Film school pedagogy – a preamble to some musings.

(Originally published on another blog in 2011, I find these musings are still at the core of my work in developing a film school pedagogy)

In the last few months I find myself increasingly engaged in discussions about film school pedagogy and, more specifically, the dearth of literature devote to this topic.

From what I can tell there are three published works about Film Schools and how they structure their education.

  1. Heidi Philipsen of The University of Southern Denmark published in 2005 her PhD thesis “Dansk films nye bølge” (The New Wave of Danish Film) about the pedagogical principles at the Danish Film School.
  2. Canadian filmmaker Paul Lee published in 2001 his PhD thesis “The FIlmmaker as Artist-Educator” submittet to The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
  3. In 1990 American Sociologist Lisa Henderson submitted her PhD thesis to the University of Pennsylvania entitled “Cinematic competence and directorial persona”, a study of an unnamed Masters-level filmmaking programme in New York City.

The three works are quite different, although the Henderson and Philipsen works are both field studies of established film school programmes.

What I find interesting is how little bearing these works have on my own experiences working at Film Schools before I came to Norway. As a result, through the discussions I have it becomes apparent to me that I should mine my own experience in order to write a contribution to this area.

The three film schools I have worked at – Vancouver Film School, the Canadian Film Centre and The Norwegian Film School – are wildly different, and an attempt to integrate what I have learned form the three will at very least be interesting to me. With any luck it will be interesting to others as well…

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On Creativity

This was originally published on my personal blog on August 4th, 2014.

I read Stephen Downes’ blog regularly; I always find it thought-provoking and interesting. Today was no exception.

Today’s entry, entitled No Paradox Here (go read it at the source) inspired me to think about my own work at The Norwegian Film School, where creativity is our bread and butter…

Specifically, Downes quotes Spencer, who writes:

Creativity: It happens when students have freedom and limitations

His response is:

Creativity is possible even if there are limitations, but only if there is freedom.

Well…not exactly. And it depends on how you apply limitations and freedom.

We are a school for creative artists (filmmakers), and the entire programme is built around the conscious application of limitations in order to stimulate creativty. It’s not our own invention by any stretch, but we have over the years refined teaching methods that enable the students to both explore their own creativity and push the limits their own abilities through the imposition of limitations.

In our experience, too much freedom stifles creativity rather than encouraging it. (And yes, we do realise misguided use of limitations can also stifle creativity.) By specifiying a series of condititions for each film exercise the students are given we give them a well-defined area to explore, encouraging them to make mistakes and take chances within those limits.

There is theory for this, and we lean on Vygotski with his development of the concepts scaffolding and zone of proximal development, and also conscious of the importance of letting the students reach a state of flow. Being an arts school where all the teaching staff are practicing filmmakers, not trained educators has led us to set up weekly staff meetings where we discuss the students development, future teaching plans and the practical and theoretical aspects of this pedagogy.

So, in this case, Spencer is correct: creativity will only happen where there are both limitations and freedom — the limitations designed to encourage creativity and the freedom to explore within these limitations.

But Downes is also correct: this is no paradox. Rather, it is a necessary condition for creativity.