Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Notes on Collaboration: Assessing Student Behaviors

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Notes on Collaboration: Assessing Student Behaviors

Article excerpt

The relationships on the set of a film are incredibly important and interdependent and ultimately affect what gets put on film. I firmly believe this, some people may argue with that, but I firmly believe it- especially on a low budget film.

Tom DiCillo, Living in Oblivion

MANY CLICHÉS SUGGEST WHAT KIND OF behavior gravitates toward particular crew positions or roles in film and video production, yet I have encountered no published studies that seek to explain this correlation. There is the rogue director who terrorizes his crew while making intriguing films. There is the Machiavellian producer who plays people off one another to get the film project completed and takes credit for much of the effort. Of course we must include the cool cinematographer (with or without an eye patch) who looks upon his work as an art form and always needs more time to make a masterpiece. Lesser known, but important to mention, is the solo film artist who uses film or video as his medium for personal expression. The "overly familiar" status of such clichés is certainly reinforced in several notable self-referential films: Federico Fellini's 8 1A (1963), François Truffaut's La Nuit américaine [Day for Night] (1973), Wim Wenders' Der Stand der Dinge [The State of Things] (1982), and, of course, DiCillo's Living in Oblivion (1995)- all popular examples of film crew clichés operating in narrative films. The gender bias here is intentional and part of the cliché.

Several years ago, I began to collect actual data from students and colleagues about the nature of collaboration and its intrinsic dynamics in order to investigate how interpersonal dynamics affect the final film and the education of the individual student. I wondered, what role can film schools play In affecting collaboration dynamics and gender and ethnic inequities? How can we teach crew positions so that a wide range of behaviors draw on students' inherent strengths when making a film? How do we teach students the best ways for these roles to work collaboratively?

The clichés just described are certainly well known to most incoming student filmmakers, yet with the usual film school emphasis on teaching technology and storytelling techniques, there is often a lack of time or effort to teach management skills and an awareness of interpersonal dynamics. Furthermore, many textbooks used in film schools today- while effectively covering the range of necessary knowledge for filmmaking by often drawing on real-life anecdotes and case studies-inadvertently emulate the bottom-line pressure of the film industry and plug a tough "hire and fire" approach to crew interaction.1 Instructors teaching in the academy often look to downplay such sentiments with reassurances that "no one will be fired in this class, yet crew changes may have to be made so that everyone plays a role." Such placations may succeed for the short term, yet students often wonder out loud, "Will I get to do what I want? What if I don't like the people in my group? Why can't they be fired? That's what would happen on a real production." In his widely popular book Film Production Technique, a mainstay at numerous film schools, Bruce Mamer looks to soften such mixed signals in a short section titled "Team Spirit," which points to interpersonal dynamics yet still clearly favors an efficiency-oriented, industry point of view:

Film crews tend to be an amalgamation of iconoclasts and eccentrics, individualism and ego[,] seemingly a necessary attribute to successfully staying in the field. Despite this, responsible crew members understand the need to move forward as a unified whole. They also do not make the mistake of overestimating or underestimating their contribution. Chronic complainers can poison the atmosphere on a set and make everyone wish they were somewhere else. If someone on the set does not want to be there, do yourself a favor and grant his or her wish. (49-50)

For the sake of remaining aligned with a rich tradition of liberal arts education in order to facilitate the emergence of more imaginative film innovators to the industry, film production programs must ask themselves, "Are we teaching students to make films, or are we teaching them how to become the people who make films? …

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