These 10 teachers stand at the head of the class
Whether representing the fundamentals of filmmaking or helping pioneer new fields,
these 10 teachers stand at the head of the class.
L.A. City College/Otis/USC
California-born Eddie Bledsoe began teaching fashion design “partly as a hobby, and it just grew from there,” and partly because of his own experiences as a design student.
“It took me forever to get through college, and I couldn’t relate to a lot of the instructors. When I finally found one that really helped me, I realized maybe I could do the same for other students,” says Bledsoe, who ran his own design firm in the ’80s and whose film credits include “No Easy Way.” “I wanted to demystify the whole process and share with my students all the information and secrets that teachers keep, as I don’t feel threatened by really talented, up-and-coming students. I’m happy to spill the beans.”
Bledsoe shares his experience by offering courses on costume, fashion and scenic design at a variety of L.A. schools, teaching the private school crowd at USC, art-inclined students at Otis and a mix at Los Angeles City College, including those who’ve always had an interest in design but decided to change careers to study it. “Each one’s individual, and they don’t learn at the same rate,” he says. “It’s very gratifying.”
— Iain Blair
Instructor, Center for Documentary Studies
If there is a school of North Carolina filmmaking, then native son Gary Hawkins is one of its deans. After teaching at the U. of North Carolina School of the Arts for nine years, Hawkins moved to Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies, where he’s been an instructor for seven. Hawkins, who won an Emmy for directing “The Rough South of Harry Crews,” estimates he’s taught more than 1,500 students in 20 years.
At UNCSA, his most prominent students included David Gordon Green, Paul Schneider, Jeff Nichols and Danny McBride. Green’s indie feature “George Washington” started as a Hawkins assignment. “It was a dreamy little 12-minute film for my directing class,” recalls Hawkins, who received a special thanks in the feature’s credits.
At Duke, Hawkins focuses on nonfiction and selects 12 undergraduates a class for semester-long seminars on documentary filmmaking.
“I’m looking for focus, maturity and enthusiasm,” Hawkins says of his students. “Everyone can figure out their subject; I’m just there to provide the elegant steps to get their film in the can.”
In addition to teaching, Hawkins also collaborates with students on projects. For his docu “In My Mind,” Hawkins’ intermediate documentary filmmaking students helped with the eight-camera shoot. The finished film premieres tonight at Duke’s Full Frame documentary film fest.
— Sandie Angulo Chen
NYU Game Center
As the co-founder and creative director of New York-based game developer Area/Code, Lantz takes a historical perspective on the evolution of videogames. “For a long time, people thought of them as a form of entertainment technology and a subtext of computer engineering,” he says.
But the NYU Game Center, which was established in 2008 and includes a handful of courses such as “Introduction to Game Design,” pushes an alternative view. “We want to say that games have this relationship to digital culture, but first and foremost, they’re a creative form,” says Lantz, a longtime teacher at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program and interim director of the Game Center.
Lantz hopes to expand the initiative into a two-year masters program in game development by the fall of 2011, while offering a minor for undergraduates. “We want students to think about why they’re making games and contributing to the field,” he says. “It’s not about training people to be cogs in a factory.”
— Eric Kohn
Brigham Young U.
Academic Program Director, Animation
Established in 2001, Brigham Young U.’s unique animation concentration spans four departments (theater arts, media arts, industrial design, computer science) and three colleges (Fine Arts and Communications, Engineering, Math and Physical Sciences), arming majors with more than one marketable industry skill.
Back in program planning stages, animation program director Kelly Loosli and other founding faculty asked Pixar president Ed Catmull, “How can we best fill an industry void?” Catmull, a U. of Utah alum, recommended BYU aim to mold multi-tasking technical directors, blending liberal-art smarts with in-depth tech know-how.
“(We’re training) somebody who can do the art, but also write a little bit of coding or use the software in a way that an artist doesn’t necessarily use it,” explains Loosli, a 1994 grad who worked at DreamWorks and Disney before returning to teach at BYU in 2000. “In art school, it would be all art; at Carnegie Mellon or MIT’s grad programs, they are very technical and scientific, but the visuals are horrible.”
In the last six years, students have snagged nine College Television Awards and four Student Academy Awards — last year, animated shorts “Kites” and “Pajama Gladiator” each won both. Glenn Harmon, who directed “Pajama Gladiator,” now works as a Sony storyboard artist; his producer Ben Porter landed a tech post at Pixar.
— Betsy Boyd
Film scoring program
When film and TV composer Hummie Mann relocated to Seattle in the mid-’90s, he sought to become a part of the community. So, with a decade of experience under his belt — including numerous feature scores and two Emmys for his TV music — he decided to teach a community-college class in film scoring.
That soon morphed into the Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program, which now offers a two-year immersion for students that goes beyond the traditional theory and academic exercises to provide real-world training for future film, TV and videogame composers.
Mann found that modern technology enabled “anybody with a synthesizer to think that they were film composers.” And so, he says, “the techniques that had been developed for years, that people used to pass on, simply stopped. This is a craft. Great craftsmen know how to make an orchestra sound good.”
Those basic skills are a key component of the core classes, although the program also offers instruction in the technology (with classes in Logic, Digital Performer, ProTools and notation software), classic film scores, game music and songwriting.
Thirteen years after its founding, the program boasts graduates working in game music, on TV shows and as assistants to composers. “I feel very confident that when my students are given the opportunity,” Mann says, “they shine, because they know their stuff.”
— Jon Burlingame
Professor, Cinematic Arts
With stereoscopic 3D taking off in both movies and television, USC’s School of Cinematic Arts had to retool to teach the next generation of moviemakers how to use it. Among the changes, they hired Michael Peyser, who’d been an executive producer on “U2 3D,” as a professor.
“The dream of 3D practice is to make it an immersive experience, the magic carpet ride, so to speak, so you don’t feel it but you’re on it. (But) there are all these theories of visual language that have to be learned and unlearned,” Peyser explains.
USC is already teaching 3D production and post, as well as other digital filmmaking techniques, and is gearing up to teach critical theory on the stereo format.
Peyser didn’t start out as a fan of 3D or epic tentpole movies. He produced several classic Woody Allen pics, prefers comedies and remembers not liking the first 3D wave of the 1950s. Now he’s developing a “Rocky Horror-esque” low-budget 3D musical.
“I love the fact that this new medium can be expressive,” he says, “but we have to learn how to articulate it so it can become an art.”
— David S. Cohen
Drawing from his experience as a former producer’s rep to iconic indies such as “She’s Gotta Have It” and “Clerks,” John Pierson offers his U. of Texas students a hands-on approach to getting small films in front of audiences.
“I don’t represent films anymore, and I never will, but the class does under my supervision, so it’s a backdoor way for me to stay involved,” he says.
Since 2005, Pierson’s advanced producing class has pinpointed features to nurture through the post-production process. The fall class works like an acquisitions team, giving feedback on rough cuts and readying films for the fest circuit. In the spring semester, students focus on marketing, with direct outreach to local and national press, and handling negotiations with distributors.
Past projects have included “Cavite” and “Manufacturing Dissent,” with the current group shepherding director Jeffrey Fine’s love-triangle dramedy “Cherry,” which recently premiered at South by Southwest.
Pierson also teaches a master class, again parlaying his reputation to entice A-list speakers such as Harvey Weinstein, David Simon and Kevin Smith to visit Austin for in-depth interviews, prepared by the students and broadcast on the school’s KUT radio.
For the past nine years, as head of the Institute for Digital Entertainment and Education (IDEE), Rodger Smith has incorporated high-def cinema, live theater and interactive media into a complete immersive learning experience within an Indiana research school.
“We’re the best undergraduate film school without a film school in America,” he notes, only half-joking. “We’ve won some local Emmys and other awards, and then last year we completed a high-definition film, ‘My Name Is Jerry,’ which has won prizes at various festivals and is now getting a release.”
Smith cites the university’s branding in two main areas — “immersion and emerging media” — as the reason for its success. “When we made ‘Jerry,’ we used students who worked alongside the key professionals for three months on the project, and that was their total world for that time,” says Smith, who produced the film himself. Under Smith’s leadership, the IDEE has built a strong foundation in traditional film that also informs emerging digital applications. “We’re blessed with a lot of technology that puts us in the forefront of digital media in all its various forms.”
— Iain Blair
An accomplished award-winning filmmaker in his own right and seasoned theater director, Hungarian-born professor Gyula Gazdag is the director’s director. For more than 20 years at UCLA, as well as 14 serving as artistic director of the Sundance Institute’s Directors Lab, he has encouraged his graduate students to find their own cinematic language, rather than imposing his viewpoint.
“I ask a lot of questions because I believe that’s the way to approach filmmaking,” says Gazdag, who also mentors at Amsterdam’s Binger Filmlab.
UCLA’s graduate film program is very much a hands-on experience, explains Gazdag, as students are required to produce and direct three short films during their residency, including raising funds for production. Unlike some graduate film school programs, UCLA students own their films.
Gazdag works closely with students and often mentors those with thesis films for more than a year. “While there are certain elements of the craft that can be taught, what I would like to achieve — what I consider a success — is if I can figure out together with a student what aspect of that individual’s talent needs to be honed,” he notes. “I try to figure out how to get the best of their talent.”
Some students even continue to consult with him as their careers progress.
— Kathy A. McDonald
Director, Media Ventures
As a 20-year veteran of the TV industry, Cathy Perron understands the importance of remaining current. “You need to constantly stay on the side of innovation,” says Perron, who worked on a mobile platform for one of her classes. That experience partly inspired Boston U.’s new Media Ventures initiative, a one-year graduate program beginning this fall that emphasizes media in evolution.
The first class includes students from several countries and disciplines who can either spend one semester in Boston and two in Los Angeles, where they intern for start-up companies, or spend an additional year studying at B.U.’s School of Management to get dual M.S. and M.B.A. degrees. The program, which includes mentorship from veterans such as ABC senior VP of marketing Mike Benson, prepares working professionals for technological changes in media consumption.
“People need to understand regulatory and privacy issues before rolling up their sleeves and creating new ideas,” Perron says. “We want to prepare students not just for jobs available right now but for the opportunities that will take place because of new business models.”
— Eric Koh