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#1 Galen Carter-Jeffrey

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 03:46 PM

I am a film student at the University of Texas in Austin and am currently taking one of the advanced 16mm film classes. A few of my teachers this semester have been telling us that the department is phasing out film all together. They already combined the intro to film class with a digital class leaving it up to the students wether to shoot film or video. My concern is that in 3 or 4 years there will be no film classes or film equipment for students here.

I want to write a letter to the department and have everyone in the film classes sign it, but i also want to include valid reasons on why film should still be taught. I don't want this to turn into a Film Vs. video argument, I was just hoping some people here might be able to show me some facts and figures about the industry to help convince them that film is no yet dead.

-Thanks
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#2 Scott Fritzshall

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 04:22 PM

As far as education goes, my argument would be that shooting film really helps enforce the discipline of filmmaking. For intro-level classes, shooting a project with 200 feet of film is a vastly different experience than shooting the same thing with an essentially limitless amount of tape. This is one thing I think my school does very well. In Production 1, students make short films with 1-300' of B&W reversal film and a Bolex, and edit with razors and tape. The whole process is obviously obsolete as hell, but it really forces you to understand the value of preproduction and knowing what you're doing on-set when every second you roll counts. In Production 2, you shoot color negative and edit digitally, but you aren't allowed to do anything during the edit except for cuts and dissolves. Again, it teaches you to plan and shoot the best material you can, and not to assume that you can just fix anything in post.

For teaching cinematography, as well, I think it's much better to learn on film than on video. Anyone can look at a monitor, but to be able to light a scene using only your eye and your meter is a totally different discipline. You need to be able to understand how light works, and how your photographic medium responds to it. My school turns out a lot of really talented DPs, and I think it can be credited at least in part to the insistence on teaching them how to shoot film.
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 04:24 PM

Well, the simple argument is that by the time the current crop of students graduate, film will still be a major part of production. It's not like they are going to sit on their hands for a decade or so and wait until film might fade away from use before they start working in the industry.

Second argument is that film is an expressive medium for visual artists and students should have access to it if they choose.
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#4 Richard Boddington

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 04:36 PM

There is no hope for the admin at your school, they are too stupid to be alive.

These guys call themselves a "film" department? Ha!

Transfer to a real film school.

R,
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#5 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 04:37 PM

I am a film student at the University of Texas in Austin and am currently taking one of the advanced 16mm film classes. A few of my teachers this semester have been telling us that the department is phasing out film all together. They already combined the intro to film class with a digital class leaving it up to the students wether to shoot film or video. My concern is that in 3 or 4 years there will be no film classes or film equipment for students here.

I want to write a letter to the department and have everyone in the film classes sign it, but i also want to include valid reasons on why film should still be taught. I don't want this to turn into a Film Vs. video argument, I was just hoping some people here might be able to show me some facts and figures about the industry to help convince them that film is no yet dead.

-Thanks



My first question is: what is the purpose of the class? A great number of film programs aren't designed to specifically teach the technical considerations of film emulsion. Instead, most concentrate more on story and basic logistics. In today's world, there really isn't much point to arguing for one acquisition format over another unless there is a very specific reason to do so. And a lot of the time, the end result in terms of exhibition or distribution weighs heavily upon the initial choice for image acquisition format.

So you'll likely hear a lot from "traditionalists" or "film purists" who will offer up subjective reasons why film is "better" than electronic acquisition. There may even be charts full of numbers meant to back the case up. You might even hear from the "video" side who usually have to spend time defending the positive contributions that the format can offer. In my opinion, film's relatively wide exposure latitude can invite "lazy" photography. On the other hand, having tighter parameters of HD to work with forces the cameraman to work a little harder to get the image he or she desires. Point being, "having" to work with "video" as opposed to filmstock isn't necessarily a negative, particularly during the educational stage. Force yourself to work within limits both in terms of technical requirements and logistics (ie, you can only light a room with five lights instead of ten) and you'll wind up as a stronger cameraman than the guy who gets fourteen stops of range and a truck full of every gadget ever made. The same guys who complain about the limited exposure latitude of video never get around to complaining that they have to change filmstocks when the sun is dropping. Film has limits too.

In the end, film isn't necessarily better than video. It is just different. Which one you choose to acquire a "story" with is dependent upon many factors, budget being one of the unfortunate ones we all have to contend with. So, I wouldn't lament the idea that your school may phase film acquisition out unless there is a specific course that is designed to teach the art and technology of cinematography with film. Otherwise, if your class is more general in nature with its focus on writing, directing, and logistics, don't worry too much about the box that you shoot with. All cameras are merely boxes with holes in them meant to capture an image. The artistry doesn't come from the box itself, but rather from the technical skill and artistic sensibilities of the user. You have a choice. Learn what the box can do and work with it or spend your life complaining about what it can't do and blame it for not "giving" you what you want to see.
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#6 Ken Cangi

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 04:40 PM

I am a film student at the University of Texas in Austin and am currently taking one of the advanced 16mm film classes.

Is this class part of a full-time film program, or do they only offer it as an extra credit art class? The reason that I ask is that trimming a budget for an extra credit class isn't as critical as removing a crucial component (like film) from a full-time program.
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#7 Joseph Winchester

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 05:05 PM

"There is no hope for the admin at your school, they are too stupid to be alive.

These guys call themselves a "film" department? Ha!

Transfer to a real film school."

Do you know these professors personally? Because it sure seems like you do.

I am a filmmaker at UT as well, except I'm a grad student over in visual arts. I know many of the professors over in RTF, in fact I work with one of them on my graduate comittee. She shoots film and nothing else. This isn't necessarily representative of the deptartment or the school.

An intro class utilizting digital equipment is actually a great idea, as it gives the students immediate results and a faster learning environment. They can then, ideally, graduate to exposing film and using those digital skills in a different environment. That's a positive workflow as far as i'm concerned. It's kind of like using polaroids when you're learning large-format photography. Once you are comfortable with your bellows-factors, exposures and tilts, you need the polaroids less and less, until it's second nature. This is the hope.

There are some really smart and dedicated people at UT, and they don't deserve to be ridiculed by Richard, who doesn't know what's going on here. The RTF program here is one of the finest in the U.S.

Shoot what you want to shoot in the class. It's your choice, you're paying for it, you decide. They will be pleased with your motivation.

Edited by Joseph Winchester, 20 March 2007 - 05:10 PM.

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#8 Galen Carter-Jeffrey

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 05:13 PM

There are some really smart and dedicated people at UT, and they don't deserve to be ridiculed by Richard, who doesn't know what's going on here. The RTF program here is one of the finest in the U.S.

Shoot what you want to shoot in the class. It's your choice, you're paying for it, you decide. They will be pleased with your motivation.


I am PJ Ravels class called 16mm Narrative. I think that it should be a choice for the students to take either film or video, but the department is planning on getting rid of all the film classes for undergraduates.
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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 05:34 PM

I am PJ Ravels class called 16mm Narrative. I think that it should be a choice for the students to take either film or video, but the department is planning on getting rid of all the film classes for undergraduates.


While I understand their thinking, for saving film for the graduate students, I think it would be a mistake. It's not going to kill them to have one undergraduate film production / cinematography course. It would introduce them to a wider range of imagemaking tools, it would give them a better understanding of the technical history of Cinema (most of which predates digital), and it would prepare them for the real world where film is still used, particularly if they don't bother to get a masters degree.

I mean, how can you adequately explain the technical accomplishments of "Citizen Kane" to a bunch of people for whom deep-focus is so easy on a consumer camcorder? Or the difficulties of developing a full-color process that affect the way early color movies look? Or why we have widescreen today? Not to mention the most obvious thing of all: since most movies are still shot on film, how are students going to understand why they look the way they do if film technology is a mystery to them?
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#10 Richard Boddington

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 05:47 PM

"but the department is planning on getting rid of all the film classes for undergraduates."

My comments stand and they are justified in light of this. I hope these graduates enjoy their careers in corporate video.

R,
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#11 Douglas Hunter

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 05:50 PM

I am a film student at the University of Texas in Austin and am currently taking one of the advanced 16mm film classes. A few of my teachers this semester have been telling us that the department is phasing out film all together.


Your school is not the only one, the big push to all digital is on at USC as well. I don't know how the schools plan to shoulder the extra costs of going to video only, but I'm glad that I got to shoot a lot of film while I was in school.
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#12 Hal Smith

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 05:58 PM

The Photography Department at the University I'm associated with started going 100% digital and throwing out film gear a couple years ago. Now they've realized they haven't been turning out Photographers, they're turning out PhotoShop geeks. They're re-introducing film cameras as early as Freshman year. And kicking themselves for throwing out their color processors, etc. They plan on being much more balanced in the future, film AND digital.
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#13 Richard Boddington

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 06:05 PM

Now Hal that is a sensible approach.

"Film" schools that chuck out film are clearly doing so for monetary reasons and to cave into the group of undisciplined "but I want to see it now" generation.

Imagine graduating from a four year film program with no experience shooting film, the idea is preposterous.

Wait, wait, I know, it's not about the format it's about the story. I've met a lot fo these film school grads who thought all of that techie stuff and button pushing was beneath them because they can always hire people to do that stuff for them.

They will continue to live in their parents basements until they are 35.

R,
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#14 Troy Warr

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 06:28 PM

I am PJ Ravels class called 16mm Narrative. I think that it should be a choice for the students to take either film or video, but the department is planning on getting rid of all the film classes for undergraduates.

If their undergraduate film program is still anything like it was around 2000, let it rot. I dropped out of UT Film School for exactly that reason. They didn't have any equipment for us to work with, the instructors were half-ass, and the hoops you had to jump through were ridiculous.

I remember walking to Walgreens on the drag one Sunday afternoon to buy light bulbs for the "film editing room" that had burned out due to neglect. I also picked up some razor blades because all the ones they had supplied were bent, broken or rusted. I had to hurry back because my few-hour allotment for a 40's-vintage 16mm viewer (also completely busted, but with some practice you could get a little light out of it to slightly see what you were doing) was almost out, and then I couldn't use the edit room for a few days because the two working editing stations were booked solid.

Tape-to-tape VHS linear editing was a lot of fun (and educational!), as was the time when a friend of mine in the business school offered to check out a decked-out XL-1 kit for me if I needed it. He just needed to show an ID at the check-out counter and it was his for two weeks. I usually had to wait two weeks to pick up a crappy Bolex non-reflex for a day or two.

Best film program in the country! It was back then, too. Just ask Robert Rodriguez.

Hey, tell PJ I said hello. He was one good TA, at least, and a nice guy.
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#15 Galen Carter-Jeffrey

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 06:35 PM

Hey, tell PJ I said hello. He was one good TA, at least, and a nice guy.



I will, his class is amazing. My experience here is no where near as bad as yours, in fact I think its pretty damn good as long as you get into the right classes. So far my teachers have all been so great! Equipment is decent, but i have heard of some horror stories. My TA still doesn't know why the department bought a bunch of new CP-16s she said that nobody wanted to get the cameras. (Do CP-16s sucks?)

What did you do after you left UT? How is your career? I'm graduating in May and I'm a little nervous about what to do afterwards.
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#16 Troy Warr

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 08:29 PM

I will, his class is amazing. My experience here is no where near as bad as yours, in fact I think its pretty damn good as long as you get into the right classes. So far my teachers have all been so great! Equipment is decent, but i have heard of some horror stories. My TA still doesn't know why the department bought a bunch of new CP-16s she said that nobody wanted to get the cameras. (Do CP-16s sucks?)

What did you do after you left UT? How is your career? I'm graduating in May and I'm a little nervous about what to do afterwards.

Hi Galen -

My film career hasn't quite materialized - I'm sort of taking the scenic route. ;) After I left UT, I worked at Precision Camera for a few years, first in rentals & repairs, then buying/selling used equipment and eventually moved into retail sales. Then I moved even farther from film, moving to Redmond, WA to work on Xbox games for a couple of years. I've been back in Austin for the last year or two working as a freelance web developer and trying my best to kickstart a film career of some sort.

Honestly, I sincerely hope that you're able to convince the RTF department to keep film production on track there at UT, and I wish you the best of luck. I'd like to think that at least my experience represented a low point in the school's history, and that students since then have had a better time.

Who do you plan to submit your letter/petition to? My 2 cents, at least, would be to research the programs of some competing film schools to see what they're offering in film production. Douglas mentioned that USC is moving to digital, but I'd bet that plenty of renowned school are still using film, and hopefully that fact would help to pressure UT to stay inline with current trends. I think that just a show of solidarity alone should say something - after all, students are the University's customers, and if they're unanimous in their support for a particular area of study, I would hope that would motivate the department to do what they need to do to keep film alive.

I was just there at entirely the wrong time, and after 2 years of getting my general credits out of the way and getting prepared for the much-hyped Intensive Production Sequence, I was admitted (along with only ~20 total students), but my hopes began to evaporate pretty quickly. For example, the producing class that I took was taught by a Hollywood hack who used to insult the class daily because we wanted to learn to produce interesting stuff, and didn't care to hear the teacher's constant stories about spoiled actors, blockbuster budgets and complaints about our "ivory tower" attitudes. I did really enjoy Bob Foshko's studio/TV production class - it was a lot of hard work but that was where the bulk of the value of my time there came from.

PJ's a great guy and was one of the handful of people while I was at UT that really seemed to care, and have a passion for the art. He was never reluctant to offer advice, assistance, or instruction when he could. Thanks for saying hello for me - I'm glad to hear he's still doing a great job.

CP-16s are fine cameras for learning, as far as I know. I never had the chance to use one (a Bolex Rex-5 w/sync motor was the best I ever got my hands on) but I believe they're still widely in use. I guess that may say something about the mentality of the department - i.e. that they're really stuck on digital - if they weren't interested in picking some up.

I hope you do well after graduation - I can't speak from the perspective of a graduate, but I can say that I've learned the "golden rule" the hard way - just start shooting. If you can find a job related to the field, that's awesome - but if not, try to get a day job that doesn't sap all of your energy, and use your free time to work on your own films, volunteer on others' projects, and practice your craft. I firmly believe that a film school diploma is worthless unless you've really learned something and have a reel to back it up. Even then, networking is key to find the projects that are worth working on, and to get the crew that's worth working with.
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#17 Galen Carter-Jeffrey

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 08:33 PM

John Pierson was my producing teacher.

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0682775/
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#18 Alessandro Machi

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 09:22 PM

The Photography Department at the University I'm associated with started going 100% digital and throwing out film gear a couple years ago. Now they've realized they haven't been turning out Photographers, they're turning out PhotoShop geeks. They're re-introducing film cameras as early as Freshman year. And kicking themselves for throwing out their color processors, etc. They plan on being much more balanced in the future, film AND digital.


This gets back to marketing 101. The money goes to the new camera packages and camera products, which basically don't exist in film anymore.
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#19 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 11:08 PM

While I understand their thinking, for saving film for the graduate students, I think it would be a mistake. It's not going to kill them to have one undergraduate film production / cinematography course. It would introduce them to a wider range of imagemaking tools, it would give them a better understanding of the technical history of Cinema (most of which predates digital), and it would prepare them for the real world where film is still used, particularly if they don't bother to get a masters degree.

I mean, how can you adequately explain the technical accomplishments of "Citizen Kane" to a bunch of people for whom deep-focus is so easy on a consumer camcorder? Or the difficulties of developing a full-color process that affect the way early color movies look? Or why we have widescreen today? Not to mention the most obvious thing of all: since most movies are still shot on film, how are students going to understand why they look the way they do if film technology is a mystery to them?



Now Hal that is a sensible approach.

"Film" schools that chuck out film are clearly doing so for monetary reasons and to cave into the group of undisciplined "but I want to see it now" generation.

Imagine graduating from a four year film program with no experience shooting film, the idea is preposterous.

Wait, wait, I know, it's not about the format it's about the story. I've met a lot fo these film school grads who thought all of that techie stuff and button pushing was beneath them because they can always hire people to do that stuff for them.

They will continue to live in their parents basements until they are 35.

R,


I often find the gap between "film theory" of what we believe people should know versus what someone really needs to know for an actual career that pays the bills interesting.

With that in mind, both Richard and David, your comments caught my eye. I am most curious as to who you define as "film students"? I mean, who exactly are we all talking about? Richard, these "film school grads" aren't necessarily all heading off to Hollywood to become Director's of Photography so you are right in saying that "they can always hire people to do that stuff for them." Of course! That's what we're here for. Isn't it? A Producer or a Director or anyone else on the set for that matter doesn't really have to know how or why film or digital works. Sure, knowing more than less would definitely be a huge plus for a variety of valid reasons, but unless they actually care to know about the technical aspects of cameras and/or formats, teaching that kind of information won't necessarily be worth the professor's time.

Should an up and coming Director know the capabilities and limitations of his tools? Of course! Does he have to in order to do his own job? Not in the least. Does the DP have to know? Definitely. Because that's his job to know so that he can offer guidance (if allowed) and can answer questions (if posed). As a cameraman, I don't have to know how to edit in order to choose angles, lenses, and exposures. It just so happens that I was an editor for a time so that experience makes me a better cameraman. But I still don't have to know that skill in order to have a career as a cameraman just as a Director or Producer (or anyone else on set) doesn't have to know (or care) which kind of box we're using to acquire images with. What we do use may or may not affect the kinds of images they hope to tell their story with, which is why they hire us as consultants in the first place (or at least we hope that's part of it). We're not just button-pushers, but the truth is that sometimes that's really all we're seen and treated as.

But none of that matters because a lot of film programs aren't geared toward turning out the technical crafts anyway (in a real-world practical sense), so when we say "film school grads" or just "film students," the reality is that most of them aren't going to wind up in the camera department or in IA 600 and they probably don't want to. I'm not arguing that the technicalities of exposing and developing film stock shouldn't be taught at all, but unless a student is actually specifically targeting a career as a cinematographer (exposing film stock or shooting HD), the practicality of learning film specific technology isn't as pertinent as, say, understanding story (in the case of a Director or Editor) or learning the business of the industry (in the case of a Producer or Production Manager).

So back to the original question, I get confused when a term like "film student" get tossed out in such a generic way, as if every film student out there absolutely has to know everything there is to know about exposing film. That's assuming that every "film student" wants to be a cameraman or even wants to work in features. It just isn't true. Of course, a "film student" who wants to have an actual career as a cinematographer/cameraman/DP/videographer should learn as much about ALL the technologies if possible because that is the focus of his career path. But is it absolutely necessary for every "film student" to use actual film when using a different technology at that stage can be just as useful for their own specialized skill?

Edited by Brian Dzyak, 20 March 2007 - 11:11 PM.

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#20 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 11:21 PM

Obviously a large percentage of film students won't go into the technical crafts -- on the other hand, they are more likely to build a career in one of those (cinematography, editing, sound) than they are as directors or screenwriters....

The question is whether some student who was interested in learning cinematography at his film school is going to feel cheated if film technology is never taught.

Even at CalArts, there were only about two students per year in the incoming class who were interested in cinematography, but I was one of those two -- imagine my career today if 16mm had been eliminated from the program? I shot over a dozen 16mm short films while I was there, one 35mm short, and a year after graduation, was the DP on a 35mm feature (you should know, you were one of my AC's on that...)

The trouble is when a film school claims to teach all the cinematic arts, yet denies some aspect to students -- that's misleading. If UT Austin clearly told people applying to their undergrad film program that there would be no film involved, that would be fine because then students who were interested in that aspect would apply elsewhere. But I suspect they would downplay such a thing.

I just don't see why they can't have one 16mm class, that's all. It's not like I'm saying they have to buy state of the art Aatons for their students.

I mean, if it's OK to drop teaching film technology, why not drop teaching sound recording? How many of them are going to become sound recordists, after all? And then, why teach editing either? How many of them are going to be editors? They could just teach theory and cinematic grammer and skip all the technical arts.

Just bugs me for them to selectively not teach one important aspect of the technical arts if they are going to teach the others. Either you claim to give students an all-around education in the subject, or you don't. If they are clear that they won't be giving students that level of education, then at least students have the option to go elsewhere.
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