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Quarter 1: Winter 2011

(OK, and some of December 2010. I’m excited, and I can’t help it!)

This week, I’ve been researching the required coursework at several top film schools: NYU, USC, UCLA, AFI, and Chapman. What I have done is create a curriculum of 5 quarters, consisting of about 5 courses each. Some quarters will have more courses in them than others, but each will have a cross section of categories: writing, directing, producing, tech, theory/history/analysis.

This first semester is all about laying my foundations. While I would say I am probably more generally knowledgeable about the industry than the average American adult, so is everyone else who is trying to be the next Carl Reiner. With that said, I definitely know more about television (a shout out to my people at Nick at Night for providing programming for me when I was a young’n) than film (my dad liked a lot of movies where things blew up…). Either way, I am really looking forward to this first quarter, which I’m going to begin as soon as I hit “publish.”

The courses:

– UCLA Extension: Writing a Half-Hour Comedy Spec Script
I’m registered for this class at UCLA Extension, and it is the second part of the 2-part core requirement for the writer’s certificate: Beginning writing (outlining, cough cough) the 1/2 hour comedy spec script, and then this one, where we actually write it. I don’t know if there will be a book assigned with this class, but if not, I will also be using The TV Writer’s Workbook by Ellen Sandler as a guide to help me write my Modern Family spec script. The prerequisite class did not have a book to reinforce the stuff we learned and while it wasn’t 100% necessary, it probably would have helped a hell of a lot, since we just spent a lot of time workshopping this ONE GUY’s story over and over again.

– Creating the Short Film
Re-reading Writing Short Films by Linda J. Cowgill, and Stand-Out Shorts: Shooting and sharing your films online by Russell Evans
Evaluating five successful web series (I’ll post more on that later)
Producing one quick-and-dirty web series

– American Film History
Reading A Short History of the Movies by Mast and Kawis, while also using this online resource guide. Final Project: TBD

– Television and Society
Reading and re-reading This Business of Television by Blumenthal & Goodenough. I was only assigned to read parts of it for my producing class last spring, so I’m going to revisit some chapters, and read others for the first time. Final project: analysis and critique of about 15 landmark TV shows. I’ll post more on that later.

– Entertainment Law
Reading and re-reading The Biz by Schuyler Moore. Same as above — revisiting some chapters, and reading others for the first time. Final Project: TBD

– Women and Medicine
Reading The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. The extracurriculars, just to spice things up a bit.

And then, at the mid-point, and at the end, a self-evaluation.

So, we’ll see how all of this goes. I definitely have to work out a schedule to handle all of this learning between the months of December and March. I do have a full-time job, you know.

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And so it begins…

My name is Michelle. I am a journalist.

But I want to be a showrunner.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually like being a journalist, and I am immensely grateful for the opportunities that journalism has afforded me. I’ve interviewed presidential candidates, covered a dog show, and met many, many fascinating people. I’ve told a ton amazing stories (and, admittedly, some duds) to hundreds of thousands of people.

But I have a couple of reasons I’m making the switch from reporter to writer/producer:

Since the age of 10, I had no doubt that I wanted to work in the media. Because I grew up in New York, publications seemed to be the most viable, practical, and accessible way to do that. And my love of magazines helped me further along in deciding exactly what I wanted to do, as did the constant coddling and validation from my teachers that my writing was SUPERB. As much as I absolutely loved watching television and film, it didn’t seem like a “careerable” thing. My dad wanted me to be the legal spawn of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Thurgood Marshall. Law. Medicine. Business. That’s real work. And even until I moved to Los Angeles at 21 with my aspiring comedy writing then-boyfriend (now-husband), the film and television industry seemed completely inaccessible — reserved only for A-listers and their children, so why should I even try? While I know that nepotism is a driving force of Hollywood,  I now know that outsiders can make it, and that young people (like some of my friends here, in fact) can be successful; it’s a bootstrapper’s kind of place. And I am a bootstrapping kind of lady.

So I’m acknowledging my dream while I’m still young, have no kids, and not a great ton of responsibility like a mortgage or a dumb, expensive car.

One of the things that I loathe in people is a lack of “do.” Ideas are wonderful, but unless you act upon them, they mean nothing. And I was starting to annoy myself with tons of ideas, but no “do.” Thus, I decided to do something about it. As I started coming up with ideas for movies, or TV shows, or web series, I’d write them down. The problem was that I simply didn’t know what or how to create actions from my ideas. (How the hell do you write a script?! Location clearances? What!!?). So I started reading books. And I enrolled in two classes at UCLA Extension, while pondering whether to go to film school. I asked mentors and friends who embarked on the film school adventure about their thoughts — they said it was pointless. Just start doing stuff.

The problem is that I am a huge huge nerd. I like to learn and plan before punching my way through stuff, whenever possible. So for a year I dealt with the inner turmoil of whether or not to go to film school. Somewhere along the way, I decided to go the abridged route: I will obtain a certificate at UCLA Extension with a concentration in television writing, and then in summer 2011, attend the UCLA School of Television, Film, and Theater’s Graduate Producers program, earning a graduate certificate in producing.

But that still leaves two voids: producing films with fellow students, and the analysis/cultural history of television, film, and the media, and all that jazz.

A couple of days ago, I went to a book signing for one of my favorite writers, Chris Gillebeau, who was signing his book, The Art of Non Conformity at Book Soup. I have devoured it, but his chapter on graduate school gave me an epiphany. He obtained his MA in International Studies, and didn’t feel like it was truly necessary (the guy spent four years doing humanitarian work in Africa and became pals with the President of Liberia, for goodness sake).The most valuable lessons he learned only comprised a small portion of his formal education. The rest of class time seemed to be bloviating and busywork. I personally worried that this would be true for me, too (which is why I applied, and then turned down, the MA in journalism at USC. Twice.).Oh, also, I don’t have $100,000 lying around, I don’t intend on being that far in debt, and 2013 (which is when I would probably graduate) seems waaaaay too far away for me. For those of us not looking to be surgeons or supreme court justices, he suggested a self-guided education.

Upon reading that, I came up with this, the Self-Guided Film School. I’ve been researching lesson plans, curricula, books, video, podcasts, lecture events, and lists of influential/notable/important blahblahblah. Basically, SGFS will be supplemental to my work at UCLA. I’m still figuring out some of the details, but I’ll be chronicling my thoughts, analysis, projects, and self-evaluations here.

So yay!

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