Teaching in a Film School: There is More to It than Just being a Successful Filmmaker
It is so natural to assume that good filmmakers will also make excellent teachers that we seldom give it a second thought. In truth, however, being good or even the best in any field of art does not naturally mean that the person will also be an equally good teacher of the subject. Both students and teachers find out about it the hard way in most cases unfortunately, and since that is counterproductive for both film students and teachers, it is important to take a closer look at what the problems usually are, and how they can be addressed.
There is a Stark Difference between the Two Roles
Good filmmakers are hard to come by, and they deserve the full respect of potential, future filmmakers, aka film students. Students and even other professionals can learn by simply watching their work, or more preferably, while working with them on set. However, there is a significant difference between the roles of a film school teacher and a filmmaker.
As a filmmaker, you are supposed to exclusively concentrate on creating masterpieces of your own with each film. During that time, your work has little to do with teaching novices how to do what they have perfected over years of practice, mistakes and retakes. When you assume the role of a professional teacher without the necessary preparations, you will immediately sense the difference.
Your focus can no longer be exclusively on creating your own films, but during the school hours, it needs to be redirected towards helping future filmmakers create their own masterpieces down the line as well. Even before filmmaking in its entirety comes into play, you must now teach students the ABCs of filmmaking. This shift in focus from trying to hone and perfect your own skill and work, to teaching others about basic and advanced filmmaking is a massive leap that many fail to anticipate or acknowledge before taking up the job.
The Pro Vs. Amateur Problem
A professional filmmaker will be used to working with other professionals for far too long to not be bothered by the fact that they are surrounded by novices now. There is nothing wrong with the fact that film school students are generally amateurs because they are in the process of learning the craft, which is why they are literally still in school! A teacher who gets bothered by that, however, is not adequately prepared for the role they are supposed to assume.
It is understandable that someone used to working with pros will find it somewhat testing if they suddenly have to teach amateurs how to do what they want to. That understanding, however, doesn’t excuse the fact that as a film school teacher, it would be their failing if they are expecting students to behave like professionals. Ego and pride cannot be virtues for a teacher, but many directors have found their egoistic natures too difficult to get rid of, even when working on sets with some of the best.
The Origin of Both Problems is the Same
This complete paradigm shift in terms of both what the new role requires them to do, as well as who they are working with as a teacher, can and often does prevent good filmmakers from becoming good teachers. The root or origin of both issues is the same though, and identifying it should make it easier to discuss viable solutions as well.
These problems – which even some of the best filmmakers in the world have often shared during interviews – can be traced back to their original unpreparedness for the new role. While a renowned director might be more than prepared to handle any kind of filmmaking, they are more often than not, ill-prepared to actually teach their craft to newcomers. The vast knowledge and experience might have honed them into becoming master artists in their own art, but all their years into the industry had little to do with teaching it in a school. Now, it should be noted that there are plenty of exceptions, but this post is not about them. Those that do find the transition to be difficult, however, should be able to relate to both problems and their origin quite naturally.
The Solution: Perspective Change
There are multiple steps to handle the transition with better results, but they must all begin with a change in perspective. It is important for a film teacher to realise and acknowledge the fact that their roles and expectations from the students are supposed to be different in comparison to how what they are during actual filmmaking sessions. The thin line between knowledge and realisation must be crossed and the filmmaker should take their teaching role more seriously.
Changing the perspective is key, but it isn’t the entire solution. After acknowledging the fact that there is a huge difference between how filmmakers operate and how film school teachers educate, the next step should be taken in the direction of getting proper training as a teacher. The good news is that the principles of teaching and learning are more or less the same, irrespective of the subject. Education itself is deemed to be a separate subject with universal applicability, so it is only natural that a suitable Masters in Education course can help any filmmaker learn basic, intermediate and advanced teaching techniques. It should train them in the same way as it would train a schoolteacher of liberal arts, because the core teaching principles do not change.
Since we are discussing experienced filmmakers turned into teachers here, it would be adequate to assume that they already have the knowledge and experience necessary to teach filmmaking. Once they manage to master the basics of teaching their craft, the act of instructing and coaching film school students should begin to feel like second nature. After the barrier has been broken between the filmmaker and the film teacher, it is not uncommon or even unheard of for teachers to find highly talented students who have gone on to become their prodigy.