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Why I Teach

September 25, 2012

I’ve been planning a big series of posts about production and post-production audio, trying to make the incredibly technical slightly less so, but my college had a big to-do tonight with former students that got me thinking about why I teach. So the audio stuff will have to wait a few days to make room for:

Why do I teach?

Honestly, I could make more money in the film industry. I’m a pretty good/very good editor, and could do quite well in that field. But I chose not to. There are the obvious, not often spoken reasons: teaching pays. Not well, but decently and consistently. Filmmaking, less consistently. I’m sure that if I went into the industry, I could do OK, almost definitely better than I do now. But I’d also almost definitely be working for a master and serving their agenda. And while I can do that well, I don’t enjoy it. I’m a great employee, but it’s not my joy.

Throwing aside the practicalities, I really love teaching. I love introducing our students to the heart of our art form: storytelling. It’s tricky that much of filmmaking is technical, but the heart of filmmaking is pure art. As the teacher of our advanced undergraduate classes, I see my place as teaching our students that the purpose of our art is not the technical stuff that they have to overcome early on in the discipline, but is instead the nebulous art of telling a story to an audience.

Sometimes, it can be incredibly frustrating. I just had an assignment where students needed to tell a dialogue-free story that emphasized that they create an interesting character and put them in an interesting situation where they have a clear goal and experience obstacles and conflict in pursuit of that goal. In other words, they had to tell a story. In some instances it went very well. In others, less well. Many projects that would have scored well in other classes because they were technically excellent didn’t do so well because they simply weren’t entertaining. They weren’t a story. “Lesser” projects (by technical standards) that weren’t as well made, scored better because they were a good story.

My place is to teach students that all the technical skills in the world will only impress other filmmakers, which is the smallest slice of their audience. To tell stories, they need to use those filmmaking skills in the service of a wider audience, who just wants interesting characters in a story that makes them care.

So going back to the initial thought: why do I teach? Really, I teach because I want to help young filmmakers to understand that their audience isn’t other filmmakers, even though they’re centered in a community of filmmakers. Their primary job is to entertain and enlighten an audience who needs what they create. There’s a world of people hungry for what filmmakers have to give.

A long time ago I wrote a mission statement for my life, the same way a business creates one for themselves. Mine is: “to constantly, joyously, and passionately grow as a storyteller and filmmaker, as a student and teacher, and as a friend and risk-taker, and through those endeavors to encourage others to see man’s inherent aspiration to do good works.”

I really enjoy that mission, and though my life has changed immensely since I wrote it, it’s still very true. If I were to re-write it today, I might make a slight adjustment to add something about being daddy to my little girl, but really, even that’s implied. I teach because I want the world to be a better place through people making films that accomplish that goal. Whether it’s my films or my students’ films, the world being better is more than good enough.

Why do I teach? Because the world needs stories to make it a better place. And if I can help get more stories out there, then I’m actively making the world better. That’s important. That’s what I do.

  1. Anonymous
    September 26, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    Great post, Joe. One of your best. But I must quietly rebut your statement “I’m a great employee.” One word: Thrifty’s.

    • September 26, 2012 at 2:15 pm

      Who is this and how much do you want? :)

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