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Tag Archives: Columbia University
Today is my last day as Chair of the Film Program at Columbia University.
It’s been a great four years and I’m very proud of our accomplishments over that time.
The end of my chairmanship should not be much of a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. The position is a rotating one among faculty, and Columbia has very strict term limits. I’ve also mentioned it numerous times (albeit off-handedly) in recent writings and speeches. I’m pleased that my colleague Maureen Ryan will be the next Chair. She is more than capable of taking up the mantle and bringing the program to the next level.
Meanwhile, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be back to concentrating on teaching rather than administrating, back to producing and consulting on marketing and distribution of indie films, and perhaps paying more attention to this blog.
Stepping back has already given me the opportunity to think about things with a clearer head, and I share with you now some words that were part of my speech at this year’s Columbia University Film Festival in both New York and Los Angeles.
In the last few years, we’ve seen enormous shifts in the technology of what we do, in the ways in which audiences consume what we create and in the general perception of the value of our work. Some people, given what they read in various publications, might draw the conclusion that we’re heading toward a day when 12-year-olds with iPhones will be born with all the necessary skills to create works of art. Other reports would indicate that theatrical movie-going is dead and that TV has supplanted the movies as the main art form of the 21st century.
At the Columbia School of the Arts Graduation Ceremony every year, the Chairs of the four programs (Film, Theatre, Writing and Visual Arts) get the opportunity to make some short remarks prior to handing out the diplomas to their students. This tradition has developed into a good-natured competition.
After doing a rather traditional speech my first year as Chair of the Film Program, I found myself being jealous of the other Chairs, as they were able to organically incorporate their disciplines into their speeches. The Chair of Writing delivered something quite poetic, the Chair of Theater was very theatrical, and the Chair of Visual Arts worked with props to make a do something, well, visual. I felt left out.
Over that summer, I got the idea to make a film that would be my speech, and I recruited a group of students to work with me on it over the next academic year. They did a fantastic job and only made one creative mistake…which was casting me in the lead.
The video we made was a hit at graduation that year, and I decided to keep using it since the audience would be different each year. That was also the reason I never posted it anywhere…until now. Since this was my last year as Chair, I now feel like I can share it with the world.
There are many inside jokes in it, so don’t be surprised if some of it doesn’t quite make sense. Also, you should know that the video ends with me entering Miller Theater, which is where the ceremony takes place. When it goes to black, you have to picture at that moment, a spotlight hits the podium on stage and there I am.
So here here is my graduation “speech” for all to see.
I would like to thank the many students and alums who collaborated on the film, especially the Producer, Rachel Brenna; the Director, Jennifer Gerber; and the writers, Nicole DiMasi, Michael Piech and Keola Racela. And thanks to the members of the faculty and staff who were brave enough to participate. This was very much a collaborative effort, and an example of why collaboration is at the center of what we do in the school.
You can comment after the break… (more…)
A few years ago, as part of the Columbia University Film Festival, we had an event honoring the longtime collaboration of Producer Michael Hausman and Director Milos Forman. Forman was the first Chair of the Columbia MFA Program, and Hausman has been teaching at the school since the very beginning. In a way, their collaboration is emblematic of the way films are made at Columbia, where producers and directors are creative partners. In keeping with that spirit, a group of students led by Director/Producer Mike De Caro and Co-Producer Jennifer Gerber, decided to capture the event and edit it into a short film.
Comments after the break… (more…)
The following are the remarks I made earlier today at the Memorial for Richard Brick, which was held at Columbia University.
I would like to share a few words about my colleague, my mentor and my friend, Richard Brick.
Some people are born with the exact personality traits for a specific vocation. Richard Brick was born a Producer. His long-time course at Columbia was titled “Pre-Production.” The central pedagogy was that the only way to avoid disasters was to anticipate them, and to have a Plan B, a plan C and so on. In other words, plan for the worst. It was not just a class to him, it was a philosophy of life. He lived his entire life in a constant state of Pre-Production.
My first encounter with Richard was in 1987, when I received a cold call from him, asking me if I would like to teach a course at Columbia. He was the newly installed Chair of the Film Program at the time, and he was sitting in on every class that was offered in the program to evaluate its effectiveness. He determined that the class in Marketing & Distribution wasn’t working and he wanted a quick fix. It was a perfect Richard Brick moment. See a problem, fix it. Never having taught before, I said yes, and thus, in one stroke, Richard had set me on the road to a teaching career that I never anticipated. (more…)
For the second year, Columbia University has designated a special day to help raise student support funds. They call it “Giving Day,” and all the various schools and programs are competing to get a share of matching funds from the University. This year it’s Wednesday, October 23rd.
Why should you care? It should come as no surprise that financing graduate school at a major university is an expensive proposition. But the students who come to Columbia are some of the brightest lights in a world that needs talented storytellers more than ever.
The results are clear. Our alums are working in just about every aspect of the film and television businesses in the U.S. and all over the world. It would be easy to shout out the names of our most famous alums, but that would miss the point. The point is that the skill and talent necessary to create great art is not necessarily linked to economic riches. This is a point that seems to be more accepted in other countries than here, where success seems to be inextricably linked to Hollywood. (more…)
For those of you who have commented that film schools need more training in marketing and distribution, take a look at this video about a program that I helped to create with Ben Gibson of the London Film School. “Making Waves” took place at the Berlin Film Festival this past February. Several Columbia students participated along with students from The London Film School, La Fémis (Paris), the dffb (Berlin), ESCAC (Barcelona) and the UNATC (Romania). The students worked in international teams and were assigned a film from the Berlin Market and a territory. It was enormously successful and we hope the program continues in future years. Check it out below… Comments after the break… (more…)
Columbia University has designated October 24th as “Giving Day.” It has set up a competition among all the schools that make up the University, backing it with up to $400,000 in matching funds. All of the funds will go to student support.
In case you didn’t know, attending an MFA program at a major university like Columbia is a very expensive proposition, made even more so by the fact that our film students create their own productions while they are learning their craft. Students in Columbia’s Film Program make an enormous commitment to attend, in the belief that what we offer is well worth the price. We owe it to them to do whatever we can to ease that burden.
Let me just say that competing with the Business School or the Law School to raise money seems quixotic at best. But I’m a Cubs fan. What can I say? To quote a certain current President, every small contribution matters. As little as $10 can make a difference. Can you help us out?
All you have to do is go to:
Just make sure you click on “School of the Arts” (It’s the very last school in the drop down list). Then on the next page, designate “Film” as the fund you want to support.
Let’s show those other schools that people still care about the arts enough to support them.
I thought it would be fun to share the following photos, one taken 25 years ago in front of Symphony Space in Manhattan on the occasion of the 1st Columbia University Film Festival, and the other taken 25 years later at the same location. Can you guess who these people are?
Comments after the break… (more…)
The following article by Charles Lyons appears in the current issue of Filmmaker Magazine. Click on a thumbnail to get started…
(reproduced with permission)
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As many of you know, this year marked the 25th Anniversary of the Columbia University Film Festival. We decided to mark the occasion with a huge celebration at Alice Tully Hall. As Chair of the Film Program, I had the honor of being the host. It was an opportunity to reflect on our history and to talk about who we are and what we do. While I would have like to have had my opening speech videotaped for posterity, the folks at Alice Tully make such an endeavor way too expensive, so instead I decided to share the text of my opening remarks. I welcome your comments.
Opening Remarks at Alice Tully Hall, May 4th, 2012
If you’re wondering why I’m dressed like this, it’s because we run a very democratic institution and the student committee (I’m told) voted to have me dress this way. So, who am I to argue?
The fact that I am standing here as Chair of the Film Program as we celebrate this momentous occasion, is an accident of fate. I am simply a representative of the amazing faculty of the Film Program, a group of groundbreaking writers, director and producers who have truly dedicated themselves to mentoring the next generation of filmmakers. I don’t have time to mention you all by name, but let’s have a round of applause for the Columbia Film Faculty. (more…)