPE graduates and accountants get and retain the control.

TV2.0 is also a business. I’m sure a few very talented people will get snapped up and achieve fame and fortune thanks to the ready made outlets now available to them (much easier than dropping off showreels at production company and advertising agency offices as I had to do..), but the majority will have to fight harder than ever in an ever efficient and competitive marketplace.

The internet makes things easier and more difficult at once. It introduces the opportunity for efficient marketplaces, but efficient marketplaces can be brutal things.

All of this said, what was gratifying last week at Ffresh was seeing how enthusiastic employers – ie the production companies and broadcaster – were about the talent coming out of the increasing number of film schools in Wales and beyond. Production companies are waking up to the fact that low cost production is their future – with the danger that quantity will overtake quality. Frankly, they're also scared that by not harnessing this talent they will be compromising their own futures.

The old skills haven’t gone away and new skills, such as computer programming and graphic design, are more important than ever, but I can’t help feeling that the world for today’s graduating film student is more democratic, offering more possibilities to those with the drive and nous to make the industry work for them.

On balance, I have to admit that would rather be a film student today than back in the 80s.

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