Dear Professor Tolchinsky,
Given the changing structure of student film funding within the RTVF department, I would like to share some of the experiences that were so important to me during my time at Northwestern, and how these would be adversely affected by the loss of student-led grant allocation.
Filmmaking groups like Studio 22 and Niteskool were an essential part of my RTVF experience. Part of what made these clubs so vital to my education was the opportunity to work on large sets, something that will be lost if the MAG system ultimately replaces student-allocated grant films. A class project made with a 3-person crew cannot substitute for the experience of working on a film with a budget of several thousand dollars and a team of 40 peers working in specialized roles. Similarly a $1500 MAG project can hardly create these kinds of experiences for students. While fundamental filmmaking skills were well taught in class, I learned what it takes to produce really good work through extracurricular film. Healthy competition and the high-stakes nature of making bigger films creates an environment where quality over quantity is emphasized.
Another formative part of my development as a film industry professional was serving on the Studio 22 board and learning to thoughtfully allocate funding to student projects. Admittedly I was surprised by how seriously the S22 board takes this responsibility, and by the amount of work that went into grant allocation. Scripts were read in advance of petitions, extensive notes were taken and questions prepared for petitions. Deliberations on which projects would receive funding lasted long into the night. There was nothing in the RTVF curriculum that could simulate real-world experience in this way. This is something that will unquestionably be lost through the proposed faculty led funding system.
I truly believe that taking away agency and responsibility from undergraduates who are so committed to the extracurricular film community will lead to less student investment in the out-of-class RTVF experience and ultimately diminish the importance of organizations such as Studio 22 and Niteskool. This would be a great shame. The friendships I fostered through these clubs have lasted a decade since my graduation. It is not my RTVF classmates who I continue to work with today, but my Studio 22 and Niteskool peers.
While I understand an educational institution to be a dynamic entity, I would be terribly sad to see future students miss out on the experiences that were so vital to my development as a filmmaker and a media industry professional. I respectfully ask the department to consider adding Media Arts Grants to the range of funding available for student films, rather than progressively making them a substitute for student-allocated grants. Surely RTVF will turn out better media-makers with a wider and more diverse range of opportunities available to the department’s passionate and creative students.