Saturday, September 22, 2007


I like to joke that as a teacher I make it up as I go along. All that preparation- who needs it? If I wanted to do homework I would be a student not a teacher. I am mostly joking, but as in any joke there is a little truth to it. I prefer to think of it as being in the moment and open to the flow of the class. Like jazz musicians playing live, there is a general plan and I work within it, yet still go off on solos and come back for the big finish. It works for me, I think.

Currently I am team-teaching (a first for me) with Perry Harovas, the head of the Visual FX department, and it has been a blast. Co-teaching allows me to be both leader and observer- and I have Perry teach all the hard stuff while I sit back and watch. The class is a micro-class of four sessions geared towards opening students up to the building blocks of storytelling. Informally, I call it the attention to details class.

On Thursday I started the class and these were my only notes:

Recap- Why are we doing this?
Hustle and Flow
Sendak- Shape of Music- process

I didn't even get to Hustle and Flow- that will be saved for a later day- but those brief notes lead us into a really great 90-minute session. Briefly, for those without a syllabus, our students had read an essay by Maurice Sendak about seeing colors in music. This lead me to ask students about their own creative process. Surprise! they seemed to discover they do in fact have a process, they just hadn't called it that yet. From there we went to a brief essay by Frank Zappa about framing (placing in context) one's art.

Earlier in the day I asked Perry what he thought about me bringing my guitar to class and seeing what the students "saw" as I played. I played a minor chord- students saw generally dark, moody images- followed by a major chord- and suddenly everyone was happy. I then passed the guitar to a student who played a nice little riff using both major and minor chords. It was great- we are about to create the Flashpoint school song. All of this lead us into screening the Sorcerer's Apprentice section of Fantasia and a lively discussion about the interplay of sound and image.

We think it worked well, but only time will tell.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Collaboration part 3

We made it.

Flashpoint Academy opened its doors on Monday and welcomed their first class. Monday was orientation and as part of it we screened Dean Paula Froehle's film, "The Collector," and our "making of The Collector" documentary.

The similarities between making a film and building a college are remarkable. During the summer pre-production phase each of us on the Flashpoint crew had a job to do. Recruiters recruited, IT experts did their magic and faculty hammered out classes, curricula and schedules. All of us worked towards the first day of production both independently and as one- just like a film production- coming together to produce a college.

Speaking of filmmaking and collaboration I owe a big thanks to my Windy Cine partner Jim who really figured out the HD workflow and did lots of post-production work as I phoned and e-mailed changes. The making of really works and it proves even a relatively small documentary needs to have good teamwork in order to be successful. Thanks, Jim.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Doing it Right

There was an interesting editorial in Friday's New York Times about how the University of California-Irvine botched the hiring of the dean of their new law school scheduled to open in 2009.

This was fascinating to me in many ways. 1) Planning a school 2+ years away? Come on we built Flashpoint in a little more than 100 days! It can be done. 2) What does it say to the future professors and students at that school that the boss doesn't have the integrity to stand by his own decisions. (The dean was offered the position, it was rescinded due to the deans left of center politics, then the position was re-offered.) Not a good start for the future law school if you ask me.

This brings me to our little school that does things the right way. Yesterday, the staff and faculty had a final walk through before the doors open tomorrow and we go live. When I walked into that building in April it was cement and plywood and studs on the wall. Today it looks like the nerve center of a high-tech business. It is -in a word I seldom use- awesome. It is clearly a place to do good work and make things happen.

As we walked through the halls Steven Berger, Flashpoint Special Projects Manager, came up to me and said, "This is going to be the best and most sought after film school in the country." I replied, "Unless the dumb filmmaker gets in the way."

Paula Froehle, our Academic Dean, heard this and reminded me that I was the first person she thought of when thinking about creating the film program. That made me feel very good. I think we did the right thing.

Tomorrow it's for real.