Creative Producing Boot Camp

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By the first day of fall semester classes, I was tired.  Exhausted, actually.  Why?  Because as a Film & Video – Creative Producing MFA student, I had already been in school for a month.  I had just survived “Boot Camp.”

Creative Producing students begin at Columbia by attending a three week intensive course — coined “Boot Camp” — that takes place in August.  For three weeks we commuted to Columbia’s nearly empty campus every day, Monday through Friday from 10 to 5.  The purpose of Boot Camp is to make sure that everyone can enter into the fall semester on the same footing, with the same general knowledge base.  This translates into a class experience that feels similar to trying to drink from a fire hose: the information pours on and on, and all we can do is simply try our best to hang on and absorb it all.

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As I walked into class the first day and looked around at the students in the room with me, I knew stakes with this group were higher than in an average class. In the Creative Producing program, we go through our entire time at Columbia with the same cohort. Every class I would take in the producing curriculum will be with these people, and in the second year of the program, it would be this group that I would be traveling and spending a semester in LA with.  As we sat, waiting for class to start, we made nervous small talk.

Soon our professors walked in the door. First was Karen Loop, a successful veteran Hollywood producer. We ended up nicknaming Karen “the Terminator” for her sharp perspective: she’s the one who would hand our papers back filled with searing but helpful comments scribbled all over the page.  She can also, with pride, share a handful of stories in which she has had no trouble firing crew members who were holding up film productions.  Yet her love of students and helping us learn always shines through her bulletproof demeanor.

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Then there was Joe, a social worker turned filmmaker who is not only an expert on independent filmmaking (he is the author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Independent Filmmaking,”) but who has a big heart as well. Joe would frequently check in with us during class to make sure we were doing okay as our hectic lives as Columbia students began, and he was readily available after class to chat with us about our concerns.

Fortunately “Boot Camp” turned out okay. More than okay, in fact. Over those 3 weeks, we had homework almost every night, and it was hard.  But for many of us, getting to work and taking our first steps as producers was a breath of fresh air.

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We emerged a remarkably tight group.  No one in our cohort wouldn’t consider each other member of the group their friend. This will be vital as we move forward at Columbia, work together, and produce projects together. I’m still amazed by how much we all care about and support each other: it’s a far cry from the typical cynical stories you hear about being in film school or working in the film industry.

With Boot Camp behind us, now we face fall semester and all of the challenges it brings!

(For more about Boot Camp from the perspective of our professor Karen Loop, check out this article she wrote for Screen Magazine.)