Posts Tagged 'CILECT'

Any tech is only as good as the good it helps you do

The first day of global film school association CILECT’s conference on the challenge of digital is nearly over and is ending where cinema began – with the camera. Over the day we’ve heard from sound design, editing, producing and cinematography teachers on how digital technology has and hasn’t changed what they teach, what students learn and what students do. The eternal virtues of good storytelling, compelling images, sounds and montage have been in a dialogue with the exploration and resolution of unstable business models, fragmenting audiences, big data and audience interaction beyond the wildest imagination of Edison or Eisenstein. On the other hand many of the ‘new’ things are also reboots of early cinema, from the audience choice of peep show emporiums to the first crowd funded movie way back in 1938 ( see this post from 2012) and the early business model where film was rented by the foot. How to persuade people to risk their money on what can easily be an expensive hobby is an unchanging aspect of making films, whether its cast and crew deffering fees in the hope of being a ‘profit participant’ or the audience investing in a film before its made, technology cannot remove risk from the creative process even if it can make it easy to involve more people in the risky decisions.

Tomorrow it’s screenwriting, direction and production design’s turn. No doubt previsualisation, the virtualisation of design through cgi and many other aspects of the digital revolution in live action moviemaking will feature but sometimes it’s the simplest things which are the most eloquent – the cinematography tutor from a small Philippines film school who loves celluloid but loves the fact that shooting on a canon 5d DSLR means his students don’t need the expensive lots they don’t have to get rich images. “So if one of them wants to shoot in a prison isolation cell with a single actor, they can”.

Across the digital frontier in Buenos Aires

In a rather cool and wet Buenos Aires delegates representing film schools in 37 countries (or rather 38 counting Scotland separately from the rest of the UK) are preparing for three days of presentations, workshops and debate on “The impact of the digital age in the CILECT schools curricula”. Cilect is the global association of film and television schools, formed in 1955 at the height of the Cold War in the spirit of cross-border, cross-ideology cooperation. Some 58 years on its numbers have swelled to over 160 audiovisual educational institutions in over 60 countries from Australia to Argentina and Canada to Cameroon. Its various regional chapters including the European GEECT, are sizeable entities in their own right.

With a global congress focussing on broader strategic, funding and organisational issues every even numbered year, this ‘odd’ year’s conference is more concerned with practical matters. The topics to be covered include ‘Producing, commercialisation and distribution curricula: new formats’; ‘technological changes to the cinematography curriculum and ‘new strategies in teaching screenwriting and directing’. CILECT has been at the forefront of the changing film school curriculum, helping members to navigate innovations in camera, sound and postproduction technologies well before they entered the mainstream of education or indeed consumer consciousness. Amongst the pioneering initiatives it has sponsored is The Global Rivers Project which back in 2008 brought film schools in South America, Europe, Asia and the USA together ‘virtually’ to explore HD workflows in a collaborative documentary project using online collaboration to co-produce a truly global film.

Between the talk sessions there is the prize ceremony and this year, in an unexpected coup the UK’s National Film and Television School (yes they haven’t yet caught up with there being four nations, currently) will be picking up all three top prizes – something that has never happened before. Check in later this week for more.

Putting creative producers at the centre of the picture

Fifty odd delegates from thirty-six film schools in twenty countries are arriving in Edinburgh this evening for Producing Creative Producers – two days of discussion and debate about the training of creative producers, the much overlooked but absolutely essential catalysts (and often originators) of the film and television that reaches our screens.  Whereas the role and significance of writers and directors is accepted and fairly well understood, the people who are often the first to recognize the value of an idea, a story or a talent, rarely receive the attention or accolades afforded to the perceived authors of film.  Yet without a Puttnam, a Weinstein or a (Andrew) MacDonald many if not most of the best and most successful films simply wouldn’t have got made.

Regular visitor to Scotland Producer and co-founder (with Ken Loach) of Sixteen Films, Rebecca O’Brien will kick off proceedings with a keynote on ‘Producing in the 21st Century – challenges for producers and for film schools’, acknowledging that the producer’s role doesn’t stand still either and new business models, technologies and markets demand new approaches alongside the established.

For film industries like Scotland’s and for film schools everywhere the question of whether, and if so how best, creative producers can be nurtured, trained and supported is crucial to the future health of cinema and television whether your uppermost concern is cultural or commercial.  For the key skill of a creative producer is precisely that of navigating the line between creative risk and commercial savvy.

Launched in 2004 the first postgraduate programme at Screen Academy Scotland, our one-year MA Screen Project Development, was also the first in the UK to focus entirely on the creative and business skills producers need to take a good idea or an existing property (e.g. book) to the point where it is an irresistible screen proposal, capable of attracting finance and reaching an audience.  In a fairly radical move the programme set aside the no less important but still separate skills of line producing and production management.  Why?  Because no matter how many great line producers or production managers we have, it’s the number and the level of skill of the producers who put the scripts and talent together with the money which determines what gets made.  Many great ‘producers’ working in , for example, TV, couldn’t develop a script or pitch a project to a financier if their life depended on it.  Equally many creative and entrepreneurial  producers couldn’t manage a shoot if their life depended on it.  The important difference is that the latter (once they’ve raised the finance) can (budget permitting!)  hire the expertise of the former, but it doesn’t work the other way around.

So the question members of GEECT (the European chapter of global film schools association CILECT) will be pondering this week is how to cultivate the creative producer in a context where it’s very difficult to replicate the structures of the real world.  The missing elements range from the absence of a real financing/commissioning/distribution structure to the fact that to be effective a producer really needs to have significantly more experience than the writer or director for the latter to benefit from the former’s involvement in everything from script editing to casting.

For some people it’s not worth film schools even trying – on this account producers can only learn ‘on the job’ and film schools should stick to teaching the basics – like copyright and the rudiments of film financing and the hands-on skills of (line) production. For others the skills and insights needed to work with a writer, to frame a pitch or package story, talent and other elements can be taught, or at least learned through ‘as close as you can get’ simulations.  Some schools have gone the whole hog and spun out a production company of their own to provide real feature production opportunities, garnering finance from TV and other sources along the way.  Several schools have launched graduate development programmes like our own ENGAGE or the London Film School led Low Budget Film Forum .

These questions and models have prompted this week’s Producing Creative Producers symposium so we’ll return later in March with a report on just how creative the delegates got …

 

Do we still need film schools?

As Europe’s leaders scrabbled to save the Eurozone this week a fair slice of the world’s films schools were assembled in Prague “Exploring the Future of Film and Media Education”.  Fifty or so countries were represented at the annual conference of CILECT, which was founded in1955 by a generation of filmmakers and film educators still scarred by world war two and determined to ensure the burgeoning cold war did not cut off the international mobility and exchange of ideas that had been one collateral benefit of the global conflict.  Perhaps not surprisingly then ‘internationalisation’ remains high on their agenda.  The desire to ensure students and staff are exposed to different cultures, practices and experiences is a major part of CILECT’s raison d’etre and the focus of many of its more successful projects.  The world changes though and whereas in the past film educators may have worried more about their students lacking exposure to world cinema now they are equally concerned that immersion in a globalised media world comes with the price that students may struggle to offer the world something ‘distinctive’.  It is the same paradox that haunts global culture – the search for ‘difference’ promotes the creation of similarity.

Behind such concerns lies a deeper challenge to film schools – their very existence.  This fuelled the conference debate on the ‘fundamental values of films schools’. The growing popularity of the (very silly) idea that ‘all you need now to make a feature film is a camera and a laptop’ continues to sway even normally intelligent people and it has to be said that even film school staff can fall prey to technology fetishism.  The now very tired debate over ‘should we still be teaching using film as well as digital’ received yet another airing in Prague when the important question is not about the technology but about the methodology.  Film-making is about making creative choices within the means at your disposal – about what to film , where and when to film it, with whom, in what way, when to cut, when not to cut – in which what kind of technology to use is merely one choice.  Learning how to make those choices, experimenting, risking, failing, getting advice and feedback and learning from each other – these are the lessons learned in film school, not which buttons to press (though that is a necessary part of the process). With enough time, a manual and judicious use of Google  anyone can work out how to use a Digital SLR or an ARRI ALEXA. Using the same approach they are unlikely to have the same success casting two compatible actors, coaching believable performances or ensuring a team of five, ten or thirty pull together under pressure of time on a cold wet moor towards a common creative vision.  They are equally unlikely to be challenged about their values, forced out of their comfort zone or exposed to films they would never have chosen to watch themselves.

Yet given demand for places at film schools has by all accounts never been higher it may seem strange that such anxieties trouble at least some of the world’s film schools.  The explanation lies less in the attitude of young filmmakers, who still seem to appreciate what film school offers, but more in the attitude of public policy-makers who, swayed by the popular impression that ‘anyone can be a filmmaker now’, are questioning the value, and more specifically, the cost, of maintaining national film schools.  Those that are directly funded by culture or education ministries outside the university system feel exposed as ‘luxuries’ while those that are based within Universities are in some cases being pressured to drop their ‘small numbers, high quality’ approach to reduce costs.  The fashion for ‘teaching creative skills’ has overtaken ‘nurturing creative talent’ and engendered a ‘more=better’ approach by funding bodies. This, combined with the dead hand of educational homogenisation, is starting to squeeze the risk-taking out of film practice education in favour of a technocratic approach in which, it is presumed, armies of multi-skilled creative technicians will march into jobs in the expanding creative economy and save us from deindustrialisation.  There are good reasons to pursue aspects of this strategy in addition to what in music or drama is well understood as a ‘conservatoire’ approach,  But some countries have never even accepted that the centre of excellence idea might apply to more modern (albeit now a century old!) art forms such as cinema while in those that have, the pressure to conform to wider higher education norms and numbers is growing inexorably.

Here we should acknowledge a big caveat as what is described above is largely a European phenomenon.  The rest of the world is developing film schools fast and from Singapore to South Africa their growth is a symptom, perhaps, of the fact that with few exceptions a commercially and culturally successful film industry is rarely found without the influence of one or more film schools.  Europe’s film schools are increasingly partnering up with the rest of the world to promote international collaboration amongst both staff and students.  This year our own Screen Academy Scotland’s extension of its EU MEDIA funded ENGAGE programme to embrace participants from China and Canada is just one example with the EU’s MEDIA MUNDUS programme supporting several such projects.  As China, India and South Korea become global players in co-production and not just markets for Hollywood product, the opportunities for Europe’s new filmmakers to ‘think global, act local’ are expanding significantly and film schools are increasingly in the vanguard of brokering such relationships.  Whether they will be able to hold their end up, though, depends on their continuing to be valued as small-scale centres of excellence that  are an investment in long-term success and not short-term ‘outcomes’.


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