Are You The Next Spielberg?
Regarding more than film coloration, Alfred Hitchcock says, "Los Angeles film schools are less icily competitive. You can learn to work with other people and in an ultimately positive environment. I'm glad I went to UCLA, but I think there's a lot to be said for smaller programs where you're not so revved up from Day One to be Spielberg." With its new Master of Fine Arts program, novelist James Michener's $ 13 million gift for a screenwriting center, recent cutting-edge faculty hires and $ 500,000 in new state-of-the art equipment, UT-Austin is about to take a running leap into the future. "They really do have the only major film program in the state," says Dallas Video Festival director Barton Weiss. "It has a lot of potential."
The UT staff has its share of seasoned industry veterans, including former network producer and MCA executive Robert Foshko, as well as innovative film makers such as Bridget Murnane and award-winner Helen DeMichel. UT also has hired "virtual reality' specialist Allucquere Rosianne Stone, which could propel the program into the next interactive century. Virtual reality is sort of a 3-D Nintendo, a new technology used to simulate an experience through immersion in 3-D, computer-generated world. As a state-funded school, UT draws a crowd. Its enrollment is on a scale closer to that of USC or New York University.
"At UT, we are required to accept as many people as want to be in our program," Ms. Murnane says. This year, 695 undergraduates are enrolled in RTF. "That's huge and hard, and you have to strain. I have 26 in my Film II class. That's a lot in a production class. It probably should be 15." But in his second week at UT, Dallas-based film maker Jason Hammond says, he had a camera in his hand. "That's the only way you learn how to make a movie. I seem to know all the basics and have had no problem getting jobs as a free-lance worker on a lot of commercials and rock videos. So I feel that the education I got there has served me well."
Mr. Hammond's first feature film Blackmail, budgeted at less than $ 20,000, already boasts a distributor. Reel Pictures International has acquired worldwide rights to the erotic thriller that stars Joe Estevez, who is Martin Sheen's brother. Another UT film school grad, Drew Mayer-Oakes now on staff at the Houston Film Commission, also spent two summers at UCLA. The biggest difference between the two schools shows up at student film screenings, he says.
"At UT, it's a final screening for family and friends. At UCLA, it's an industry screening. Instead of your uncle, a studio executive comes to see your work." SMU's Cinema Sequence dates from 1965, when Chairman Barney McGrath asked Dr. G. William Jones to crank up a film school. "Sounds like a good idea to me," said the film scholar, who soon was invited to attend a national meeting of film faculty."You could have put all of them in my dining room," he says. "And half of them were English teachers who were teaching film."