An argument prevails that Radio TV and Film Departments brings down a “real” college reputation by being perceived as more suited for a junior college or trade school. Let us take a look at some of the issues and try to determine any possible resolution to this reoccurring debate.
First lets take a look at who is making the claim that RTVF is at the level of trade school to see if the people that talk down RTVF are doing so for personal gain or out of a rational concern to keep college level classes free from providing lower ranking trades school courses.
Keeper of the flame types do walk the campus halls looking to purify the college experience. These types range from blatant self serving PHD’s looking to pump up the campus perception and thus their own to the ouside world., Some individuals thinks a college should emulate the Catholic priesthood and put to the flame any disbeliever who is perceived tarnishing the image. Keeper of the flame individuals are all fluff and puff and RTVF is anything but that (FOX TV is the exception). The priest types love the academic regalia, the ivy on the walls, gargoyle on the roofs. They do not understand and are aghast at seeing “On The Air” warning lights flashing over doors or red rotating lights on hallway ceilings throwing out apparent death rays of red sweeping beams of warning light in front of stage entrances. They don’t relate to technology very well and find it difficult to see how TV cameras, video tape recorders, character generators, teleprompters properly fits in with white boards, text books and term papers.
Department heads and faculty from other departments might look upon RTVF departments as a treat and this attitude might lead to putting RTVF programs down when votes are cast for disbursement of money. RTVF costs a lot of denar thus being perceived as taking more money out of the university family funds. RTVF also, naturally, gets more publicity, naturally more attractive to young people, easily promoted in all the advertisement methods and thus becomes attractive, can be a vehicle for positive PR for the administration. Other department heads might view the RTVF department as requiring more institutional support at the expense of all the other departments.
Second point, let us examine at a top down, god like view, of this discipline and pick out factors that support, on one hand trade school and on the other college level work as being better suited for RTVF.
When done well RTVF is an art form not unlike theater arts. Just look at the Emmy and Academy Award programs for proof of this point.
In TV and Video there is the concept of above and below the line. One could make the point that above the line is college level because this is where the decisions are made for show creation. Creativity has often times been accepted in colleges as important and sought after. Below the line might be at the trade school level courses because they are a more mechanical almost repetitious duty devoid of the creativity element (actually not true).
The problem with this division, above and below the line, is that some of what below the line people do comes close to being an art form. It is not uncommon to hear of a camera person, a lighting designer, an audio designer, getting recognition for achieving an artist level ability. An artist who creates with paint, chalk, pen, pencil etc, does not conceptualize a project and then tells another person how to put the art drawing together on a canvas. The artist conceptualizes the piece and then carries out the task to a finish. It is true that some artists, especially very famous ones do conceptualize and to some extent turn over a painting for the finish work but that is not the norm and most artists do all or most of the work themselves. The RTVF programs, not always, but usually necessitate group effort art and the totality of that art comes from BOTH above the line and below the line efforts.
When a production works really well is when the team members come up with solutions that are unique to the production. In other words the crew pulls out of their knowledge pool what they think is the best solution for that particular script and what the director and producer want for a finished product. The lighting designer looks over the script and understands the mood of the show and thus how the lighting should be done to best propel that mood to the screen. The camera person during run through or blocking might suggest an arc, dolly or rack focus if the director is stuck with a blocking problem. The camera person’s framing, when done well is arty. The audio person might suggest a reverb on a microphone in one shot to enhance the suggestion that the shot takes place in a hard surfaced room such as a bathroom or prison cell. Talent is having a hard time reading the teleprompter script on a camera too far away. The teleprompter operator might increase font size as a solution. The video engineer picks up high white value from jewelry worn by talent and decided to send these into the camera clipping and not iris down and make the shot look poor. The point here is even though many of the crew positions are below the line supporting what the director and producer is doing, they work together as a team to make the whole, the production what it is. The director may take the credit for a good show but one must remember it was a collaborative effort. How does one dice up collaborative effort in a college course? How can you say that lighting, audio, camera, TD, teleprompter, CG is diminished or less in importance when they are all recipe ingredients for making a show.
Another reason that above and below the line utterly fails to offer any convenient demarcation between what is trade school and college work is that some of the above the line positions are filled from below the line people who moved up. The point being is that to attain above the line status one some times must start below the line. A very famous film director started out being a scene designer. Writers can become directors. Lighting people move to camera. Camera operators can become directors. Directors can become producers and visa versa. Electric can move to lighting. Carpenter can move to set design. Another point is that to get a position above the line one must work their way up from a lower position unless mom or dad have connections. There are exceptions to this pattern. Some individuals do take an immediate position into being a director or producer but this is construed by many as unfair and is often times comes about by cronyism.
The education process is one of learning and learning more gets you more and you have more to offer society if you have learned more and raised to a position that can offer more. It is a natural progression then to start with teaching below the line tasks and through this process of showing and teaching all the various tasks then introduce the above the line education. This is typically what most college departments do. They start out teaching the grunt work of audio, lighting, camera, TD, CG, teleprompter, floor manager, and then progress to scripting, blocking, directing, producing. This is a practical method for many reasons which why it is the model for instruction at most colleges. But one should realize that in this process of showing all the pieces of doing a production, we offer the student an insight to most of the jobs and some times a student discovers that he or she likes a particular job which is a wonderful celebratory event. From a god’s perspective it would be a shame if any student goes through life not fining the best occupation match.
An argument is often made by faculty that above the line training should include below the line training so a director or producer will better understand what is and is not possible. In other words what the crew is capable of performing or not is better detected. I do think that is a bit insulting that a director and producer can detect the level of competence of each crew position because it implies a very high level of understanding and competence in many areas. I am sure there are individuals that do have this level of knowledge but is this that important? I think this is a weak argument compared to the above points because in the motion picture and TV industry anything is possible now with digital technology.
A good home computer, high definition camera and added small pieces of equipment puts high quality video projects within easy reach of most everyone. This fact alone makes a case that very fewer people are necessary to put together a good creative product. But fewer people means that those same individuals must understand more of the total process, they work above and below the line, jumping back and forth when needed. The melding of tasks requires all tasks to be taught. A college can not, before and now, cherry pick what they courses they will offer. All the basics classes must be offered, if a college wants to stay relevant with the new personal high quality production capability we now enjoy.