As the SFSU Cinema crowd will already know, the Department – in the shape of the very talented Silvia Turchin – has been producing a series of short faculty profile movies. The latest features me talking about teaching, teaching and generally mouthing off. You can check it out here.
The new SFSU Cinema Department website is coming on by leaps and bounds. One promising little addition this morning: an information page for the new SFSU Screenwriting Emphasis, complete with an image of Barton Fink dealing with writers block! Go here and check out the new class names and numbers and information about the sequence and options. The Emphasis should be up and running for academic year 2012-2013.
Dear all, if you are already enrolled in the class you can find the syllabus online. For those hoping to crash we will go over it in the first class. Alternatively be nice to someone in the class to get a sneak pack – yes, it is that exciting.
By the way, contrary to usual student assumptions the first week will involve actual teaching, content and important stuff. It won’t just be the boring introduction – although there will be some of that as well of course. In fact we will start our opening case study which will set up much of the work of the semester. It is very important that nobody misses this material. Catching up will be hard.
For those not able to access the syllabus yet, here’s the basic reading list (yes including my book – what did you expect?). Only the first title is required reading and we will go over it all in class next week.
Write What You Don’t Know: An Accessible Manual for Screenwriters by Julian Hoxter (Continuum Books 2011)
Recommended Supplemental Texts:
The Poetics by Aristotle (any edition)
Thinking in Circles: An Essay on Ring Composition (The Terry Lectures Series) by Mary Douglas (Yale UP 2010)
The Hollywood Standard: The Complete and Authoritative Guide to Script Format and Style by Christopher Riley (Michael Wiese Production 2009)
Your Screenplay Sucks: 100 Ways to Make it Great by William M. Akers (Michael Wiese Production 2008)
My name is Barret Hacia. I graduated from SFSU this Spring (2011). I live in San Francisco and work all over the greater Bay Area.
Where I’m at
I am currently wrapping post on my first feature film, Falling Uphill, which I produced and am gearing up for the festival route. Beyond my feature, I am a full time freelance commercial producer.
Where I want to be in the future
In the future I plan to work strictly on feature films as a producer and director. The idea is to oversee multiple films as a producer and direct my own personal projects.
Has this ambition changed since your college days? If so, how and why?
Yes, without a doubt. A few years ago I would have never dreamed that I would be a producer. I guess it changed when I was a Set PA on a feature and I just excelled in the production department and I truly enjoyed the problem solving aspects of it. The thing that turned me on most about production was taking an abstract and creative vision and making it tangible.
Originally, I wanted only to direct – to create my vision – but I soon realized no matter how great my vision was I had to somehow logistically create these characters and settings within the constraints of a schedule and budget. And that is where a good producer comes in and helps enable the vision of the director. I find this work extremely rewarding. I know a lot of people would rather do anything else, but I believe it is an ideal position for someone who enjoys creative problem solving and all aspects of filmmaking, and that is why I pursued producing.
My first Baby Step
On my first baby step into the industry, I was as an unpaid Set PA on a low-budget feature film. It was an extremely ambitious production which had very long hours and demanded a lot of work. When I first showed up to set I was immediately asked to grab an apple box and a couple of stingers. I said “sure thing” – I had no idea what they were talking about.
That production was an enormous learning curve, but from it I learned proper set and radio etiquette, terminology, and overall how a production works. Most importantly I learned the right mentality to have on a production. If you screw up don’t waste time explaining why it wasn’t you fault instead take responsibility and fix it. Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s how you handle them that counts.
Moreover, just because you’re not being paid doesn’t mean you can work any less hard because once you’ve agreed to do something it means you are on a hundred percent. Being unreliable or unmotivated on a set is far worse for your career than turning down the job initially. Basically, my first production, though it was unpaid, was an enormously beneficial experience that I gained tremendously from.
How, if at all, did that first step lead to the next… and the next?
Honestly, I feel everything I’ve done came from my first production. That is where my networking pool started and everything else has spawned from there. Though my first gig was unpaid, I was hired soon after to work on corporate shoots where I met more people, which brought on new work. After your name gets out there and you are known as a strong and reliable worker things begin to get rolling.
What lessons did you learn from your ‘baby steps’?
I think the most important thing I learned was to not underappreciate my value to a production. Meaning, you should make it so that you are invaluable to the people you work for and the thought of your absence should be unthinkable. Once you’ve gotten yourself into this position, respectfully request a more desirable position within reasonable means (i.e. obviously don’t ask to go from a PA to a DP). People normally respect the courage it takes to ask for a promotion and if it’s deserved they will likely grant it.
I think a big turning point for myself (and a lot of people) was being a Key Set PA for the first time. It was for another feature film and I had worked with this particular Assistant Director several times prior and I asked if I could be the Key Set PA which he agreed. I took the slight promotion extremely seriously to reassure everyone they had made the right decision, and from that the doors started to open.
How do you keep your foot in the door?
I think the most important thing is to start as soon as possible. If you want to work on features – intern on a feature. If you want to make documentaries – intern on a documentary. Networking, Craigslist, Mandy, whatever it takes to get on one. The likelihood is that you’re going to have to do a few free gigs first, but that’s just how it works. Everyone has done it at some point and think of it as paying your dues. You might as well start while you’re still in school, so that when you get out you can go straight into working full time.
I can’t stress enough how valuable it is to be a PA when first starting out. You are working around all the departments and get a chance to truly figure out where your strengths and interests are on an actual production. You will often excel in one area and a department head might recognize your value and pull you on board for the next project. That’s what happened to me. As far as keeping your foot in the door, networking and remaining in touch with contacts is the best way to insure you will stay in work and hopefully get pulled onto larger projects.
Once again, I think it does take a certain sense of audacity to work in this industry and you should never be afraid of rejection. Put yourself in the mindset that you are an unstoppable force and no matter what challenges arise you will be able to overcome them. It’s a tough industry, but people defy the odds every year – so why not you?
Behind the scenes video on Falling Uphill: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/901647388/falling-uphill-a-feature-film/widget/video.html
OK the book now has a back cover!