Filmmaking School Professor Profile

Get advice from a film school professor.

Jean-Pierre Geuens

University of Southern California, Los Angeles
City College and Art Center College of Design

As a professor at a filmmaking school, Jean-Pierre Geuens has been instructing students about the nuances of film for more than 20 years. His career began in France and carried him to filmmaking school at UCLA, followed by a career as a cameraman, before he turned to teaching.

Geuens has written many articles and one book on the subject of film—Film Production Theory—and contributed to two other books, which can be found on his website. He currently teaches at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles City College and the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

You teach film theory. What are classes like?

Well, as you might expect, we watch a lot of film. Where once we were lucky to have film prints, now there is an availability of DVDs for students to review. The curriculum used to be based on talking without seeing, and today students can learn by example. For bright, driven, aspiring filmmakers, it is even possible to educate themselves, without attending film school, by studying good film and DVD bonus tracks on their own. That and a good brain are the basis of a solid film education.

Do you have any advice for prospective students?

If you want to be an independent filmmaker, the most important thing to learn is discipline and critique. You need to teach yourself to look honestly at your work. Judge its quality with impartiality. Unfortunately, in film school, students don’t make that many films. People may spend an entire year on one short film. I’m in the minority of film professors who believe that students should be producing in film school, not perfecting. Today things go fast in the film industry. Students need to learn to be quick and creative to stay in the game.

What’s most important to learn in school?

Film school is about finding out who you are, it’s not just about acquiring a specific amount of knowledge or the latest techniques. You need to learn who you are, what you stand for and how good you are. Technical knowledge without the self is nothing. There are plenty of technicians in this industry; what’s important is to have people with viewpoints.

How does grading work?

The hardest thing about film schools is getting in, and once you’re in, you’re good enough. Grading is least important. Classes are generally a blend of group-based projects, personal projects and collaborations. Most people who graduate and stick with it will ultimately be working in some function on a film crew, so we try to expose students to all aspects of the industry.

What should students look for in a school?

Each school has its own style—L.A. is very much Hollywood, and portfolios emulate Hollywood values. NYU and UCLA have independent film programs. Other schools may be more experimental. The key is to research the filmmaking schools, find their style, and match that style to your own. If the match isn’t a good one, students tend to drop out or transfer. Go see the films the school produces. Talk to students. Go into a classroom and spend an afternoon in class. It’s about where you will fit the best.

What is the hardest aspect of filmmaking school?

Getting your feet on the ground. It’s not easy to make a film. Right away, you discover your mistakes, and that can be overwhelming and disconcerting. During the editing process, things get complicated. You notice your mistakes. You realize that you haven’t got all the shots you need, or that things aren’t as you envisioned them to be. However, it’s a wonderful learning process, and most people learn quickly from their mistakes while editing. The more you produce and watch, the more you learn.

What skills do students need to be successful in the industry?

Some people will make it, others will not. It’s not so much about what it takes; a lot of people have what it takes. It’s about how lucky you are, or whether or not you have contacts, or if you’re getting noticed. Many students I expected to do well have not, and others have done very well. There’s just no way of knowing.

How do students form a network?

That is what film school is for. USC is especially well known for that. You start working with someone, and eventually you form a small crew. During a project, you use people you can rely on. You all move up the ladder together. Working with someone you know simplifies the creative process, because you already know their personality and style.

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