Many film artisans only begin their professional training in college or afterwards, without any previous formal experience in moviemaking. But Idyllwild Arts Academy, one of three arts-based boarding schools in the country, believes it’s the earlier the better when it comes to learning one’s craft. The Academy’s Moving Pictures Department immerses high school students in the many aspects of making movies, capitalizing on the energy and creativity of its young pupils. Through Idyllwild’s California campus and veteran faculty members, the school instills hands-on experience and an abiding respect for the artist in all of its students. Bradley Battersby, chair of the department, let MM in on why this is the place to find your inspiration…and start early.
Andre Ward (MM): Young people often dabble in the arts during high school and then decide to pursue them fully during their university years. What is the advantage of focusing on the arts so early? Is there any downside?
Bradley Battersby (BB): Idyllwild Arts Academy is known for its pre-professional training in the arts. As a result, the Moving Pictures Department attracts a highly motivated student; one who is well aware that the education they are about to receive is going to be comprehensive and will directly relate to standard practices within the film industry. For example, a Moving Pictures freshman will have had four years of screenwriting classes by the time they graduate as opposed to sometimes less than one, and usually no more than two years in most college programs. This is a huge advantage for our students, even if they don’t want to be screenwriters, because story is at the core of all filmmaking and it is the one thing that usually takes the longest time to learn and execute well. The downside occasionally occurs when a student fails to understand the rigor of real filmmaking, and the discipline that it takes to learn its many facets and practice it with genuine passion and creativity.
MM: Idyllwild Arts Academy is one of only three boarding schools in the country centered around the arts. Why do you think there are so few?
BB: This, unfortunately, is a reflection of our society’s attitude toward the arts in general. Also, it’s expensive and logistically difficult to operate a filmmaking program at the level we do. Nevertheless, we encourage all students who possess a burning passion to become a filmmaker, regardless of their financial situation, to apply. Idyllwild Arts offers an assortment of scholarships and financial aid programs, and we’re only too happy to help the right student handle the cost.
MM: Since young moviemakers are still honing their craft, you would expect that much of their work would be raw and possibly more creative than experienced artists who are more familiar with the “establishment.” Has this been your experience when witnessing their work?
BB: Steven Spielberg once said that the most important thing a film director can have is imagination. Well, our high school students absolutely excel in this respect. As a result, the Moving Pictures Department sees our mission as giving the students the kind of skills and craft to do justice to their ideas so that the end results aren’t, as you say, so “raw.” For instance, we’ve found that there is no better motivator to learn the best way to light a set, the best way to direct an actor, or the best way to edit a scene than a great idea.
MM: Idyllwild Arts Academy boasts faculty members who have worked on critically acclaimed films. Can you talk about the value of having young students learn day in, day out from industry professionals?
BB: It’s the difference between having a teacher and having a mentor. Students develop much stronger ties to instructors whose experience and knowledge they truly respect. And with the opportunities that a boarding school affords in terms of time and close collaboration, instructors very quickly become lifelong mentors to our students, guiding every element of their filmmaking education.
MM: Often arts schools are separate entities–a school for music, a school for dance, one for film. How can being in a community of artists help young people who want to study cinema?
BB: It’s our belief that filmmaking is an amalgam of all the arts. Consequently, students arriving at Idyllwild Arts quickly acquire a deep respect for art in all its forms. Film students live and work with students who are making great music, great art, and great dance.
Under such circumstances, it’s almost impossible not to improve your own game. And think how great it would be to have a visual artist help design and build your set, or a music major compose your score, or, a theatre major sing and dance in your musical? That’s why if you’re still in high school, we feel there’s no better place in the world to study filmmaking than Idyllwild Arts.
To find out more about the Academy, visit www.idyllwildarts.org.