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Film Education’s Maine Attraction

Film Education’s Maine Attraction

Articles - Education

David Lyman
David Lyman

When one thinks of Maine, lighthouses, lobster
and rocky coastlines are a few of the things that come to mind. But
thanks to David Lyman and the thousands of individuals who’ve attended
the International Film and Television Workshops in the midcoast town
of Rockport, an adventure in moviemaking is something that is now
also associated with the Pine Tree State.

Each year students from around
the globe congregate in Rockport to take part in these now near-legendary
workshops. Says Lyman, "What goes on in a one-week workshop
or master class transforms people, allows them greater insight
into their career potential. The experience does not change people,
it just helps them become more of who it is they can be. Each
summer I see hundreds of professional photographers, writers,
filmmakers, actors, as well as amateurs find renewed commitment
to their craft; find the light within them that allows them to
overcome the blocks in their path to reach new heights of self-realization."
Lyman recently spoke to MM about his nearly 30 years of experience
as educator and entrepreneur in Rockport.

Jennifer Wood (MM): How
did the idea for the Workshops first come about? They were founded
in 1973; were you covering film back then, as well?

David Lyman (DL): Hollywood
and filmmaking did not play a role in The Workshops in the beginning.
We started as a summer school for photographers. The second summer
Mary Ellen Mark came to teach a workshop. She was dating Conrad
Hall, the cinematographer who won an Oscar for Butch Cassidy.
He’d just finished The Marathon Man and joined Mary Ellen
for a vacation. Connie was amazed at the process by which photographers
learned so much in a week. "It would be a great thing to
offer this type of experience to cinematographers," he said,
"but you couldn’t get the motion picture film processed in
time."

I filed the idea and that winter
called Connie to see if he would like to lead a one-week Master
Class for cinematographers. It would not be a workshop, but a
master class where he would critique the work students brought.
Eighty filmmakers came to that class-it was huge success. When
I asked Connie to return the following summer, he begged off,
but put me onto an up-and-coming cinematographer from Hungary,
Vilmos Zsigmond. Vilmos came the summer of 1976 and after three
days of sitting in a dark theater watching students’ reels and
short films, he said: "let’s go outdoors and shoot something.
You can process E-3 Slide film, can’t you?" Yes, we could.

A grip company from Boston drove
up a truck full of light and we shot day for night, close-ups,
matched sunset light on an overcast day. Looking at the slides
the next morning, Vilmos, the students and I realized we could
teach lighting using slides without having to explore a frame
of motion picture film. Vilmos and I developed a film lighting
course for the following summer and it remains one of our most
popular. Billy Williams, Laszlo Kovacs, Russell Carpenter, Peter
James, Walter Lassally, Bruce Surtees, Dante Spinotti, Owen Roizman,
Victor Kemper, Woody Omens, Isidore Mankofsky and other major
Directors of Photography have lead this class over the past 27
years.

MM: How have the workshops
changed since their inception? Not just in an educational scope,
but as far as the students, technologies, the campus itself, etc.?

DL: The basic "transformational
experience" has changed little over the years, only that
we can now do it better. What has changed is the technology by
which storytellers and imagemakers do their work. The processes
and methods are the same whether you are using a still, film,
video or DV camera. The DV camera, Avid and now Final Cut Pro
have "democratized" the process and allowed virtually
anyone to enter the field. Before it took years before you could
learn how to make a film or a really great photograph. The craft,
which is a combination of mastery over the tools and materials
with mastery of the "creative process" took five years
or more. Today we can teach someone how to operate a DV camera
in five days, and if they already know how to use a Macintosh
computer, how to use Final Cut Pro to edit their film or tape.
The quality of the product has not improved. As with the introduction
of the automatic still 35mm SLR camera, there are a lot more mediocre
images around. We are now awash in mediocrity. The next step will
be to find a way to edit out the noise and spend our time watching
works that transport us to a new level of awareness-that’s the
job of the storyteller, to show us ourselves through the metaphor
of someone else’s experience. The technology has made it easier
to make something, but not make it better.

MM: How many courses
can a person take in one week in your workshops?

DL: A workshop means
total immersion, full-time, no tennis or outside distractions.
Students are up at dawn to photograph the sunrise and will not
retire until after 1:00 a.m. We start Sunday evening with a briefing
of what the week will be like, how to make the most of the experience
and introductions-the week is full from then on.

Mornings are for classroom work,
lectures, critiques, demonstrations and discussions. Afternoons
are practical work in the studio or on location. In the evenings,
after dinner, there is night location work, or screenings of films
and slide lectures by the guest instructors. Around 11:00 p.m.
many people gravitate to the bars in Camden for a few beers to
debrief and chat about what really matters: careers, how to balance
family-life with a career and how to get ahead in this business.
Friday evening, after the lobster, there is a screening of what
each class produced that week. By Saturday, everyone is worn out,
but full of new ideas, fresh insight and the warm glow of new
friends and new possibilities.

MM: What are the requirements-academic
and otherwise-that you look for in prospective students?

DL: A willingness to
let go, to make mistakes, to reach, stretch and fall flat on one’s
face if necessary. If a student is willing to embrace the experience,
that attitude will ensure the week will be truly a "transformational"
one. Each workshop lists the levels of technical knowledge and
experience for those who apply. Our Website provides more information
on prerequisites, other workshops and career paths for those applying.

MM: You offer a number
of programs abroad. How are these arranged and determined, and
what is the process for a student to become part of one of these
trips?

DL: We now offer workshops
and field experience in Cuba, Mexico and soon, the Island of Crete,
the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Spain, Italy, Scotland, and Patagonia.
Once people have learned to tell a story with the new DV cameras
here in Maine, they want to explore the world. I like to do that
myself, so we organize these expeditions in conjunction with National
Geographic Traveler Magazine
to take people to exciting places
to learn more about making documentaries and using the process
of storytelling to learn more about a culture and a people.

MM: Part of your philosophy
seems to be that the way to learn is to make mistakes, which is
a truly refreshing statement.

DL: There is nothing
wrong with a mistake. "Show me a man who never made a mistake
and I’ll show you a man who never accomplished anything."
Most people abhor making a mistake. Their upbringing and education
has instilled in them that it is wrong to make a mistake. The
truly creative people-less that five percent of the population,
according to the Myers-Briggs-do not mind making mistakes, for
they are not called mistakes. They call them exercises, tests
and attempts at finding a better way. Making mistakes allows us
to see new possibilities, for what to some is a mistake to us
is a discovery of what does not work. Edison made 10,000 attempts
(mistakes) in his process of finding out how to make a light bulb
work without burning up.

MM: How have technological
changes affected your courses over the years? For example, how
has the advent of digital technology changed your course offerings?

DL: We do see a definite
impact of the smaller, less expensive cameras and editing systems.
Our high-end 35mm film camera workshops, which were our most popular
workshops, have now shrunk in enrollment, and new mini-DV workshops
have become popular. Teaching editing was difficult 10 years ago-RM-440
video editing and flatbed editing were cumbersome. Avid changed
all that, but Avid was still expensively prohibitive as a tool
for the independent filmmaker. Final Cut Pro and the mini-DV cameras
are now major players. Everyone interested in making a film or
telling a story can now afford the technology. As an institution,
we are small enough to move quickly when the technology changes.
The industry helps us by providing us with that technology and
with experts to help us develop the training. Canon loans us 8
mini-DV cameras, Arri loans us 16mm and 35mm cameras, as does
Panavision. Panasonic and Panavision loan us the high-definition
digital video cameras.

MM: The campus is
situated in the town of Rockport, Maine. How do you think this
setting helps your business and your visiting filmmakers?

DL: Rockport is an ideal
setting for a conservatory such as The Workshops. It is one of
the reasons the Workshops have grown and been so successful. It
is a small, quiet, seacoast fishing village. Here there are no
distractions, no noise, nothing to interfere with the contemplation,
study and work at hand. It is a village of 1800s Victorian architecture
and craftsmanship. There is a harmony here between landscape and
man’s presence. There is enough activity and people around to
provide material for the documentary workshops and a pool of actors
for the dramatic workshops.

MM: If you were to
give a prospective student-in any discipline-some words of advice
before coming to Rockport, what would they be?

DL: Taking a workshop
is a major step in anyone’s career. A one-week workshop will be
a week you will never forget-the experience will be imprinted
in your memory. You will remember what you learned, the people
you worked witWh, the lobster, the late night chats with fellow
filmmakers, the inspiration you felt over listening to one of
the instructors talk about their career beginnings. The first
step is to come see us for a portfolio review or a look at your
reel or resume. As a "career advancement" school our
mission is to help you find a way to get better at what you do
and to find out what it is your soul tells you you should be doing.
And make sure you are well-rested when you arrive.

For more information
on The Workshops, please visit www.TheWorkshops.com

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