|A Hollywood-style sound stage is one of the many available
Timothy Rhys, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): It has now been 10 years since the North Carolina School of the Arts began its School of Filmmaking. In the five years that you’ve been Dean, the school has seen some significant changes and improvements. Your undergraduate program, for instance, is now one of the top in the country. That mean feat seems improbable for a relatively small arts conservatory located “off the beaten track” in North Carolina. How have you, your faculty and your staff managed to pull it off so quickly?
Dale Pollock (DP): By playing to our strengths. I am quite serious when I stress to potential students that they don’t have the distractions here that going to school in Los Angeles and New York can entail. There isn’t that much to do in Winston-Salem except make movies. Our students thrive in a conservatory atmosphere, where they live, eat, breathe and dream about film. We also have superb facilities, including Hollywood studio-sized sound stages, three movie theaters of our own and twenty-five thousand 70mm, 35mm and 16mm movie prints to show in them.
We have a very low faculty to student ratio (less than 10:1). And, most importantly to our students, we supply all equipment and facilities, all tape and film stock and processing and a cash budget for all of the 300-plus productions we do annually. We believe that saves our students the average film school senior thesis cost of about $75,000, and lets them take more risks with their projects.
We also bring lots of guest artists here from Los Angeles and New York. This year, we’ve had Academy Award-winning producer Saul Zaentz, writer-director Peter Hedges, who screened Pieces of April, and Kissing Jessica Stein producer Eden Wurmfeld, among others. People love coming to North Carolina. It’s beautiful, it’s quiet and you can park anywhere! They’ve never heard of valet parking here.
MM: For your own graduates and others who have successfully completed a BFA in filmmaking or film studies, you are also planning several graduate programs. I understand that the first is already in place, and that in the fall of 2004 you’ll offer a Master of Fine Arts in Film Music Composition. Students will learn to write film scores and will be able to score between 20 and 50 films in two years at your school. The chance to write multiple scores in various genres, and to work with directors and producers in a hands-on way, seems like a unique opportunity for budding film composers. Is it?
|Dean Dale Pollock and his colleagues
work with their students.
DP: We believe we’ll have one of the most unique film music programs in the world, since there is no other that’s fully integrated into a filmmaking program and turns out as many productions as we do annually. Currently the composers score all 18 of the third and fourth year 16mm film productions we do every year. Each composer writes a score for each of the 18 films, and the producers and directors of the films choose which score they think works best with the film. This kind of structured creative interaction is highly unusual in film school and leads to wonderful training for both the directors and the composers.
As we expand the MFA in Film Music Composition, we hope to have 30 students composing scores for all 300 of the projects our students make each year. This also gives us a great advantage in our film festival submissions, since we control the music rights to all of our productions. For the past two years, we have been able to have the 120-piece North Carolina School of the Arts Student Symphony Orchestra record several of our senior thesis film scores with incredible results. We even have a specific Film Music Scoring Stage that is devoted to recording orchestral scores as well as smaller ensemble groups in ideal acoustical conditions. We use ProTools to mix our film scores and all mixing is done by students in our Editing and Sound discipline.
MM: Your plans don’t stop with the music program, do they? In the fall of 2005 you’re launching a graduate-level Film and Television Writing program, which will feature a faculty of working writers and directors appointed by a blue-ribbon committee. How did this come about and what writing styles and genres will students be exposed to?
DP: The key is who the blue-ribbon committee represents: members of the Writers Guild of America, West. We went to the WGA Foundation and asked for their guidance in devising a graduate-level writing program that would really lead to a professional career, rather than a one-shot “spec” script sale. That’s always our approach as an arts conservatory: training artists for the long haul in maintaining a lifelong career.
The Guild was flattered and admitted that no one had ever asked them before. They are currently pulling together a group of top
film and TV writers who will help us structure a practical curriculum that will explore not only writing the feature-length screenplay, but also half-hour sitcoms, hour-long network and cable, reality and documentary and animation. Many of these avenues are not explored in graduate screenwriting programs, where the emphasis is almost exclusively on the feature script.
The other key is who will teach in our program. Just as in our undergraduate filmmaking program, all faculty will be working professionals. We are talking with the WGA about having a revolving group of professional writers who would each spend a term teaching in our program. Since we’re on a trimester system, our terms are only nine weeks long, which makes it manageable for us and the commuting writers. We’re very excited about the potential of this program.
MM: Also in 2005, you’ll be launching a joint MBA/MFA degree in conjunction with Wake Forest University’s Babcock Graduate School of Management, one of the top business schools in the country. I believe this will be the first degree of its kind available anywhere. Is that true? Can you elaborate on this program? What areas of concentration will students cover and what careers do you believe they’ll be best qualified for after completing the MBA/MFA program?
DP: When I first came to Hollywood as a producer, I was not very savvy in the realities of finance, marketing and distribution. I learned the hard way, which was by making some very expensive mistakes. At the same time, I was horrified by how unaware many studio executives were about the creative process. Many of the MBA graduates recruited by the major studios had no idea about how hard we worked making films, or why we cared so much about their fate. I felt that if we could structure a program that would combine a thorough business grounding with a comprehensive exploration of film and television production, financing, marketing, distribution and exhibition, we’d be doing both the filmmakers and the industry a great service.
|“That’s why we all do this: to
make a difference in the lives and work of young artists.”
– Dale Pollock
We were fortunate to find a like-minded partner in the administration of the Babcock Graduate School of Management, which is just 10 minutes away from us on the Wake Forest University campus. Students will take a full year of the regular Babcock MBA curriculum and then come to the School of Filmmaking for specific courses in critical studies, as well as global finance, marketing and distribution for film and television taught by current industry professionals.
Graduate students will also be involved in programming and operating the multiplex currently being designed and built by North Carolina School of the Arts and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts as part of a new downtown development in Winston-Salem called Unity Place. This complex will include six to eight movie theaters and an IMAX 3D SR theater that will seat 300 and will serve as a living laboratory for the MBA/MFA program. Students will conclude a third year in the program with more specialized courses and a master’s thesis. There is no other program that we’re aware of anywhere in the world that will rival this MBA/MFA program for training studio and network executives, film and TV producers and entertainment entrepreneurs.
MM: Finally, as successful as the North Carolina School of the Arts School of Filmmaking has become, you must still miss making movies just a little. Any plans to someday dip a toe back in the waters?
DP: Actually, I still have several projects in development at studios across Hollywood, from Paramount to Disney. But my life and career are now firmly based in North Carolina. I may become involved in some interesting documentary projects that have been brought to me, but again, those would probably deal with individuals or subject matter in the South. I love living and working in Winston-Salem and it would be difficult for me and my family to contemplate moving back to L.A.
I would like to write more. Not screenplays, but rather historical fiction and essays. My life is very much centered around the School of Filmmaking, the RiverRun International Film Festival that we founded last year and the Unity Place theater complex. I have more than enough to keep me busy, but the most satisfying part of my job continues to be interacting with and hopefully inspiring our students to make intelligent, well-crafted films and TV programs that will affect their audiences. That’s why we all do this: to make a difference in the lives and work of young artists. MM