While I have fond memories of film school, I also remember immense feelings of frustration. Why did I have to spend all of this damn time doing stuff that had nothing to do with filmmaking? Why did I have to go to classes I didn’t want to be in? Why did I have to wait a year before I could even touch a camera? The whole process just seemed really backwards. I knew I wanted to make movies—all I wanted from film school was to get that chance.
Fast forward ten years where I suddenly found myself teaching the hands-on kind of film school experience I was looking for as a student. Here, in front of a group of aspiring professionals showing off my FCPX-RED workflow at REDucation (RED’s one-week course), it struck me that this was the way film school should be. If the idea is to prepare you to make movies at a professional level, students should be in a room with working professionals and using cutting-edge gear, skipping the time spent studying theoris (you can do this on your own time with a library card). A real film school should have you holding a camera and shooting from day one, learning from your successes and mistakes. This is what REDucation-X is.
Here’s the bottom line: If you’re serious about filmmaking and maximizing your film education, there isn’t a better way to prepare yourself. With access to quality gear and a finishing time of 16 weeks (instead of two to four years!), REDucation-X is basically a grad-school-level film education on steroids at a fraction of the cost.
I was lucky enough to get to sit down with the founding team member (and first employee) of RED Digital Cinema, Ted Schilowitz, to get RED’s official perspective on REDucation, and what RED aims to do with the program.
Sam Mestman (SM): What are the philosophies behind REDucation and REDucation-X?
Ted Schilowitz, RED (TS): I talked to so many people who said that while they got some good things out of going to film school, they could’ve saved a lot of time and money because they already knew they wanted to make movies. In the end, they really wanted hands-on knowledge and actual moviemaking time—time under the camera hood, if you will. Don’t get me wrong, I still think there’s a lot of value of going to college, four years of life experience, spending time with your peers, growing up, etc., but I think there’s less value if you already know you want to work in film as a career path. You should be able to jumpstart your career, getting to know the gear and spending time with working professionals willing to give their time in an educational environment. With REDucation-X, we condensed all of that into a 16-week movie school where every student is responsible for making his or her own short film with EPICs. They use the same cameras that the big guys use and then they crew for everyone else’s project. So, in the end they are actually responsible for making 15 movies over the course of 16 weeks. We basically tell students to strip away everything they think they know about what a movie camera should be and ask them to just come into it like a kid. If you come to REDucation-X with an open mind you’re going to get a tremendous amount out of the class; come in thinking restricted with an “I-know-how-to-do-this” attitude and you won’t get quite as much out of it.
SM: Where did the idea for REDucation come from?
TS: There are so many new people coming into the fold and wanting to learn how to produce the images they see on the big screen. Economically speaking, there are some students who have the option to burn a hundred grand on a film school education. But most people just don’t have that option and they’re stuck. You can look for other alternatives, but there’s nothing really like what we’re doing. Our school costs $16,000.
We’ve done REDucation for about five years now. And we have all these resources, including the ability to shoot with cameras and screen the results in a 4k theater. That way students learn by actually reviewing the material and talking about the nuances of how we capture it. And then there’s REDucation-X, which is a modern moviemaking school. We accepted our first 15 students last semester and we’re taking our next 15 in a couple of weeks at the end of March. It’s a complete contrast to any film school on the market. On the first day of class students are holding and shooting with EPIC cameras. We basically turned the formal film school education process thing on its head.
SM: I was one of those students who didn’t touch a camera for a year.
TS: Yeah, it’s all so theoretical for the first year. I wanted to do the opposite. At RED, we know the technical; it’s our bread and butter. Just like the students, we learned from our first go at REDucation-X. Unsurprisingly, we were really great at teaching the technicalities of how to make and execute a movie. Now we’re adding more focus on the softer storytelling side and how to actually prep, create, and get ready to shoot your movie. That’s just what we learned from the first time to the second time, so we expect the curriculum to evolve.
SM: Where are the REDucation classes taking place?
TS: It’s one, 15-person class, taking place at RED Studios—although a lot of the students spend time shooting on location at houses and apartments, even in an old movie theater.
SM: Do the students receive budgets for their films?
TS: This is another great part of REDucation, because a pretty healthy part of their tuition covers their budgets, not just faculty costs.
SM: And you’re basically getting a 15-person crew to help out with the process?
TS: That and you get to use state of the art film cameras and post-production equipment. We’re also looking to do more peer and industry review where people come in and say, “Before you shoot your movie, lets really feel your script out, do a bunch of table reads, and create a shot list and storyboards.”
SM: That’s great. A big part of the reason we do the We Make Movies Workshop is because we feel like every writer and filmmaker should be forced to hear his or her work out loud in front of a room of people before they go make it.
TS: I totally agree. I also want all of these students to know that regardless of whatever a critique tells you—even if it’s the harshest thing in the world, and people are just saying you need to re-do it all—the final decision is yours. You get the right to refuse and to say, “I hear what you’re saying, but this is the way I want to make my movie,” then, hopefully, go prove us all wrong. I believe that’s what moviemaking is all about. You know, I go to Sundance every year and see films that are so brilliant on so many fronts, and would probably never get made if the visionaries didn’t stick up for themselves.
SM: After students graduate REDucation-X, do you try to connect the students with jobs? Is there a bit of an alumni program?
TS: Definitely In fact, one of the students from our first group was from India and we hired him in the RED office out there. He’s part of the RED team now.
SM: So as opposed to the typical film school, students might be able to get a job when they graduate?
TS: We certainly hope so.
SM: When is the next time someone could enroll if they wanted to be a part of REDucation-X?
TS: The deadline for application is at the end of March.
SM: What kind of students are you looking for?
TS: In the broadest strokes, we want someone who has a passion for movies and wants to make movies for a living. It’s good if they’re not specifically tied into one particular career choice, like, as always, directing. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great thing to aspire to. But if you come to us saying, “The only thing I want to do is direct,” I’d probably say that our school’s not right for you. If you say that I want to be a director and I want to learn all the other pieces of how to make a movie—cinematography on the EPIC or SCARLET, how to get good sound, making sure you understand production design, producing, how to craft and prepare for a shoot—you have a better chance of getting in. We want this so that if the directing thing doesn’t work out, which in many cases is the reality of it, students can know that they’ve built a whole world of knowledge around them and they can use whatever skill they’re the most passionate about. Basically, when it comes down to it, we’re looking for passion and the ability to craft and tell stories. With that said, we also need someone who’s had some non-linear editing experience on a computer and a basic understanding of post-production. You don’t need a lot of it, but you need some basic knowledge that we can build on.
SM: So what are your chances of getting accepted into REDucation-X if you’re applying?
TS: Since we’re so close to starting the next session, we’ve only got a few spots left. But we haven’t filled all 15 slots yet. There’s still a chance for someone applying now. What’s going to happen is they’re going to be beating out someone who’s still in the running. And if not, we’ll put them in the next session. Our plan is to start a rolling enrollment, so the next 15 students will start halfway through the upcoming class. So two months from now, the next 20 students or so will start rolling in, learning the camera and shooting 5k and 4k footage on day one and be able to see the progress of the previous classes. It’s already been a tremendous amount of fun to see the first class get on its feet and shoot all their movies. Now we’re really starting to see things take shape as we move towards our second group of students.
SM: Do you have standard professors?
TS: We pull a bunch of people from different parts of the industry. There are a lot of talks, but it’s not like a regular sit-in-the-classroom curriculum. That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of days like that, but a big part of it is prepping your project, peer review and meetings. As for industry professionals, for example, we brought in actor Giovanni Ribisi (Gangster Squad, Ted), who incidentally owns a bunch of EPICs, to talk about how you should work with actors. We also brought in DP’s who shot movies with RED cameras last year. At the end of the day, I want people to think about managing their project and to be realistic about achieving their goals.
SM: Time management is key to being on set and really understanding what you can achieve during your shoot day. You can’t shoot at four locations in a day because the moves are going to kill you.
TS: And we saw a lot of that in the first class. Ambition is never a bad thing, right? You want to shoot for the moon, but you don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot, either.
SM: So what is the big picture, long-term vision for REDucation? What would you like to see this turn into?
TS: I hope we get more staff involved. It’s a big grassroots effort right now with a small staff. But to expand, we need to spread our wings a little bit, and that’s in the process of happening. For REDucation-X, I would love to see it migrate from 15-20 students at any given time to close to a hundred students with a real campus that we use in conjunction with our studio. The idea is to build a unique, modern campus that allows students to work in a creative environment. I don’t want it to be a school, per se. I want it to be a real moviemaking experience.
SM: Like a trade school almost?
TS: Like a trade school, but more art focused. A conservatory is a better way to describe it—a RED conservatory. A place where projects are always happening and students are always working to build things. I would like it to be a much more immersive environment. Real world skills, real world tools.
SM: Well, I think that’s amazing. That’s what I hoped film school would be when I went, just a place where you go and you make stuff.
TS: I think it’s sort of important for me to point out. though, that I have the highest respect for the people that are teaching film in the traditional way. We’re not really looking to compete with them.
SM: What is the difference between a student pre-REDucation and post-REDucation?
TS: I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot. How do you define what we do? And the word is “wisdom.” Of course, we can teach you the baseline skills. That’s a given. That’s part of what we do. How to expose a great image, turn the camera on, and all the boring stuff. But you have to learn the skill base, right? So there’s a bunch of skills. And you take that ball of skills and what do you walk away with? You walk away with wisdom. You walk away with this sense of real understanding about what the tools can do so that each job you approach after REDucation, you approach wiser. When people tell you, “Oh no, you can’t do that, you have to make DPX files because RED files can’t open in anything…” after you take our class and you can say, “Actually, that’s not true. Let me show you what I learned.”
For more info on REDucation (RED’s 1 week program), head here: http://www.red.com/reducation
To apply for the Spring/Summer classes at REDucation-X (the 16 week program), visit: http://www.red.com/learn/reducation-x/reducation-x-2013
BIO: Sam has worked for Apple, ESPN, Glee, and Break.com, to name a few, and now runs his own post-production operation at www.wemakemoviespost.com. He’s a regular writer for MovieMaker Magazine’s We Make Movies (Better) blog, teaches post workflow at RED’s REDucation classes, and specializes in saving independent producers tens of thousands of dollars while delivering a top quality product. He is also the founder and CEO of We Make Movies (www.wemakemovies.org), which in just three years might become the largest film collective in Los Angeles (and now Toronto).