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Renaissance Man

Renaissance Man

Articles - Education

Film Connection student with 35mm camera
A Film Connection student works with a 35mm camera.

Call him a revolutionary, but Jimi Petulla’s method of learning
by doing is really just a “a throwback to the Renaissance period,” where
you learned your art by paying your dues and taking advice from
a true master. Through his Film Connection program, aspiring moviemakers
all over the country are becoming working moviemakers-and learning
from the best in the business. Here, Petulla talks about bringing
the 12th century into the 21st.

Jennifer Wood (MM): Film Connection
is not your traditional film education experience, and it’s
a program that I think is best described by you, its founder.
Briefly, what is it that
Film Connection attempts to do?

Jimi Petulla (JP): Film Connection is
a division of Career Connection. We “connect” film production companies and television
stations and recording studios and radio stations that have a need
to hire beginners with an aspiring apprentice. Our apprentice method
of training is a throwback to the Renaissance period. In the 12th
century, if you wanted to be an artist you didn’t go to school,
you went to work for an artist and you were not paid for your labor.
On the contrary-you paid for the privilege of working free. And
people stood in line to do it with the right master! If your father
or uncle weren’t already doing it, it was the only way to enter
a profession. Following this same Renaissance apprenticeship method
during the last 18 years, we have secured jobs for over 5,000 beginners
in film companies, radio and TV stations and recording studios
worldwide. Our purpose is to help abolish that old catch-22 that “you
can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience
without a job!”

MM: One of the things that really
struck me when we first spoke about your program is that you
stated “Most successful
people in film were never educated.” Can you talk about how this
statement relates to the approach you take to teaching at Film
Connection? What is the learning philosophy on which you and
the program operate?

JP: Most people in any form of the arts
got into the business on their own with no schooling and no training
anywhere. The reality
is that most people that go to traditional film school never work
one day in the business. Frankly, I believe you are either an artist
(which is what this all is supposed to be about) or not. In other
words, the technical stuff, the mechanical things, you will always
learn, but you have to have been born with the “seed.” It’s no
different than actors or musicians or painters. I believe that
the best teachers are not teachers, but eminent working professionals-people
that make a living doing it every day. A real director, producer,
editor, DP, etc.

Remember the old saying, “Those who can, do; those who can’t do,
teach.” I believe that’s often true-especially in the film and
television industry. I would rather learn from someone who pays
their rent doing it every day than someone who teaches it every
day. I don’t think many people have a goal of “teaching” film students.
The goal is making, if possible, an award-winning film-or simply
to have a rewarding job in the motion picture industry. Our students
really do gain real world experience, because they do not train
in a school-they train on-the-job; on real money, on-the-line film
productions.

The other big key in an apprenticeship situation
is that training is always done one-on-one. One student apprentices
with one instructor
or mentor. A mentor is a professional, in this case a film producer,
director, editor, DP and so on. It’s the same person who from time
to time has to hire beginners and dreads the day when they’ll have
to sort through resumes of college or film school graduates who
haven’t a clue what the business is really all about. How much
better to hire your own private student apprentice that you have
personally groomed and taught, on-the-job, in the real world.

MM: In order to make a program like
Film Connection successful, it’s obviously necessary to have
a large network of participating companies with whom your students
can learn.
How did you go about building these relationships in the first
place? What are some of the companies that you work with on a
regular basis?

JP: We build new relationships every
day with Film Connection. We get phone calls from people all
over the country wanting to
break into the film industry. So let’s say you call me from Dallas,
Texas. I need to find you a company to apprentice at in Dallas,
Texas-like AMS Productions, who’ve trained and hired several of
my apprentices. Frankly, as often as we can, we try to put only
one potential apprentice into one company at a time. The simple
reason is that if you’re the only student in that company at the
time, your odds of employment are far greater than if they already
have five or six other interns. Also, keep in mind that we are
charging the students tuition of $5,950.00 and we are actually
paying the film companies a portion of these fees to train our
apprentices. So, again, the film company gets paid. Trust me, they
are not just doing it for that reason because-let’s face it-they
don’t need the money. But what I’ve discovered over the years is
that successful people really do love to help and mentor people.

Also, we really do have a screening process
unlike traditional schools. First, we screen our applicants by
phone for motivation
and desire and we are very honest with each and every one of them
about the “pay your dues, bad hours at first, bad wages at first
and absolutely no guarantees” [philosophy]. Also each candidate
must easily have the money to do this because we accept no government
grants or loans. Keep in mind before anyone pays anything to us,
they are interviewed by the film company in their local area. If
the company does not accept them, they cannot do our program and
there’s no fee charged at all. And these film companies do not
need the money or headache of the new student they don’t feel good
about.

As I mentioned, we try to work with one student
in one company as much as possible. But in areas like Los Angeles
and New York
City, for example, I do have some special companies I like to work
ongoing with. In New York City, I have a company called Two Tone
Films. The producer is a person named Tony Travis. Tony is an established
filmmaker himself and he really gets our students in New York involved
with a lot of major companies and opportunities. He’s placed students
of ours with HBO Films, MTV, Spike Lee, Bad Boy Films and many
others. For people who want to learn all the aspects of on-set
production, Tony is a great mentor/contact. In Los Angeles, I work
with Tapestry Films quite often-especially with people who want
to learn editing. I’ll send that person, for example, to Sherwood
Jones, who has been editing for them since the company’s [inception].

MM: Which aspects of the industry does Film Connection
help teach?

JP: We help with production and post-production
positions-directors,
editors, cinematographers, camera operators and all aspects of
producing. We do not place writers or actors.

MM: Now, let’s get down to the specifics:
What are the educational or professional requirements? How
many students do
you accept at any one time? How do interested parties go about
applying?

JP: Our requirements are simply a passion
to really want to do this. You have to have the “wanna”-the want!
Simply go to www.film-connection.com, Or call a
toll-free, five-minute recording line that is the first of our
screening calls that will probably talk you out of this, at 800/858-4241.
If accepted, your training could take place during your off-hours,
evenings and even weekends.

MM: For many, an education is only
as good as the opportunities it opens for full-time employment.
One of Film Connection’s biggest
claims to fame is your amazing placement rate for students. What
kind of help do you give students who have completed their work
with you and are seeking full-time work in the industry? What
are some of your favorite success stories?

JP: We get you a start-an entry-level beginning into the
profession. We have not made anyone Spielberg or Kazan-yet. You
simply get a start. After that, it’s up to you.

If you can handle starting at the bottom of
the ladder, if you are willing to keep your day job to pay the
rent, then contact
us for an interview. If a local film company accepts you, you will
then receive the same text material of any college or university
program. The difference-and it’s a big difference-is that your
instructor in our apprentice program will not be some burned out
college professor, but a working veteran-a professional who is
currently in the field.

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