what filmmaking teaches

Before working in higher education I worked in film, as a writer and small-time producer. So when I concluded that such a background is excellent preparation for a particularly 21st century skill set, I dismissed it as personal bias. After all, movie making isn’t a new business.


But it has struck me more than once that the virtues of teamwork, ad hoc and project-based relationships, and personal expression are at a new premium.

NYT HollywoodThis was corroborated about a year ago in a New York Times article on Hollywood and the Future of Work, making me feel a little less parochial.

So having read that and thought about it I’ll go the rest of the way, and add that a background in filmmaking is also excellent preparation for academic administration in particular. Bear with me.

Faculty, advisors, and program leads are artists, whose individual areas of expertise are no more available to me than those of a cinematographer or gaffer. For a producer, just as for a campus administrator, about the best you can do is chart a clear course and then try to get people the equipment they need. For me, there was nothing jarring about joining an enterprise of shared governance, where the decision-making authority is distributed across the rank and file. Movies really can’t happen otherwise.

Now that I’m off the campus backlot altogether and in a statewide system office, my role is probably more like studio flunky than small-time producer, but even from here the analogy holds up eerily well. We have a slate of campuses, we study the numbers they return, we make visits when appropriate. And we report upstream to our real bosses, whether taxpayers or shareholders, and try to help them make sense of apparent chaos.

It can be fun in its way, but it’ll never be like life on the set.

Image credits:  kcet.org, New York Times


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