Sunday, March 1, 2015

Relevant Skills

I think it's tragic that, in a culture as centered as ours is around video entertainment, when kids put on plays in school and study Shakespeare and Miller and so on, all they study is theater and not cinema. And a good many teachers, even when I was a kid, *play movies in class* for the kids to watch. Even when they're studying a play, the teacher will play a film adaptation of the play. But when they walk the kids through the motions, it's always for a live performance, not a film. Any actor will tell you that stage acting and acting for a camera are totally different beasts, yet most film actors get their start on stage, because that's the only acting experience schools generally offer.

I say it's tragic because it walls off a huge, lucrative industry into the realm of the unknown and untouchable. I think when most people think about "working in movies" or TV, they're only thinking about the talent. But where does a kid go to learn how to mix sound? How many high school art classes teach kids to build movie props? How many vo-tech kids studying electricity even know what a gaffer is?

When I was a kid, I wasn't interested in acting, but I liked to pull the ropes to open and close the curtains (and in doing so, I ended up learning everybody's lines). Broadway is maybe the one place in the whole world that has any use for that, and I'm sure they have motorized curtains now.

But how many places worldwide do they record commercials? Nightly news programs? I've seen and heard of kids acting out reporting the news, but that's all they do--write a script and read it in front of an audience. They don't build a set, work the lights and sound, record it, and broadcast it. They don't promote it. They don't have to hire and manage the crew and the talent. They don't find the stories and cull them and decide what to lead with and make it all fit in the allotted time between commercial breaks. 

When I worked at Columbus State, one of the jobs I volunteered for was asset inventory. Every piece of equipment the college owned that was worth more than some certain amount of money has to be tracked and has a bar code physically attached to it. So I'd go around putting on stickers or checking serial numbers on everything from pianos and digital projectors to gas chromatographs and airplanes. This led me to discover that the college has its own television studio tucked away in the back of the library. It was almost never used. I was told that they used to have a class that used it back in the sixties or seventies, and that they'd use it to televise a meeting or something now and again, but that the students no longer used it regularly, even though the equipment all seemed pretty modern. It's like they continued to funnel resources into this, as though they needed to think up something to spend money on, but they didn't bother to use it to train people to go into broadcasting.

When a kid expresses an interest in making movies or TV shows, if we assume she means acting, we dismiss it as a silly ambition, because actually becoming rich and famous as an actor is a long shot. But you know who pretty reliably gets rich in that industry? The people who PAY the actors. And even if you're not looking to get famous or rich, doing the tech work behind the scenes must be steady work in a culture where people spend a good chunk of their waking lives living vicariously through screens.

Maybe it's more transparent in Los Angeles or New York. But given that a studio is the modern equivalent of a printing press, wide participation in this form of media seems pretty basic to our democracy. I think this is why Youtube has become such a sensation. It does for video broadcasting what the Internet did for publishing. But if you look at the quality of most of the stuff on Youtube, it's clear that most of the people generating content are completely ignorant of how to do it well. And let's face it--a video that's well produced is going to be more enjoyable to watch than one that isn't. People will feel more comfortable sharing it, and it'll get more views. Simply having the presence of mind to use a tripod makes a video more watchable. And, like a person who dresses well being taken more seriously than someone who doesn't, the more professional the quality of a video is, the more seriously the viewers will take the content.

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