Having attended a film school myself, I was intrigued by the headline.
I visited the webpage again today to review the salient points of the story only to find that the headline is no longer “How millennials are making film schools smarter,” but instead, “How millennials are making film schools work harder.”
How then, are millennials making film schools work harder and not smarter?
The story follows a shift in MFA programs, specifically at the AFI, in their concentration not on the craft and artistry of storytelling through film, but instead on so-called “real work issues” or, the nitty gritty of a social media presence, and what to wear during meetings.
This is not a good thing.
Any person remotely invested in the higher education system of this country will tell you that this shift is not unique to MFA film programs. It is symptomatic of the overall commoditization of education. Education used to be a way to broaden a person’s horizons, challenge them to think critically about issues, and gain tools to become a contributing citizen of the world. Today, many students pursue higher education only because it is the final hurdle they must jump through before they can begin a career: a means of making money to live the life that they feel they should have. An undergraduate college diploma is all but the new high school diploma, and that, has caused a severe devaluation of the college educational experience.
My own experience in film school was illustrative of this shift. I have loved film since the moment I could really comprehend what it was. I watch silent films, foreign films, films produced within the past 5 years, films produced 50 years ago… the list goes on. But I met people pursuing their MFAs in film and other film-related courses who only watched movies made within the past 5 years. I’ve met people pursuing film degrees who refuse to watch movies because they don’t think they need to and then tell me an idea that they had that Orson Welles also had 70 years earlier.
The notion that the historical context of a medium is not important is dangerous. It provides a cop out for institutions’ approaches to instruction, and if this idea continues to be perpetuated, we run the risk of creating a new type of film school generation that is not well-versed in the rich and complex history of their art form and craft, but instead, with each class, proceeds to reinvent the wheel all the while falling prey to the delusion that they have created something new and innovative. I’ve worked on student films that have absolutely no grasp of a three act structure, character development, or at its most basic level, a beginning, middle, and end. But by all means, let’s turn the focus away from educating the next generation of supposed storytellers about these things, and instead spoon feed them individualized experiences about “real work experience.”
If film schools decide to give up on story and craftsmanship, I don’t see the necessity of their continued existence. The film school generation of the 1970s ushered in the spectacular New Hollywood period in United States filmmaking. The way we’re going now, we may be able to credit this new film school generation with the death of the story.
That’s not working harder.
That’s a bleak thought.