IFC Starts Film School Project

Sep 27, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Independent Film Channel has greenlighted a public service program to develop high school students’ appreciation for film and teach them film production skills.

IFC aims to have its Film School Project, inspired by the network’s new reality series “Film School,” in 5,000 schools in 2005. IFC has attracted educators to form a steering committee that will design a curriculum involving screenwriting, film production and film critique.

“This program uses cool things to almost trick kids into being excited about learning,” said Evan Shapiro, senior VP, marketing, for IFC. “It’s bait-and-switch to a certain extent. But a good bait-and-switch.”

Mr. Shapiro and IFC VP, Marketing, Jennifer Caserta worked at Court TV when it launched its successful Forensic Science school program.

At Court TV, “We didn’t expect to create a whole bunch of forensic scientists. We wanted people to be interested in science,” Mr. Shapiro said.

And while it would be great if the Film School Project found the next Quentin Tarentino or Charlie Kaufman, “Ultimately, what we want to do is help teachers create a generation of students that graduates high school with the basic writing skills that are necessary to get ahead in the world and also the appreciation of great literature that makes you a responsible citizen in the world,” he said.

The program should also be good for IFC, which hopes the program will create a generation that appreciates independent film as well as good will for the network among viewers and cable operators.

“It’s not going to be any hard-sell tune-in message in any way, shape or form,” Mr. Shapiro said. “We believe that by opening the doors to a new process of learning for students across the country, we’ll also develop an avid film-lover base for people who love good film and understand that there’s a difference between the big $200 million blockbuster and the $5 million `Lost in Translation,’ and that you can tell stories about people, true human emotion, through language as opposed to car explosions. We think there’s going to be a huge payoff for us.”

Mr. Shapiro expects the program to be in 10,000 the second year and 20,000 by the third year.

“We’re starting to talk about a million-plus students across the country who will have a positive context in their lives for IFC, and they’re all going to be 18, 19 years old, right in the demographic, after they finish this program,” he said. “That type of grassroots effort may not pay dividends in ratings or viewership in year one, but in year five and six and 10, that’s a loyal fan base. Every credit card company and mobile phone company will tell you that if you can get them before they turn 18, you create a brand loyalty that’s pretty hard to shake.”

The Film School Project is one of three grassroots branding projects for IFC. The others involve a second season of its “Ultimate Film Fanatic” tour of 52 markets and plans to have IFC involvement in every North American film festival.

The network is spending “six figures” on the Film School effort. It expects to reach out to Microsoft and Apple for film editing equipment and is working with other corporate partners to get students additional filmmaking equipment, Mr. Shapiro said.

“Ultimately, we think the greatest opportunity here is to work with the affiliates and have them almost adopt a high school in their area and hook them up with equipment, because almost all the cable systems now have a local origination station that they can help out with,” he said.

But students won’t have to actually produce a film to finish the curriculum. The program will include contests for screenplays and produced films.

Lesson Plans

The curriculum includes lesson plans that ask students to create a screenplay or a short film based on a classic piece of literature. The lesson plans, digital editing tutorials and streamed lessons from filmmakers and film writers will be available online, making the program accessible and flexible, Ms. Caserta said.

“We need to effectively engage students and make learning a more enjoyable and enriching experience, said Dale Allender, associate executive director, National Council of Teachers of English. “We share IFC’s enthusiasm over the Film School Project, which we believe will be an exciting and dynamic multimedia teaching tool for educators and a wonderful opportunity for high school students.”

IFC will offer awards for screenplays, short films and criticism, and some winners will get an opportunity to create on-air content for IFC.

“This certainly plays into IFC’s commitment to filmmakers of any generation,” she said.

IFC has also given $1,000 scholarship grants to three students who participated in a summer filmmaking program run by the Ghetto Film School in Harlem. The scholarship winners-Montea Robinson, James Calinda and Luis Servera-will join the steering committee for the Film School Project.

“These students will serve on the steering committee to make sure what we’re doing is not only cool to the adult, but cool to the kids,” Mr. Shapiro said.

The Ghetto Film School will also serve as a pilot school for the program.