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 TEACHING PHILOSOPHY

 

BACKGROUND

When I stepped foot into film school for the first time as an MFA Screenwriting student, I had no idea what it actually took to thrive in Hollywood. Had I known what I know now, there is a chance I may not have even enrolled in school because of the preconceived notion that the odds were stacked against me. However, by the end of my first year in the program, I quickly realized the wealth of knowledge I was sopping up and the number of independent projects I was inspired to launch before graduating. I was determined to leave the institution that nurtured my raw unstructured writing talent with polished, producible teleplays and screenplays.

After taking a shot at producing, directing, and editing my own documentary over the summer leading into my second and final year of graduate school, one thing was clear: I had to take a leap of faith and make the most of my time, taking advantage of every filmmaking resource my university offered and trying my hand at things I have never done before.

I had this fear that time was running out and I had yet to reach my full potential. I knew that I had to take calculated risks, if I wanted to find success outside of the classroom. Sure, the writing workshops and one-on-one feedback from my professors in my screenwriting courses helped me navigate my stories into clear, concise plots while fully developing my characters. Without the foundation I received in the classroom, my writing would be untethered. But, I wanted to take my talent a step further. I knew I didn’t just want to be one of 14 screenwriters in my co-hort. I wanted to be well -rounded. And as many of my professors had harped on in classes and meetings, I knew there were four things I had to do moving forward:
 

TEACHING VALUES


NETWORKING


In film school, we’ve all heard it’s who you know. After all, making films and television is a collaborative process. The director of our film school made a pointed statement: Our peers are future industry leaders and the very same people we will work with in the future. This could only mean one thing: Now is always the time to make connections and develop new working relationships. Meeting other writers, directors, producers, and editors in school is exactly what helped me bring my projects to life.  Attending networking events, conferences, film festivals, screenings, joining clubs and organizations are a great way for students, especially screenwriters, to branch out of their bubble.

SWITCH ROLES


I have to admit that switching roles wasn’t stressed for graduate students, because being a jack-of-all-trades, is also seen as being a master of none. “Find something you love and do it well” is an old adage we often hear. But I continuously stressed to others in my screenwriting cohort, that I refused to be a one trick pony. I would be doing myself a disservice if I ever found myself in a pre-production, production, or post-production bind. So, when all else fails and a project is on the verge of floating into the abyss, don’t be afraid switch roles and kick a project back into high gear.

MAKE SOMETHING


Learning is doing. Without it, it’s just a theory. Lectures are a great tool to educate students on filmmaking principles that have stood the test of time. But if we are going to challenge ourselves as students and faculty, our experience in learning must extend beyond four walls. Building a technically sound, original portfolio is essential building a well-branded career.
 

TAKE IT A STEP FURTHER

Internships are key. And sometimes, they combine all three principles into one. It’s easy to network once you’ve got your foot in the door. That’s half the battle right there. And once both of your feet are inside as an intern, it’s possible to wear a variety of hats, learn new skills, and test out different roles. The added bonus is dependent upon where students find an internship. Some interns are fortunate enough to create something or many things that they can add to their portfolio. Encouraging industry experience is the only way students can get a true taste for what comes next.

 

TEACHING INTERESTS & COMPETENCIES

 

ON SCREENWRITING

While filmmaking is a collaborative process, writing is, by nature, a cerebral and introverted act, with little to no interference during the creation process. Therefore, it is necessary to actively seek out feedback from both peers and professionals in order to reconstruct what may not work. Writers workshops are one of those tools that can help writers hear how their work is interpreted, filling in any gaps that may prevent readers from understanding intent and message. Writing is rewriting.

I am under the belief that while lectures, workshops, and activities are essential to a well-balanced course, the course cannot survive without key texts that provide foundation and supplemental information that can elevate awareness of writing structure, its analysis, and successful screenplays and television pilots that …. Make the point. Reading produced scripts is one of the easiest ways to strengthen one’s craft in concept, structure, character development, and commercial viability, while simultaneously learning the art of screenwriting and refining their unique voice.

 

ON PRODUCTION-BASED COURSES 

TELEVISION, WEB, & DOCUMENARY

Although I did not have a chance to take production courses at the graduate level, I was privileged enough to work in a film, television, web production environment both professionally and independently. There is widely held belief that says art and creativity cannot be taught. While this is true to a degree, what is missing from this notion is that techniques and methods can be. The technical execution of a production is vital to producing high quality film and television. Direction, Cinematography, Sound, Lighting, and Production Design are just one of several aspects requiring careful implementation. 

 

Nothing beats hands-on practical experience, especially in a television or film studio. Since a university is essentially a universe unto itself, with the proper resources and equipment, programs and courses that allow students to create collaboratively across all film and television disciplines, can quickly build the school’s reputation and rapport with current and potential students. Providing a program that allows for this type of interdisciplinary artistic environment, is a complementary component to students independently seeking production crews for their own projects. 

 

I am a proponent of utilizing university resources and forming mutually beneficial community partnerships that work to enhance in-house productions for the film and television program.

 

ON PRODUCING

CREATIVE & LINE

Pitching is essential to launching any idea past its independence. Attending a school where I had a chance to pitch my television pilot idea to Hollywood producers and writers gave me an inside look on how concept, story lines, character development, delivery, and preparation play a role in how a pitch is received. Every story must be fleshed out, well thought out, and methodically planned – not to sound like a robot, but to exude confidence and certainty on why the story must be told and why it needs to be told now. All students should practice these skills, in-class and during network opportunities, where elevator pitches are common talking points. 

Production management and coordination are often overlooked in the filmmaking process, but it would be extremely difficult to accomplish much of anything without efficient people who take on those unglamorous roles. Constant communication, scheduling, a well-prepared budget, and hiring right personnel doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of managing dozens and often times sometimes hundreds of key staff positions. Movie Magic is software that can help students hone their organizational skills on independent student projects and school-sponsored projects. 

 

ON NON-LINEAR EDITING

Everyone knows a movie is made three times. First, with the screenwriter. The second time, with the director. And the third time is with the editor. The editor has the final say, with the producer’s approval, of course. 

Post-production can be a lengthy process since editing is about fine tuning and finessing. Cutting down on the amount of time a project stays in post-production can be done by properly importing and organizing footage, while creating a workflow process that is easy for lead editors to navigate. There are also several different types of editing techniques for documentaries, film, and television. But none of these techniques can be taught if students are not first introduced to Non-Linear Editing Software and all of the nuances, shortcuts, and tricks that come with it. Every technique has its own reasoning, but students must consider genre and tone when employing these strategies while also studying film and television shows that mirror the objectives they are hoping to achieve. 

 

TEACHING METHODS & STRATEGIES

 

ON INSTRUCTIONAL STRATEGIES

I watched in awe of how seamlessly one of my former television writing professors navigated the workflow of class. There was a solid mixture of everything needed to make the course engaging and enlightening: well-paced lectures, required and suggested text, small group discussions and writers’ workshops, interactive development and pitching activities that give a behind the scenes look at the development process, screenings of relevant clips that highlight the objective of the lecture, and skype Q & A sessions with working industry professionals. I immediately gravitated toward my professor’s teaching style and instantly knew that I would model my teaching methods after those same experiences.

Staying up-to-date on the latest industry news, through trade magazines and websites, can lend itself to teaching information that is both relevant and current to students’ future professions. However, having knowledge and imparting knowledge are two different skill sets. Presenting material in an engaging, energetic way garners student interest, participation, and an eagerness to learn. As a student, I’ve found that one way to keep students awake is by challenging them to complete in-class development and pitching presentations where analysis and synthesis are employed during the planning and whole class discussion phase of the activity. Students will not learn, however, if clearly defined course objectives have not been explained and lectures and assignments do not align with the basis of the course. 

It’s about facilitating well rounded experiences for students, so they are not only more knowledgeable, technically savvy, and artistically astute when they walk out of the classroom, but they are also able to effectively formulate, develop, and produce new ideas, while enlisting useful feedback from their peers.  

 

TEACHER-STUDENT INTERACTION

Students want to know that professors are in their corner and rooting for them. One way to ensure that students feel supported is making time outside of class and maintaining consistent office hours to help improve student success. I strive to create professional and academic working relationships by making myself available in-person, by phone, and by email, providing timely responses to students who seek my creative and professional guidance. When people ask me about my own personal experiences, I stress the importance of the networking, taking on new roles, making films, and finding internships. 

 

ON CLASSROOM ENVIORNMENT

 

Workshops are very vulnerable space for many students. It is essential to understand the cultural traditions and socio-economic experiences have had a hand in shaping the writer’s voice, and it is my role to help facilitate the process of students adjusting the lens when reading diverse work they may be unfamiliar with or have a difficult time connecting to. Empathy goes a long way in the classroom, especially in engaging creative types. Providing context to foreign concepts can help set the tone for a comfortable and welcoming environment for all students where diversity is seen as the norm instead of an exception to the rule. 

 

Active participation and getting everyone involved is easier said than done. However, I make it a point to ensure that every student feels their voice is valued. 

 

ON ASSIGNMENTS & GRADING

Film and television is a deadline-driven industry, and the classroom is no different. If students are going to emerge with the tools and techniques necessary to cultivate their craft, then they should be given relevant, objective-based coursework that will challenge them. Not only do I expect students to hold themselves to a high standard of making a commitment to finish their work on time, but I also commit myself to grading fairly and in a timely manner as outlined in the syllabus and grading rubric and explained on the first day of class. What is even more valuable to students in addition to receiving a grade is written and verbal feedback that can give them a glimpse into the analysis and critique employed, and the steps they can take to improve their script or project. Students also need to understand how active involvement in class plays a role in final grades.  

 

FINAL NOTE


I applied for a role as a Producer of my school’s 13thAnnual Film Festival held at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, even though I had never produced a festival, let alone submitted to one. I applied for a Directing in LA program even though I never stepped foot in a directing, producing, or cinema production course. Regardless of background or past experiences, students must take a chance if they ever want to grow. 

During the Directing in LA program, I filmed the pilot webisode of my web series- which would be one of the last scripts I would ever write in my graduate program.  Surprisingly, my script was an adaptation of the very first short film I wrote as a screenwriting student. It was a sign that I had come full circle and that I set out to do exactly what I had planned. 

Learning is doing. And it doesn’t stop as an instructor of the craft- it’s a continuous journey of collaborating with other filmmakers and contributing to the filmmaking community. 

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