I think I’ve mentioned before that I have a degree in Film (a BA (Hons) in Film Studies to be precise). Now, I’ve become somewhat accustomed to responses I get when this subject is broached in conversation. It’s slightly different when it’s done in an interview (and I haven’t found an interviewer yet who hasn’t raised the subject, who wouldn’t, after all, just how many people with film degrees do you come across?).
In an interview I smile politely and then try and get back onto my other skills and qualifications as fast as possible while attempting to break down the mental barrier to employing me it seems to cause. In conversation, I wait until the inevitable (and it’s almost word for word): Film Studies? You sat around and watched movies for three years? Usually you can tell they’re thinking: I can’t believe they gave you a degree for that, but they usually manage to refrain from saying it out loud (to me at least). Generally I answer these questions with an understanding wry grin, a slight chuckle and a brief explanation, but, in an effort to help film students everywhere, I thought I’d explain a little about it.
First of all, there are different types of film course, some that are all practical, some that are a mix of both, some that are all academic. Mine was a mix of both. The simplest way I have found to describe a film course (one like mine at least) is to say that it’s like English Literature, but using films instead of books. You see, most people don’t look past the surface of a film, at least, not consciously, and that’s what Film Studies is all about: exploring the many aspects that not only make up, but also relate to a film. This includes elements of psychology, sociology and history. You learn to look at everything from the colours, to the costumes, the words, the locations, the camera movements, the actor’s movements and lots, lots more. Then you look at how films react to and influence the culture around them. Then there’s the business side of them, how studios exploit films to make money, how filmmaking turned from an art to a business, how all the different elements (production, distribution and exhibition) link together. What part movie stars play in the industry. And of course the development of cinema from early silent movies to the blockbusters of today. Obviously I’m just scratching the surface, there are plenty more topics and all of them are fairly vast disciplines of their own.
Then there’s the practical element: learning how to operate a camera, calculate depth of field, select the correct camera settings, write and construct an interesting narrative and realistic characters, edit, record sound, etc, etc. How many English Literature courses ask you to write a novella every semester?
So, as you can see, we’re not just sitting around watching films. Yes, we obviously do watch a lot of films, but rarely the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Usually we’re watching a specific movie for specific reasons, and trust me when I say I have sat through enough early cinema to last me a lifetime. There’s only so many times you can watch Train arriving at the station before it gets pretty mediocre. And don’t get me started on some of the alternative European forms (I’m looking at you Werner Herzog). I’m asking you all to remember that while we stared at the screen as much as our textbooks, there was a lot more to it than that.