Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Aarhus Film Fest (part 6)

CLASS OR TUTOR?

In Los Angeles, I usually wake up around 10am - sometimes as late as noon (if I closed the bar the night before). When ever I teach a class, it usually starts at 9 or 10am, so I have to get up earlier... usually by sacrificing some sleep. My class in Aarhus begins at 8:30, which means I’m up at 7am. Add the jet lag to all of this and I’m seriously in need of coffee. I go downstairs to the restaurant and grab some breakfast, tell the waiter I’d like a carafe of coffee... and he gets side tracked with other people. By the time I get my coffee I have time for one cup before the class.

I never set out to teach classes. I only wanted to write screenplays and make films. But afer my book came out I got a couple of phone calls, one from the Santa Fe Screenwriting Conference and one from the Raindance Film Festival. Both with similar offers, but Raindance’s was best. They asked if I would like to come to London and teach screenwritng. I told them I don’t teach screenwriting, I just write scripts. They’d read my book and my articles in Scr(i)pt Magazine and I was teaching on paper, why not do it in person? Well, I’m kind of a writer... you know, shy, not good at public speaking... I turn into Albert Brooks in BROADCAST NEWS when I have to speak in public. Well, maybe teaching a class would help me deal with that? They would pay my airfare, my hotel, a flat rate for the class, buy meals *and* buy my drinks. "You’re going to buy my drinks?" "Sure." "Okay, I’m there." So, whenever anyone cals or e-mails me about teaching screenwriting, I usually go. I don’t *look* for any of these gigs, I don’t advertize or e-mail film festivals or anything like that... They have to find me. I don’t know how Aarhus found me, but they did.

Just as the audience for each screening seems to be a handful of people, the turn out for my class was handful of people. I think this is he fewest people who have ever shown up for my class.

The thing I have learned about classes - the fewer people, the more vocal that one person who wants to take over the class will be. When I’m in the big room at Expo and have 300-500 people listening to me, everyone is very well mannered and listens to the class. No one would ever think about trying to steer the class to whatever they want to talk about. When I’m in a smaller room a Expo or at Raindance or some other event and I have 100 people, that one person keeps raising their hand (or - more likely - just butts in) and asks questions about their personal script or wants to debate some point that really doesn’t matter. I’ve had times when I’m doing my class for 50 people, when that person becomes even more vocal and interrupts a couple of times an hour with some comment that has nothing to do with the class or a question designed to take us so far off track that we are now talking about their script instead of scriptwriting in general. I think this is rude to the other 49 people in the class and try to nip it in the bud... almost never works. No matter how politely I ask to hold questions until the end of a segment or to please phrase questions so they are about general screenwriting not about your script, these interrupters usually continue. Some actually increase their interruptions. I’ve had times where students try to take over the class by just standing up and talking about whatever *they* want to talk about. They seem to have no regard at all for the other 49 class members - they want to be the star and the center of attention.

So imagine what happens in a class of 8 people.

With 8 people, you don’t have a group, you have 8 individuals. Everyone sees themselves as an individual, rather than a member of the class. And that one person in every class? They think they are having a dialogue with you that the other 7 are listening to. I’m in a difficult position, because I kind of represent the film festival, and this person has paid to take the class. So I can’t just tell them to shut up or kick them out of the class. I have to be diplomatic and subtle... and subtle never works with these people. So my class got steered so far off course that I have to skip whole sections and constantly fight to get us back on course.

The worst part about these folks: their ego is so massive that they believe they know more than anyone else... but from their discussions it’s obvious that they don’t even know the basics... and they are often so pushy they get their scripts places I would be afraid to try with mine. Result: people in power read this crap and build even higher walls. Or they push their way into getting a film made, and wonder why it gets bad reviews or no distribution at all. Have you seen the movie OVERNIGHT about the guy behind BOONDOCK SAINTS? Mandatory viewing! Don't let your ego get in the way of your judgement. Listen to others sometimes and actually consider what they are saying. They might be right. If I have time at events like this, I like to sit in on someone else's class to get a "second opinion" and maybe learn something I didn't know. There's too much to know - you can never know it all.

So I finally get to the end of my class and end up giving away a class on CD to every member of the class (all 8) because with 8 students, odds of selling any aren’t good and I don’t want to drag all of those CDs home with me. Damned things get heavy after a while.

I’m also concerned that the turn out may create problems when it comes time to reimburse me for my airplane ticket, train ticket, and pay me for teaching the class. These things are contracted, but if they don’t pay me I think I’d have to sue them in Danish court (and that would cost more than I’m owed). This happens every once in a while - I’m still owed money from the last Las Vegas Conference, even though I went out of my way to teach a special one day class when the folks who were supposed to teach that day didn’t show (or maybe were cancelled because there wasn’t enough money for their hotel room). If anyone thinks I’m making loads of money doing this, think again. I may have just paid to visit Denmark out of my own pocket... and spent 90% of my time in that country teaching classes and doing panels and consultations instead of sight seeing.

After ten hours of talking, my voice is ragged and I want to sleep.

I retire to my room for a half hour before the party starts, and finish up yesterday’s blog entry. Then the phone rings - Marina from the lobby. They are getting a taxi to take us to the party in ten minutes, can I come down now? Sure. I don’t have to walk 20-25 minutes after a very long day of teaching.

- Bill

6 comments:

Bill Cunningham said...

Bill,

I have to say I'm enjoying the hell out of your "Bill Martell on tour" posts...

Keep it up.

The other Bill

MaryAn Batchellor said...

But you don't have to go to a Danish court to get your Las Vegas money. Get nasty. Go get it. Even if it won't even pay your phone bill. They owe it to you, dammit! And, you owe it to the next speaker they try to stiff.

James Moran said...

Those attention hoggers are the same ones that you see at Q & A sessions. There's never usually much time at these things, so it's best to ask a quick question and give others a chance. But no, someone has to do the long, rambling, essay type question that isn't even a question, and the answer they're looking for is presumably "what a clever question, I am very impressed with your knowledge, please come and work for me"...

Anonymous said...

I was in a screenwriting class a few years ago with exactly the kind of person you described. He wasn't at the top of the class in terms of writing talent, although I'm sure he thought so.
Regarding the CDs -- I bought the horror writing CD and really enjoyed it. Have you ever thought
about trying to make them available as mp3 downloads(Itunes, etc.)? That might be another audience for you.

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