Should Film Schools service the 'industry'? Cater to its demands and provide it with what the school perceives the industry needs...? Or Should Film Schools lead the industry? Challenge it, change it, reshape and guide it...? In other words, Should Film Schools be the forward scouts leading the industry or the rear-guard supporting the industry.Of course, I never went to film school. I'm completely self-taught, so I have no direct experience of either the professional or educational side of the film world. However, it's a very similar debate to how universities should teach games, which I have been involved with. On the one side, they are under pressure to turn out graduates ready to go into the games industry, but on the other they want to teach people to break new ground and help drive the industry forward. It's much the same with other arts subjects: should art schools be teaching graphic designers to create cornflakes packets or to be challenging, independent, and original, even if this makes them unemployable?
There are serious problems with both these approaches. I've been grappling with them for about five years now, ever since getting peripherally involved in some aspects of higher education, and it's become more and more important to me, professionally and personally, as we start getting Moviestorm into schools, universities, and film schools. What should we be teaching our kids?
The dilemma is this:
If you try and churn out industry-ready junior staff, you risk stifling their talent and originality, and you have a real problem knowing what to teach them in a fast-moving technical world. When I worked on the games course at NSAD, the hardware and software that is now standard in the industry didn't even exist at the start of the first year: there was no PS3, and no Wii. As a result, they'd trained on platforms and with techniques that were obsolescent by the time they were sending out CVs. In my view, you learn on the job far more, and far faster, than you learn by studying for three years. Compare that to the hot-house training establishments in India and China where they give you seriously intensive training for six months for one very specific role - using Maya to create faces, for example - and then you're ready to go straight into the industry as a character artist, totally up to speed with current generation tools and techniques. Imagination isn't important - just the ability to deliver good quality product on time to a tight brief and fit in with a team.
On the other hand, if we do teach people to design amazing new game concepts or direct controversial movies or design immense public buildings, we may well be wasting their time and giving them false hope. When they go into the real world, they'll probably find that their actual job is to load a camera on a reality TV show, build part of the map for the fourth mission of a low-budget FPS, or do the plans for my loft conversion. And frankly, as an employer, I don't necessarily want to hire a visionary to work on my project - I want to hire someone who will fall in with my vision of what we're building and just do the job I need them to do. There can be nothing more dispiriting than coming out of three years' training with the verve and the desire to change the world and then realise that you're never going to get that chance.
As a teacher, I want to expand my students' horizons and help them reach their potential.
As an employer, I want schools to provide me with the staff I need.
As a parent, I want my kids to get an education and a job and be happy.
Those aren't necessarily compatible.
The only answer I can come up with - for the UK, at least - is to scrap the current philosophy of treating all education the same. We don't need to turn every poly or art school into a university or A levels in how to sell beds. Bring back apprenticeships, and expect employers to take on some of the burden of training staff rather than expecting the state and the individual to furnish them with ready-made employees. (We might even revive some notion of loyalty to one's staff then, if we actually invest in them.)
Why not make a distinction between places where you learn a trade and places where you learn a craft? Make it clear from the start - to students and industry alike - whether you are training for a job or learning to think. Let some places lead, and others follow.
The world needs both.