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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The standard excuse for boring essays on blogs—Going Mainstream

A Formal education in film

Education and training in the crafts required by the Tamil film industry have traditionally been informal. 'Informal' here does not mean some sort of flexible learning programme providing various choices to the student. It usually involves a young aspirant apprenticing under an established filmmaker. In such a system, film apprentices are expected to pick up technical, managerial, narrative and business skills from their mentors. More often than not, they also imbibe an aesthetic, social and political 'taste' from their 'gurus' as well.

Over time this mentor system has neatly evolved the efficiencies and standards of an effective proto-formal educational system. This is reflected in its ability to afford the 'student' the opportunity to build up a contacts-list and network within the industry—being a student of film (usually an assistant to a known filmmaker) is a terrific excuse to meet people (actors and producers). The mentor often provides the required references and appraisals to enable the apprentice to land that crucial 'break'. Just as educational institutions build up reputations over time, some filmmakers are also reputed to churn out quality filmmakers (while there have also been others who have not). 'Graduates' are provided with word-of-mouth qualification instead of certified sheets of paper.

The absence of decent centres of formal education in Tamil Nadu (for a while there has been one government-run film institute in Tharamani) and the relative success of such informal modes of education and training have reinforced our notions of what constitutes an education in the arts, crafts, sciences and businesses of filmmaking. But there are certain drawbacks to such a system that are slowly being recognised and addressed. For example, it would be fallacious to assume that all great filmmakers are great film mentors, or for that matter, the inverse about not very successful filmmakers as well. Since taking on apprentices is very closely linked to jobs at hand, jobs in the bag and filmmaking success, this is a crucial issue.

The ability to understand and teach filmmaking is completely different from an ability to make wonderful films. As always, there are bound to be exceptional cases, but just as is reflected in the very nature of the industry, a minuscule percentage of possibly huge success seems to be the only driving force behind a very large number of attempts and failures. While seemingly unviable, this is the truth behind the film industry as it has been until now—hardly a way to build careers, leave alone hopes and dreams.

Interestingly today, the industry is changing rapidly, both technically and as a trade. Audiences are also seeking wider choices with their changing lifestyles. The very hit-or-bust nature of the system that has hitherto propped its sustenance and evolution has itself hit an evolutionary steep-curve.

Reaction to change comes in a myriad of shapes. Some inside and outside the industry wrongly assume that formal education in film is an alien concept that has suddenly crept up on the Tamil film industry to shake it up and set new rules. But there are also those that agree that formalisation of film education is merely the process by which the industry itself deals with all the changes happening within and outside of it.

For one, informal education is not scalable, and second, there is only so much learning that a student can imbibe under a single mentor. Most importantly, a changing and growing industry needs trained specialists, and not the generalists a smaller scale might support. The changes in the technical, social, aesthetic, as well as the commercial and managerial aspects of filmmaking also require research, study and understanding that formal education can accomplish systematically. Informal education can only deal with such challenges with a series of potentially very expensive trials and errors.

We have produced some of our best filmmakers through the informal system, and it is a result of their education that things are being systematised and formalised today. For the evolution of film-education only mirrors the evolution of filmmaking itself. Tamil film has changed from being a romanticised small-scale cottage-craft involving huge risks (of course, this has not always been the case with early Tamil/South Indian cinema thriving under a robust studio system that later unravelled), to being a slightly better-organised industrial activity today. The industry eagerly seeks newer challenges and newer ways to define itself as a purveyor of entertainment while providing rewarding career options for aspiring film professionals in the arts, sciences, and business of film.

Informal education will continue to fill the gaps in expertise and genius that such a volatile industry thrives on, but for those seeking to build careers in the entertainment world, formal education is the better bet.

This thingy with various modifications (not by me) might grace a newspaper sometime soon. I also have to produce a Tamil translation by tomorrow!

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10:04 pm

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Comments to The standard excuse for boring essays on blogs—Going Mainstream

This is one of the finest article i have ever come across. Worderful read. Thanks.

posted by Anonymous prakash 

11:35 am, April 25, 2007
 

Who better (once an assistant in the informal learning scene and now a teacher) to come up with such a wonderful insight? Very well written.

posted by Blogger ammani 

1:37 pm, April 26, 2007
 

hi another area which relies heavily on informal education despite a long drawn 'formal education' is clinical medicine!

posted by Blogger chitra 

9:51 pm, May 02, 2007
 

you have kept your promise.

Quite boring. ;-)

posted by Blogger swami 

2:09 pm, May 04, 2007
 

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