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Educating the Iron City

Educating the Iron City

Articles - Education

Pittsburgh Filmmakers students
Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ students set up a shot
for a project.

It may not be considered one
of America’s hotspots
for moviemaking, but for the past three decades, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
has been home to one of the country’s most distinguished media
arts organizations. Since 1971, “Pittsburgh Filmmakers” has provided
one of the most important keys to success for its local moviemaking
community: access!

Recently we spoke with Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ executive director
Charlie Humphrey about the group’s founding mission and the city’s
important cinematic history.

Jennifer Wood (MM): What was the mission that Pittsburgh
Filmmakers was founded on?

Charlie Humphrey (CH): The simple notion
of “access.” The
tools of filmmaking are still expensive, and the knowledge required
to make it is somewhat obscure. The core belief in access remains
at the heart of our mission today-access to tools, access to education
and access to programming.

MM: What services did you initially offer to moviemakers?

CH: Mostly equipment in the early days. That has since
evolved into a broader spectrum of services, from help in grant
writing to offering access to a community of like-minded artists.

MM: When was the education program born? And
how did the early days of this program differ from what it is
today?

CH: It came pretty early in the game. Filmmaking is hard,
and in many ways it is counterintuitive. The changes have really
been in the form of growth. The curriculum is much larger and the
number of partner colleges has increased dramatically. We started
out teaching classes for the University of Pittsburgh, but we now
have partnerships with eight different schools.

Also, the technology has changed. The lines
between film, video, digital and photography have all blurred
to the point where you
can’t realistically teach one thing without teaching the other.

MM: At what point (or points) in the last 30 years have
you seen the biggest surge in interest in film education? And
to what have you attributed this interest?

CH: Interest in education comes in trendy waves. There
are several contributing factors. Whenever a small, independent
film is successful, it tends to inspire a generation of emerging
artists. Having large Hollywood productions in town also helps
spur interest. But more than anything else, it is the accessibility
of digital technology, and the fact that anyone with a decent CPU
can make stuff.

MM: Today, the School of Film, Video and Photography
is an accredited institute, offering college credit to students.
Which schools do you work with and what are the requirements
to receive credit?

CH: We work with Carnegie Mellon University, The University
of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University, Robert Morris University, LaRoche
College, Seton Hall University and Point Park College. Classes
may be taken for credit directly from us, or through one or more
of our partners. The requirements for credit are the same as any
school: successful completion of a class!

MM: What about individuals in the community who are
looking to further their own education? Is the application process
any different?

CH: It is exactly the same process for students from the
community. The classes are the same. In fact, one of the unique
things about Filmmakers is that independent students and students
from our partner schools are all combined into the same classroom.
The entire curriculum is made available to anyone, regardless of
where they come from. At least 72 classes count.

MM: Which areas of moviemaking do you specialize in?

CH: Our emphasis is on the complete
filmmaker. We don’t
have academic tracks that lead you to one specialized discipline.
Artists can, and often do, emerge with a preference for one particular
aspect of filmmaking, like screenwriting or editing, but we believe
that there should be a rigorous understanding of all elements of
filmmaking.

MM: When it comes to moviemaking, Pittsburgh is not
the first city that comes to mind as a huge production area.
How would you describe the local production community?

CH: This is a phenomenal production community. Several
well-known feature have been shot here, including Silence of
the Lambs
and more recently, The Mothman Prophecies.

Pittsburgh was once a powerhouse industrial
community, and many of the people involved in creating media
for those big companies
are still here. And don’t forget, for many years, the National
Geographic series for PBS was produced in Pittsburgh. That was
some of the best documentary work ever created for television.

MM: What other new developments can we expect to see
Pittsburgh Filmmakers conquering in the coming years?

CH: There will be new partnerships,
as the lines between media and media delivery become more and
more invisible. We are
working now to turn our block into a kind of media campus, housing
media, music and other independent organizations in a single neighborhood.
It will be a long-term project, taking several years to complete,
but it’s exciting.

For more information, visit http://www.pghfilmmakers.org

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