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How film school helped me become a better journalist

For a brief period in 1999, I attended the film/video program at the California State Summer School of the Arts in Valencia, Ca. Since I was a little tyke I always wanted to be a Hollywood filmmaker and — until a life-changing encounter with an astute English professor — I had no intention of being a journalist. But some of the lessons I learned from the experience have stuck with me today and contributed to my success as a writer and as a person. Here are some of the tidbits I learned:

1. A diverse crowd means diverse points of view

Often our wacky troop of 24 aspiring filmmakers would be given a single assignment (i.e. shoot a film that encapsulates happiness) and the result would be 24 very different projects, all of which were compelling, but all of which told a very different story. The same goes for journalism: If you send several different journalists out to cover the same story, the resulting coverage should be very different. If the hypothetical group of journos all return with the same angle, we have not done our job as investigators and as human beings.

2. Things don’t always go as planned

For my final project, I shot footage of the California Institute of the Arts campus and hand-spliced it together with footage of a fellow student singing “Lucia di Lammermoor/The Diva Dance” from The Fifth Element soundtrack. I intended it to be a music video of sorts, but because I miscounted the number of frames, the whole thing was thrown off and it didn’t match the music at all. Yet the final piece was something avant-garde and and like my then professor Valerie Soe said “when it did match up it was beautiful.” This has taught me that its okay to make mistakes, especially in multimedia design, because sometimes the outcome is better than the original plan. The experience also gave me a greater appreciation for Final Cut Pro.

3. Just because you’re a filmmaker doesn’t mean you can’t do other things too

The beautiful thing about CSSSA was that there were such a wide array of students who attended the program. There were dancers and dramatists and thespians and writers and animators and musicians, all existing in this one space. But just because you were enrolled in one particular artistic field, didn’t mean you couldn’t experiment within one of the other disciplines. There were dancing filmmakers and writers who acted, etc. This instilled in me that just because I am a journalist doesn’t mean I have to limit myself to one niche of the profession. The best journalists — and now the most highly coveted — are those who are schooled in a number of different facets of the industry and open themselves up to learning new things. These are the journalists who think outside the proverbial box and are the future of the industry.


CSSSA Film/Video, Class of 1999

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