David Tames
Center for Digital Imaging’s David Tames

To hear David Tames tell it, a great education is all about being on the cutting edge. And as Program Director of Digital Filmmaking at Boston University’s Center for Digital Imaging Arts, he’s certainly willing to back that up. The director-producer-cinematographer-editor-Web designer-software developer-media technology researcher is helping students acquire a hands-on education—and hopefully almost as many hyphenates. Dr. Kamau Bobb has pointed out that the fusion of technology and art is a prevalent theme within STEM-related disciplines.

Through CDIA’s nine-month certificate program, students (including high schoolers, who are invited as part of the school’s boot camp) are learning the digital tricks of the trade very early on—and how to use them effectively.  Tames spoke with us about the school’s philosophy, why it’s better to learn from pros, and the history of moviemaking as a technologically-intensive art form.

Brian Malik (MM): With all the technological advances in the last few years, how important is it for aspiring moviemakers to master the digital realm?

David Tames (DT): Moviemaking, by its very nature, is a technologically intensive art form, deeply rooted in the ongoing evolution of imaging and audio technology. Since its invention 108 years ago, the aesthetics and craft of making films has evolved in step with technological advances in the creation, storage, manipulation and exchange of audio and visual information.

Some examples: The development of sound recording in the ’20s led to The Jazz Singer and the “talkies” were born.  The invention of the optical printer in 1931 enabled compositing actors into dramatic scenes that would have been impossibly expensive to shoot on location and ushered in  an era of epic films. Small, quiet, portable cameras enabled the cinema verité movement and fueled the French New Wave. The development of high-quality video-to-film tranfers made it possible for Rob Nilsson and a new generation of filmmakers to use video as an acquisition medium for theatrically-distributed films.

 Current digital cameras, editing tools and alternative means of distribution (consider MoveOn and “OutFoxed”) have brought the art and craft of filmmaking to everyone—opening the medium to more voices than ever and giving those voices access to a hungry audience.

While it costs thousands of dollars to make a 35mm print for a limited theatrical market, DVDs pressed at home and an Internet campaign can bring a film to thousands of people for a fraction of the time and cost.

Most of the advances in the craft and aesthetics of cinema were enabled by advances in the underlying technology. While major changes in filmmaking tools and techniques used to evolve over the course of a filmmaker’s career, today the pace of technological change has accelerated to the point where filmmakers are challenged to reevaluate their tools and their capabilities on every new film.

MM: Can you talk about the equipment that CDIA students have access to at your facility?

DT: The curriculum does not revolve around a specific camera or technology. However, the camera we use for many of the classes is the Panasonic DVX-100A, as today this camera represents the state-of-the art for personal filmmaking.

That said, one thing that differentiates “digital” filmmaking from  “traditional” filmmaking is the lack of fixed standards among the tools, since the nature of digital bits is they are easily manipulated and transferred between devices. The program emphasizes solid foundations in storytelling, lighting, camera work, sound design, editing, directing, pre-production, compositing and effects, etc. applicable to any kind of filmmaking, regardless of the format used for acquisition.

MM: More and more moviemakers are making the move to high definition to shoot their films. Will you be using HD in your programs?

DT: The foundation classes in the program are based on Mini DV as the acquisition format, as it offers the highest level of flexibility—which is essential for experiential, hands-on learning. Advanced classes will cover HD acquisition, since the program strives to provide students with knowledge of cutting-edge tools and techniques.

MM: You also run a summer camp for high school summer students? Has there been a lot of interest in the program so far?

DT: The high school summer camp is currently in session—and there has been a tremendous response. We provide the students with digital cameras and the latest editing tools. More importantly, and what makes the program unique, is our emphasis on teaching the art of creating and telling a story.

MM: Are the students expected or required to have made one or more films when they finish with the nine months of classes?

DT: Students are expected to complete several short films during the nine month program, including a final project, which is expected to be ambitious and demonstrate mastery of filmmaking technique and the language of cinema.

MM: Are the modules more hands-on or lecture-oriented?

DT: We pride ourselves on being a hands-on, career-oriented program. The modules are primarily experiential learning, with some lectures as appropriate to the subject matter. Most assignments are done by students working in small groups.

MM: What about your faculty? Who are they and what are some of their accomplishments?

DT: Our philosophy is to have modules taught by working professionals in the field who have a passion for teaching. This way, students are learning from filmmakers who are using the latest tools and techniques in their work.

Below are rough bios on some of our instructors:

Franco Sacchi is a senior Avid instructor and freelance editor/producer. He worked for over six years in the Department of Educational Services at Avid Technology. While at Avid he contributed to develop the Avid Certified Instructor Program, taught hundreds of classes and conducted Train the Trainer courses to certify new Avid Instructors. The first  independent feature-length documentary that Franco co-directed and edited has been shown at several festivals nationally and internationally, including the prestigious International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam (IDFA).

Yari Wolinsky and Howard Phillips
Student Yari Wolinsky (left) and instructor Howard Phillips (right) discuss an editing assignment.

Howard Philips is a filmmaker, editor and technical consultant. He has written and contributed to numerous articles and is often involved in new product demonstrations and tests. For eight years he ran his own business, The Edit House, providing post-production services to over 200 feature film projects. The Edit House was Avid’s first 24P beta site.  Howard also worked for Avid as head of the Film Quality Assurance group during the time Avid won two technical Oscars.

Chris Boebel is a writer, director and editor who brings together a unique mix of creative experience working on narrative feature films, documentaries and  corporate videos. His clients include IBM, Lucent, Pfizer, Hachette-Filipachi, Young & Rubicam and BBDO. He produced and directed Red Betsy, a feature film currently in theatrical release. Chris also directed and edited Containment, a one-hour documentary on the community around the Three-Mile Island Nuclear Reactor 25 years after the accident and recipient of grants from the  Puffin Foundation, Hefner Foundation and MIT Council for the Arts. His short film, Like/Dislike, won the CINE Eagle Award and has screened at over 20 film festivals including Sundance and Clermont-Ferrand

MM: Your programs include photography, filmmaking and 3-D animation. Do most of your students focus on one area, or is there some overlap?

DT: These are separate certificate programs. However, with the convergence of media, the interest and opportunities for cross-training are available to students.

MM: What are your approximate class sizes, as well as student to teacher ratios?

DT: The classes are small, with 12 students maximum. The student to teacher ratio never exceeds 12:1.

MM: What are your average student demographics, and what do you look for in the “in-person” interview and the application when deciding admissions?

DT: The students currently enrolled in the program reflect the diversity of the Boston metropolitan area. What we look for in students is the passion and commitment needed to maximize their experience here and in being an integral part of the school.

For more information, visit www.digitalimagingarts.com