Thursday, September 13, 2007

Circle of Life

"Old Man look at my life, I am a lot like you were."

I heard that Neil Young song recently and those lyrics really hit home.

40 some years ago my dad and mom packed up their relatively comfortable New England lives and left their families behind to move to Kentucky (From Boston to KY even today that sounds crazy!) so my dad could help start a progressive private school called The Lexington School. A dozen years later my dad moved across town to rival Sayre School and helped shape that school. Today those are the two best schools in the state of Kentucky.

So here I am, nearly 12 years into teaching at one of the largest and best films schools in the United States and I up and leave its relative safety to move uptown and to join a progressive upstart. In a day I went from the biggest film school in the world to the smallest. One of my parent's friends even asked if I should wait to take the job until Flashpoint became established.

What am I, nuts?

If I heard Neil Young's "Cowgirl in the Sand" would it be different? Probably not. I think it is in my blood to challenge students and challenge myself and to look at new ways to present material. In short, old man take a look at my life I am a lot like you.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Starting Up

Prior to Flashpoint the only previous experience I have with a start up venture was 20 years ago when I worked for the Museum of Broadcast Communications. Even then I was just a first generation hire, starting right around the day the museum opened the doors so I missed out on all the pre-launch chaos, business and excitement.

Comparing a museum devoted to archiving broadcast history to starting a new media arts college is an apt metaphor for my own experience, I think. I often say at Columbia I was teaching film history- the past and techniques of how things used to be done. Here at Flashpoint I am on the cutting edge. Not only am I on the cutting edge, I think I am actually one of the whetstones doing the sharpening.

It's heady stuff and something I don't take lightly.

Later this week we are going to shift our work space from a satellite office to the main campus in downtown Chicago. When we leave this office- and the Post It notes on the wall and the bad lighting and the spotty internet, and the iffy food place downstairs- I am going to be a little sad. Much like the astronauts of Apollo 13 who saw the LEM as their life raft, I see our temporary office as the mother ship where all the ideas we will execute over the next couple of years took seed. Soon we will jettison the space and gravity will bring us back to earth and the real world.

As comparisons go I think the opening of Flashpoint Academy, the first new college in Chicago in 4o years, is more like the release of a hot new product. Think of Flashpoint as an iphone or the release of the hot new video game or the Super Bowl or a new CD by your favorite musician. We are like that.

Ready or not here we come.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Post It!

Who would have thought that the most valuable tool in building a college curriculum would be Post It Notes?

In the Flashpoint office we have a wall, much like this one, full of two-foot square month by month calendars going from September -May. On each of those calendars are Post Its with perspective classes written on them. We need a tangible and visual reference for our academic calendar so we decided on little sticky squares of paper. We spent the better part of June and early July putting classes up on that wall. When we finally locked in on a schedule we transferred the information from the wall to Excel programs and then passed that info on to Flashpoint registrar Brad Bergeron. At that point Brad did his registrarial magic and Viola! students and faculty had a schedule for the year.

In addition to Post Its the other thing that really surprises me about this college building experience is how much time we have spent with the registrar. Everything we do in terms of class schedules and credit hours must get approved by Brad. At Columbia I didn't even know then name of the registrar. At Flashpoint he is ever present.

Here is a typical early July day. I am at my computer and Brad quietly walks over to me and says, "Excuse me Peter but you seem to have made a little mistake."

"Huh?" the dumb filmmaker replies.

"Yes, you have 37 screenwriting sections scheduled for group A and only 3 for group B, you know they have to be equal."

As much as I want to say a la Samuel L. Jackson, "Check out the big brain on Brad!" I say, "Sorry, I'll fix it," and slouch back over to the wall of Post Its.


Sunday, September 9, 2007

Drinking the Kool-Aid

On Wednesday this past week Howard Tullman, President and CEO of Flashpoint Academy, cuffed me on the back of the head. Yesterday, as we were waiting for people to arrive at a Flashpoint open house, founder and chairman Ric Landry slapped me on the forehead. Now if Paula Froehle, academic dean, slaps me across the face (inevitable) I will have hit the Flashpoint Academy beating trifecta. In all seriousness I take these whuppins' as signs of endearment (if not I have a pretty good law suit on my hands, I think).

We are a week away from opening the doors to the first class and all is terrific. The building at 28 N. Clark Street is state of the art and for the first time in my teaching career I feel I have all the tools and resources necessary to be the best teacher I can be. In all modesty and honesty I believe Flashpoint is going to be a big success and I take great pride in helping to get it off the ground.

More on Flashpoint developments as the week progresses but for now I need to work on my bobbing and weaving and keeping my left up.