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January 1993


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James Allan Schamus <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 7 Jan 1993 21:43:59 -0500
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Dear Jeff Rush:
Although I probably won't be able to attend the UFVA conference in August,
I'm deeply interested in your phrasing of the theory/practice problem -- a
problem that should probably first be addressed by the question: problem
for who? As an active independent film producer (credits on SWOON, POISON,
IN THE SOUP, THE GOLDEN BOAT, etc.) and as a full time faculty member at
Columbia in theory and history, the theory/practice split is a lived one
for me, as I'm sure it is for many of us. This past year I've developed a
course called "No-Budget Production: Theory and Practice," which tried to
bridge the gap, or at least articulate it. I teach my students how to
incorporate as businesses, and then teach them the history and ideology of
limited liability companies; a.d. breakdowns and scheduling lead to a
study of the institutionalization of the shooting script and the
industrialization of narrative; option agreements and releases blends with
a discussion of early film copyright practices and debates over ownership
of the image; and the introduction of new markets and media (DBS, satellite,
cable) is mixed with Baudrillard and Negroponte.  I also screen a lot of
"avant-garde" American works -- Schneeman, Mekas, etc. -- in an attempt to
recover some of the pre-"independent" history of non-Hollywood filmmaking.
Mainly, without shoving some predetermined theoretical vocabulary down my
students' throats, I try to do battle against the prevailing
anti-intellectual ethos ("I don't like to analyze so much because it ruins
my creativity, blah blah blah") by simply clearing a space for emerging
media producers to _think_ about what they're doing.  Have I succeeded? So
far it's hard to tell, but maybe a bit. Does the practice of the course
lead to any theoretical insights on the place of academic film theory
within professional film education? Not yet, as far as I can tell. But it
has been a lot of fun, and many of the students have produced interesting
no-budget video projects (part of the course serves as a launching pad
for a critique of the current trend toward overproduced, costly student
shorts) and intriguing self-critiques.
I'll be happy to mail a syllabus to anyone interested. Just e-mail back or
write to me at:
James Schamus
Good Machine
516 West 25th Street
New York, NY 10001
P.S. I've also developed an advanced film theory class in which I banish
contemporary film theory texts and replace them with theories of vision,
from Plato (the Meno) and Alberti to Heidegger, Lessing, Bataille, Kant,
etc. We screen films that deal with vision in one way or another (Herzog's
Land of Silence and Darkness, Argento's Profondo Rosso, and Snow's So Is
This were big hits). Another little professional provocation that turned
out to be a lot of fun.