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Peter Hawley, Dean of Tribeca Flashpoint Academy in Chicago
Should I go to film school? Like most vexing questions of our day, the answer is, “Well, it depends.” The “what” it depends on is up to the individual student, the parents, the location, the cost, and a myriad of other factors. There are people who claim that everything a student can learn in a film school can be learned through experience. There are well-known online courses that take a strong anti-brick-and-mortar-film school stance and generate their revenue by advocating this viewpoint. Some people would rather use their potential tuition money for cameras, lighting gear, microphones, and computers and just start filming. Others will read books about screenwriting rather than take a class. And some of these people will do very well for themselves in this chaotic media industry that is consuming and reinventing itself faster than we can watch a season of “Rectify” on Netflix. But for people who choose film school, there is a path for them that will definitely make sense in the context of the return on their investment in the form of future career opportunities. And beyond even the instruction and access to equipment, a school like Tribeca Flashpoint Academy provides structure and a main lodge for young people (and some older ones too) to socialize while offering them the opportunity to share their knowledge, experiences, and perspectives. There they can embrace the fact that they are all members of a tribe known as the digital creative class as they get to know each other and work together in a common physical space.
Peter Hawley, Dean of Tribeca Flashpoint Academy, was starting a new semester as a teacher at a different institution about a decade ago, and he found himself asking the same question about the relevancy of film school; albeit in a different context. He was taking over for another teacher’s class when he came to a troubling realization. After polling his students, he learned that their knowledge and capabilities with digital cameras and filmmaking techniques were beyond the information listed on the syllabus. Not long after that experience, Peter was offered the opportunity to join a team that was building a digital media school, then known as just Flashpoint Academy, in Chicago from the ground up. For Peter this was the opportunity of a lifetime. Not only was he going to be an integral contributor to the founding of a new school, but the school would focus on the digital tools and education that his students deserved. He joined the group and became the head of the film department and has been a part of the vibrant rebirth of film in Chicago ever since.
Podcast: Play in new window
Over the span of several decades many concepts have been presented with the help of a hypothetical (and other-worldly) alien; also known as Blank Slate. True to form, our little green friend has recently touched down on Earth (interestingly enough in Kansas) and his first act of exploration, after reading TMZ and eating nine jars of Nutella, was to watch a load of pandering sitcoms and comedies having nothing to do with Judd Apatow. Despite his numerous funny-bones (his people are born with five) his only utterance during his “comedy” marathon was a flatulent hazelnut induced gas cloud.
If our interplanetary traveler would have aimed about 12oo miles due east and a couple of decades earlier, he might have found himself at Steve Kaplan’s Manhattan Punchline Theater laughing his second tukhus off (albeit without “the peanut butter of the gods”). This is the very same theater where Steve honed his comedic tools while developing writers like Peter Tolan (Analyze This), Tracy Proust (Ugly Betty, Will & Grace), and Michael Patrick King (Sex and The City, Will & Grace) among many other soon to be successful writers and producers. His former students really stink up the joint having been nominated to win over 43 Emmy Awards, 3 Golden Globes, and an Oscar for good measure.
“Coincidence?”, you ask. Not even close. Steve applied some serious science for a funnyman and broke down what was working in his comedy shows and why. He developed and refined his comedic tools like “Winning”, “The Non-Hero”, and “Straight-line / Wavy-line.” These techniques were integral to his 40 week masters’ class on comedic performance. And while the Manhattan Punchline Theater and his 40 week course are no longer around (apparently bills can’t be paid with just laughter) the lessons Steve forged in Manhattan are the foundation of his two-day seminars appropriately titled, Steve Kaplan’s Comedy Intensive. His next class is January 24-25 in Los Angeles.
I really enjoyed my conversation with Steve. His ability to deftly move between his quick wit and the underpinnings of comedy exploration had me engaged from the start of our call. One of my favorite things that he said on the podcast was actually a quote he attributed to John Cleese that I think perfectly sums up the intuition Steve developed about comedy all those years ago in Manhattan.
John Cleese said something like this, “When we started Monty Python, we thought that comedy was watching someone do something silly. We came to realize that comedy was watching someone watch someone do something silly.”
Hey! Who wants to watch me watch an alien eat some more Nutella?
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