Five Ways I Hope to Keep it Real / Billy Miller

The more I’ve taught filmmaking, the more I want to. So this past year I dove into Teaching Artistry headfirst. Outside work at Caldera I source my own classes, design my own curriculum and push the boundaries of what — and what size class — makes successful student film. What I’m learning helps impart better lessons. So here are a few notes where I’ve found my own classroom voice ring out.

Make (And Keep) Agreements
This Caldera practice works so I use it any time I teach. I start with three simple agreements that service the project’s goal. Three because it’s easy to remember, though agreements usually change with the goal. Some are variations on a theme, like “Do work that matters,” or “Grow Artistically.” You can also load up a phrase so it speaks to many situations, such as, “RESPECT the space, tools and each other.” I do my best to repeat agreements every day in different ways, sometimes reading aloud, printing them on the board or handing them out on a card. This makes the rules unmistakable and can head off trouble before it starts.

Balance Planning with Spontaneity
The first thing I read a mockumentary class was a quote about how spontaneity is “integrity in the moment.” The best route I’ve found to that is with a lot of planning. Yet teaching, like creating, is messy. Often, I find I have to be willing to throw out the plan to work in the moment. Too, in making films, there’s the technology piece that doesn’t always cooperate. So while I plan how each piece of the lesson leads to the next, I’m prepared to ditch about anything to capture what’s really going on.

Read Widely
I love to prepare for class by opening a book I’m reading to see what that page has to teach me. This gets me unstuck from seeing only what’s in front and reminds there’s a bigger picture. Two great books are Daniel Pink’s “A Whole New Mind,” (a Ghetto Film School gift mentioned previously) and “Teach Like A Champion” with its doctrine of increasing classroom pace and a college-prep focus. In the former, art is more important than ever to college success. In the latter, speeding up keeps kids engaged. I like the newspaper, too. It helps you relate to anyone.

Exercise Ambition
If we knew what we were in for prior to accepting difficult tasks, no one ever would. That’s absolutely true of filmmaking — every project is different, pitfalls are rarely foreseen — it’s always plain, hard work. We need more opportunities to dream of what’s possible when leading young artists. Being creatively bold is a valuable lesson and it starts by experimenting with the complexity of the project within the size of the group. Are there enough jobs to go around? What activities will keep everyone engaged? How can I best maximize individual strengths? Ask these questions courageously and you never know what magic may occur in both process and product.

Embrace Technology
In the advent of desktop filmmaking, it has never been easier to film, edit or share a real movie. Marrying this technology to our universal love of the art form can produce amazing work, communicate powerful ideas and build real connection. Though applying the tools gracefully can get complicated, I tell students: Dive in headfirst. More useful than anything I’ve found, is what you will for yourself.

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