When Northwest Film Forum started its “Filmmaking Fundamentals” class last year, the 20-year-old Seattle nonprofit was aiming to democratize film in the city.
It had already done a lot to get more Seattleites into filmmaking, offering intimate evening classes taught by a mix of professionals and teachers devoted to the organization’s own particular curriculum (which changes as rapidly as the film industry itself). In these focused classes, most administered at the Film Forum’s Capitol Hill headquarters, students learn everything from screenwriting to lighting to editing. “Fundamentals,” though, took the Forum’s classes one step further by providing to anyone who walked in its doors and paid a modest fee an opportunity to learn all the tools needed to create moving pictures. And we do mean anyone.
“All sorts of people walk into our building,” says Forum education manager Craig Downing. “It could be people who just finished high school, people that are young professionals and just want something to do when they’re done with work, people who are later in their career and have always had a real passion for film and want to get back into it. We cover every decade and every gender.”
If anything, the eight-week class was too successful. Each session would sell out quickly, and eight weeks later push a new class of filmmakers out into the world with new tools, but not necessarily the community to put those tools to use.
“A lot of the students, when they get done with that class, they’d say, ‘Oh, now I know how to make a film; do you know anyone who wants to make a film?’, ” says Downing. “A lot of these people don’t have the luxury of having a house full of friends to make a film with.”
Earlier this year, NWFF introduced yet another class to solve this problem. Now, for just $80, students who have been given the tools to create their own film during the initial “Fundamentals” class (which costs $595) are being grouped together, given a hands-off advisor and discounts on equipment rental, and told to make something happen in six weeks.
The filmmaking teams must secure their own funding and do their own budgeting. Lessons on this, the business side, are offered in the Forum’s classes, but the real-world experience is second to none, says Downing. “Part of making a film is learning how to budget and plan and raise funds,” he says. “So if you are a producer on this group, your job is to figure out which resources you have available or don’t have available to fill the scope of the film you’re making. That funding and getting themselves going is really on the producer, and having them see themselves finding solutions and walking that process of getting the film done.”
And just like that, Northwest Film Forum has become a full-service incubator for Seattle’s burgeoning film scene. The films that result can be submitted to the Forum’s own Local Sightings Film Festival, but even if they don’t make the cut, they will find a place among friends and family and in portfolios.
Getting work for the students isn’t the goal, says Downing, who adds that the Forum believes first and foremost in artistic expression. It does happen, though. Downing points to a couple of students who were recently hired by a production company before even finishing the first “Fundamentals” course.
“We’re really about enabling people to achieve their artistic vision,” he says. “Some students’ goals are getting into film festivals, others are about getting work; but either way it makes us really excited when students are meeting those goals.” Find Northwest Film Forum classes at connect2classes.com.