Two weeks ago, I finished an amazing program, the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television’s Professional Program in producing. My 50+ classmates and I were met with a fairly rigorous schedule: 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., four nights a week, for 10 weeks. Personally, I didn’t go to film school, unlike quite a few of my classmates. This IS my film school. So I was pretty grateful to learn as much as possible, despite the fact that I was exhausted half the time.
At the end of 10 weeks, my UCLA two-subject notebook is now filled, cover to cover, with notes, lecture quotes, budgets, handouts, lists, diagrams, and reminders. I cannot fully encapsulate the things I learned — – it was a good amount of information — but here are the things that stick out to me, looking back.
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.