Two Months – Work and No Work

by Daniel

The best term so far for this undertaking has been “challenge.” I think this is true of both my experience and some of the experiences that my students have. We have differing perspectives on so many things when it comes to what is academically relevant. I alternate between graciously accommodating student preconceptions and being desperately frustrated by those persistent and stubborn ideas.

Under protest, I challenged the Second Year MA batch to rethink their production process from a standpoint of pre-production, concept development and writing before they shoot. This is something I struggle with as an artist, and something I wish that I had paid more attention to in the safe, comfortable confines of school, rather than having to develop on my own as an ongoing process out in the world. The lack of attention to writing and planning process is a real hindrance to young producers, and in my opinion results in derivative, ill-conceived, and un-reflected upon work. Again, as I write this, mostly I have myself in mind. As always, I teach in order to learn.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with a teacher to student provocation, this resulted in the entire group checking out to pursue interests in their comfort zone. I lost the month to their extracurricular event planning for Mediashpere. This event was very ambitious, and while commendable in so many ways, it stripped the course of its lead personality (the organizer of the event), and all other students followed. Good bye concept development, hello extra-curricular hijacker.

This is, in fact, not a new conflict to me. I have been approached in the past by people to produce work according to their preconceptions about the way that work is produced. Indeed, my own work tends to revolve around this media promoted fantasy that what you do is pick up a camera and start shooting, and you suddenly make a movie. It just magically appears out of the camera, so all you need is someone to tell you how to operate the camera. The prosumer camera industry, of course, loves this, as does the world of reality shows, as it helps provide them with an endless stream of consumers for their gear, and their productions. I have fallen for it, time and again, and I know that many more will follow me. It is the curse of privilege that when met with a test, the familiar course of action wins out, in order to maintain one’s preconceptions. Hence the never ending river of derivative work; lathered with stolen piano, or otherwise cinematic, soundtracks; desperately striving to be scary, or sad, or funny; shot on cameras with immense potential churning out grainy yellow footage with booming audio that all of your friends love to tell you that they love. They are not lying. They are your friends, and they love you. However, everyone I know who finds success and makes work worth making, spends an incredible amount of time and energy planning and organizing the work. They are not looking for friendly likes. They are looking to be proud of what they have made.

So I waited. I focused on the first year students who are busily learning to record and edit audio. I watched my own small part of a giant work unfold in Alaska at the Anchorage Museum. Then I attended their event. Just like that, September was gone.

Hopefully, October will redeem us all as the semester draws to a close and students return to class attendance. I can only draw the most consolation from the fact that it wasn’t just my class, it was all classes, and there are several standing apologies, waiting to be backed up by performance.


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