All hands-on set

Industry partnerships help film schools shift learning from the classroom to the soundstage

Film and video producer Oualid Mouaness took a leap of faith when he hired fellow Florida State U. film grad Marc Carlini straight out of school after seeing one of his projects.

Carlini’s first job for Mouaness was to edit the musicvideo of singer Gavin DeGraw’s “We Belong Together,” which appears on the “Tristan & Isolde” DVD.

“A lot of people were really surprised at the risk I took with him,” Mouaness says of Carlini. “He was right out of school, and I got him to do what it would take most people three or four years to do.”

FSU has one of the few film programs that give students a leg up in the industry by paying all production costs on student projects. Students typically leave the program with a number of projects for their demo reel.

“More and more film schools are a breeding ground for talent, and every year there’s a feature deal for someone right out of school,” says Frank Patterson, dean of the College of Motion Picture, Television & Recording Arts at FSU. The school is in the pre-planning phase on launching a separate for-profit distribution company called Torchlight Pictures, so students can learn that part of the process as well.

North Carolina School for the Arts also picks up the tab for student productions. With a reel to show for what they’ve done, graduates have gone on to work on shows at ABC and Showtime and on films such as “The Polar Express” and “The Incredibles.”

“We have three soundstages, generators, grip trucks, camera trucks,” says interim dean David Elkins. “Not a lot of film schools have that.”

Other schools have hatched plans that allow students to work on professional productions.

A few years ago, Thomas Schatz, executive director of the U. of Texas Film Institute, along with some colleagues, came up with the idea to form a production company with private capital, Burnt Orange Prods., and create an opportunity for the students to work side-by-side with people in the industry.

“There was a frustration in terms of preparing kids for the industry,” he says. “They didn’t know squat going into it and had to be retrained. This is a way of giving them the experience they need.”

The first Burnt Orange production, “The Quiet,” was directed by Jamie Babbit (“But I’m a Cheerleader”) and released theatrically in August by Sony Pictures Classics. Beyond the crew heads and some key support staff, most of the positions were filled by UT students.

Chris Stull, an art director on two more Burnt Orange films that are in post, “Homo Erectus” and “Elvis and Anabelle,” worked alongside a number of UT students. “They’re not fetching the mail or getting coffee; they’re being asked to be assistant propmasters, set designers and other things,” he says.

Stull’s already seen some graduates land jobs in Austin on the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino film “Grind House.”

Boston U.’s Dept. of Film & Television is bringing Hollywood to its program by partnering with MTV’s college network, mtvU, to produce original TV pilots written and made by BU students.

Their first pilot, “Roller Palace,” was funded by MSN Messenger and shown on mtvU. Charles Merzbacher, the film school’s chair, says they plan to produce one a year.

“I think it’s important as a university to take creative capital and tie it to the outside world,” he added. “Science programs have been doing it for years.”

With their experience in hand, BU students have a virtual cabal of alums ready and willing to help them out when they land in Tinseltown, including Jay Roewe, senior VP of production at HBO; Sabrina Wind, producer of “Desperate Housewives”; and Eric Paquette, senior VP of production at Screen Gems.

“Getting your foot in the door is one of the more difficult things to do, and we have all been there,” Paquette says.

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