Creativity cannot be taught. Some would say it most certainly cannot be taught through the Internet. I argue however, that creative skills and creative careers can be nurtured best through the Internet because of its inherently social nature, global access, and pure speed.
I went to a traditional film school. Before getting in, I remember staring at the glossy home page of the USC Film School website, assembling all of materials, and applying. I was rejected. I felt like my life was over. I know it’s silly now, but I really wanted to go to that film school, and my belief at that time was that it was an absolute necessity to get into the best one for me to launch a career in the entertainment industry. That would turn out to be only partly true of course.
Luckily, I reapplied, was wait listed, and got in. While I didn’t need to get into a film school to make films, or be creative for that matter, the opportunity motivated and inspired me to improve my skills and pushed me to test my artistic boundaries. So in that regard, it worked for me. USC was an incredible education. I gained a deep level of experience in three and a half years doing every single role on a film. I wrote, produced, and directed an internationally acclaimed short film as well as produced a student Oscar award winning short. And after graduating, I had the opportunity to be a part of a world-class talent agency like Creative Artists Agency that packaged and sold some amazing independent projects like Black Swan and Paranormal Activity.
But I also worked my entire way through film school often doing nothing more than going to school, going to work, and making projects. It was a huge life sacrifice. Part of my work included processing admissions applications in the admissions office. I clearly remember that the percentage of students that were admitted was dismally low compared to the level of talent who applied. That doesn’t mean those people who didn’t get in weren’t talented or wouldn’t be successful. In fact, they may be more successful by working on their own. But it does, however, create certain limitations for people around their chances of “breaking in” so to speak to the entertainment industry driven by “connections” which have a history going back decades.
Film school – or art school is a polarizing subject in general. Why you go, is often more to make connections and build your network, so that you can start and build your career in the arena of your creative practice. The people who you meet not only become your collaborators, but the people who both recommend you and hire you on jobs. So instead of “connections” I would say it’s more about building “relationships” that are deep and meaningful, with people whose work you truly admire and respect. And those same people you must have experience working with, and genuinely enjoy working with them.
I don’t need to point out that online social networks haven given us unprecedented opportunity to “connect” with just about anyone. What those “connections” mean, however – is an entirely different story. Often times, the strongest connections tie back to people who we formed real and important bonds with in real in person situations. Think about your family, alumni groups, or other organizations you belong to where you share an interest. However, in a creative economy – this is evolving. You can connect with a collaborator now who recognizes you immediately for your good ideas or your excellent work, and chooses to work with you on a new project or hire you off the bat because of it. I realized things were changing when the new directors at Creative Artist Agency were being discovered on YouTube from South America. Check out Panic Attack if you haven’t already, and you would want to work with Fede Álvarez too. In the world of YouTube, the word “collab” has entered the language as a both a verb and a noun abbreviation meaning to work with another creator (who may not necessarily be in the same state or country as your channel).
The flip side of going to a great film school and gaining incredible knowledge and talented connections, is that I am now $180,000 in debt. My first job at Creative Artists Agency paid about a seventh of that in terms of an annual salary, and the starting wages for employment in the entertainment industry aren’t much higher than that across the board. In other words, most of my classmates won’t be paying that money back anytime soon. And building a career in a rapidly changing landscape with no ongoing training presents its own challenges for the independent content creator to succeed artistically or financially.
So the key to the future of creative arts education is threefold: it must be affordable, effective, and efficient.
Artists have never usually been the rich bunch until after the success hits and they have some kind of business management in place, or they are self-managing. So it’s important to create an education system that allows for creative artists to sustainably be trained, which means there is an efficiency from a cost and time perspective. It also means that business principles including fundraising, marketing, and monetization are baked into the curriculum. And that sustainability is what will power the creative individual to thrive in the growing creative economy.
An effective arts training education provides ongoing training as the field changes and updates. While we were at USC, we went from shooting black and white film to shooting on digital cameras. And honestly the school software, equipment updates, and curriculum shifts happened well after the industry trends. And while the principles we learned of visual storytelling are fundamentals we won’t forget and are adaptable across all technological shifts, that doesn’t mean we were trained on all the existing new technologies that have since come out, to effectively create, distribute, and monetize our work. Similarly, personal connections change and move on. An effective school ought to be able to nurture and create new connections consistently leading to new projects, as well as re-engage its alumni network in a way that is meaningful and powerful.
An efficient training system is one that allows for people to learn quickly, conveniently, and with real retention and immediate application of what they have learned. Pitching an idea or making a video and getting instant feedback within in the hour by one of your peers is exhilarating. In addition to the speed of the feedback loop, is the usefulness of the feedback. Audience reactions and focus groups (not to mention box office in the film world and views and “likes” in the YouTube world) are key factors for the filmmaker or creator learning what works and what doesn’t. Filmmaking has never been an entirely solitary art – it always has involved a relationship with the viewer. A learning tool that can turn qualitative reactions into quantifiable scores that measures feedback of peers, and gives recommendations on what to fix is incredibly useful. Students can quickly gauge that their idea is scoring well in originality and story, but not so well in entertainment value or clarity.
And in terms of the format of on demand tutorials as learning tools – the convenience of highly entertaining and fun videos as a way to teach visual arts through the visual medium makes complete sense. One of our students just told me that the reason she loves our tutorials so much is because they present so much focused information in a short amount of time. I found myself learning more watching a cinematography class in video tutorial form because I could actually see the examples placed in front of me as they appear. To complement the on demand learning, we have held in person workshops where our students could go out and try and apply those principles. The hybridized learning experience is both efficient and effective, and a great complement to the e-learning experience.
All in all – it’s fair to say that e-learning is already, and will continue to be at the forefront of creative arts education, and we are thrilled to have had the opportunity to be a pioneer in this world. Meeting the incredible creative students who wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to go to a traditional film school, and seeing them create amazing projects and thrive professionally, has been the best kind of reward.
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