Technology inspires art, and art…should inspire our students to be entrepreneurs

november 2018
mjddir

Manuel José Damásio

Intro: why entrepreneurship

Film regarded as a professional opportunity for young talents is always a practice that fluctuates between artistic aspirations, employability and uncertainty. The legacy of cinéma d’auteur persists in the syllabus and cultural environment of film courses in European academia, but today the ever faster emergence of new technologies appears to open opportunities for young professionals that for so long have found their access to a professional career trumped. The auteur theory holds that a film reflects the director's personal creative vision and primacy in spite of the film’s industrial process, and of the intrinsic team work. The auteur's creative voice subdues studio interference and dictates the collective process. Even though some critics argue that the auteur theory "collapses against the reality of the studio system", i.e. the oligopoly and pervasive power of Hollywood, a management practice of creative people inspired by experienced successful organisations like Pixar has not taken root in Europe.

Nevertheless, today the collaborative aspects of shooting a film are becoming clearer and that is why project management activities and team work take such a relevant place in the structure proposed for ESSEMBLE.

In this paper we will assess the relevance of a general proposal for the insertion of entrepreneurship education in the context of film education in face of the experience four different film schools had along the years in developing ESSEMBLE. Not only will we outline what we consider to be the main traits of such proposal but also its relevance and potential to be applied in the context of educational projects such as this one.

The moving and the static image have acquired new functions and values.

The role of other team players and creators, notably of screenwriters, is acknowledged and fostered, but the leadership of the producer is not yet recognised as crucial in film development and creation. The auteur theory is seemingly anchored on entrepreneurship – the author as an entrepreneur -- but this notion owes more to the cultural and political environment than to putative entrepreneurial skills which would necessarily entail a market place oriented practice.

The vision of the individual artist collides with the more common aim of becoming an employee. In spite of the fact that becoming an employee could entail the end of creative freedom, it is attractive to some because it seemingly brings with it some panacea to market place uncertainty. The majority of European students that want to become employed, i.e., that shun entrepreneurship, fail to see that imbedded in entrepreneurship teaching is a body of knowledge useful is any circumstance and in particular in the company and corporate business environment, right from the moment of the first job interview.

Other students live in a permanent state of uncertainty, incapable of forming an idea of what to do with their lives. They lack self-assessment skills or they are not helped by an academia that fails to provide coaching, mentoring, personal orientation. One of the recommendations we leave in ESSEMBLE precisely addresses this need to supplement film education with mentoring activities supported by proper structures of project development that frame the uses of new technologies in the context of creative practices.

Many times students suspect that the courses true objective is to let them lose in the “capitalist jungle”. Academia has not contributed as much as it could and should to highlight the usefulness of entrepreneurship teaching, in particular the fragile and uncertain value chain, what is the current industrial environment, the impacts of digital distribution, and the acquisition of competences in value proposition definition, business modelling and planning with the ultimate objective of producing works aimed at the intended audiences.

The film business consists of a chain of connected companies, individuals and freelancers, all working on different elements of the filmmaking and exploitation process, at varying stages of the process (Finney 2015). It is a “disintegrated model” in which each element in the chain is dependent on the next player or operator partnership and cooperation to drive the project forward. This network has to be managed and made to focus on delivering specific commitments and activities. There is no guarantee that any value will be extracted from work and ideas. Some players are socially motivated, others are economically driven. The process is complex, lacks transparency and has inherent deficiencies. Recent data from the European Audiovisual observatory (EAO, 2015) shows that although Audiovisual content consumption has never been so high, the fragmentation of platforms is also increasing as well as the parting between containers and content.

In order to meet the expectations of investors or supporting institutions, filmmakers should put together a complex but credible package consisting of:

  • 1. The screenplay
  • 2. The producer (company and track record)
  • 3. The director
  • 4. The budget
  • 5. The key (lead) cast

Europe has undervalued the film development process both financially and strategically. In the US up to seven percent of total audio-visual revenue and up to ten percent of each film’s budget is invested in development, while in Europe only one to two percent (figures from 2014). In Europe, film development is a secondary notion. Part of Europe’s problems stem from the overwhelming power bestowed on directors. Investors have stayed at bay in this very uncertain and risky business.

This results in the following Weaknesses (Finney 2014):

  • The vast majority of the industry is unsustainable on a commercial basis.
  • Unstable, fragmented, complex value chain, fragile business model, no strategy.
  • Insufficient or inexistent research and qualitative analysis predating the first day of principal photography.
  • Production fee payment on first day of shooting leads to production without sufficient preparation.
  • Simultaneous development of a number of projects to recoup investment costs and create sufficient production fees to cover both the production work and sunken costs.
  • The producer is left far away from the consumer and is ill informed about market demands.
  • Resentment between emerging producers and distributors, difficult dialogue.
  • Sunk costs require important financial resources.
  • The producer is the weakest link in the relationship with the distributors and must work under shadow of many oligopolies (inclduing the SVOD distributors).
  • The notion of “audience” is tenuous.
  • Divide between academia and relevant teaching and training methods, insufficient practice and role definition.

Film education should address the above identified weaknesses and include learning outcomes that cover all these areas. Our proposal is that Entrepreneurship education will impact film and media arts schools the more it addresses these weaknesses and covers topics that allow future professionals and the industry to minimize them.

This implies that entrepreneurship education should eventually reconsider the epithet “entrepreneurship” and focus instead on a sobriquet that conveys the notion of preparedness with knowledge and skills that empower the students' individual initiative and develop their creativity in a future professional environment, either as entrepreneurs or as employees.

Results of the process followed in ESSEMBLE, where greater attention was given to development and to the students autonomy supported on market driven project development, confirmed this approach. When discussing the impact and relevance of entrepreneurship for Film and Media Arts Schools, the start premise should be to clearly state that these depend a lot on the way this particular type of education is presented to schools and the way it is implemented.

2. Content and Pedagogies

Nowadays images play a crucial role as visual objects in different media contexts. Both the moving and the static image have acquired new functions and values that challenge past approaches to their study and understanding. Images have for a long period been dependent on a specific discipline, art history. The multiplication of perspectives on the term, with different roots and mistaken applications, from philosophy, to optics, psychology and neurology, has resulted in successive speeches that have been studying images relation with human knowledge (Mitchell, 1986).

If the construction and analysis of the image, according to classical paradigms’, was built by a division between percipient subject and object, between the mental image that resulted from the act of seeing, and the social construction of that act of seeing, the advent of mass media introduced problems so far not anticipated in the analysis of images’ and their uses. Winning over the field of mere aesthetic enjoyment, where images were analysed only from an aesthetic perspective, or the fields of optics and neurosciences, where images were studied solely on the basis of their locations in the brain or their functions, the media introduced new problems and perspectives, namely via the emergence of the moving image.

The possibility of images reproduction, hitherto confined to the human hand, was concomitant with the possibility of faster transmission and ubiquitous presence. The proliferation of image, its acceleration and its growing use for non-aesthetic purposes, not reducible solely to the realm of knowledge, began to draw, more clearly, to the historical and political role of images.

The image, taken as an object, thus migrates from a discipline that requires a basic preparation of the subjects to recognize the meaning of images, to a process that primarily seeks to evaluate their primary function and meaning in social and historical context of uses in which it is presented. The term coined for this new emerging form of image analysis, was visual culture (Elkins, 2003). In this context, it is clear that images must always be connected to the medium through which they are produced and presented.

The important thing to note is the observation carried out by visual culture studies that the study of the image, with its separation of the realms of aesthetics, art history, optics and neuroscience, is totally dependent on the media. The question today is, if there are media that create images for us, who is there in control and what are the uses and social contexts surrounding those uses that can help us in finding the meanings and essences of images? It is tempting to answer this question by identifying the medium as a simple material support or something on which an image is displayed. But this response is always unsatisfactory.

A medium is more than the materials it is composed of. It is, as Raymond Williams wisely insisted, a material social practice, a set of skills, habits, techniques, tools, codes and conventions' (Williams, 1974). Here the problem raised by Benjamin with regard to the apparatus and the image reproduction technique recovers its political value. If visual culture studies introduced images in the world of media studies via their linkage to mediation, than we should take seriously the words of art historian Georges Didi-Huberman (2002) and see the image problem as belonging to the devices that mediate the broadcast, in the case of television, or the internet and the projection, in the case of film. It is clear today that an approach to understanding the image, despite its relationship to other areas of knowledge, is totally dependent on media studies, as a way of understanding the communication processing that deals both with individual and collective practices.

These initial questions are not solely theoretical ones, since they lay the ground for any reflection or approach that wants to discuss how we, as educators, can train students in the production of filmic representations, and what content and pedagogies should be considered. Besides those that result from the relevance this visual and sound cultures have in our society, these contents and pedagogies should also reflect the nature of this type of education that we focused on in the initial paragraphs.

Entrepreneurship education will mostly impact the content and pedagogies being taught in film and media arts schools via the integration in these schools of a set of skills that will reinforce the bridging between these schools’ education and real world settings, besides assuring that the pedagogies used in the context of project development throughout the courses are sustained in an audience building perspective so much needed for European film and media production.

The shift towards a fully digital production and distribution environment that we are witnessing these days, affects all stages of the film and media value chain, but more importantly also provokes relevant societal changes, namely on what concerns information use and consumption for cultural, entertainment, educational or many other purposes. When talking of film and media arts education, we are considering all practices associated with image and sound production, reception and interpretation, namely those that fall under the umbrella of the “film and media literacy” perspective (Buckingham, 2007).

Previous research alerted us to the emergence of media contexts (Damásio & Poupa, 2008) where users deal with images and associated messages by means of strategies that point to original forms of literacy (Buckingham, 2007), while at the same time, raised new questions regarding the role visual elements (Mitchell, 2008) play in users engagement with society and others.

Several studies have been made to try to identify elements that might attract, or more effectively direct users' attention to visual messages (Dreze & Hussherr, 2003, Guérard, Chtourou & Tremblay, 2010, Pieters & Wendel, 2004, Nielsen & Shapiro Manson, 2009). Specific features of stimuli (bottom-up) in video, such as its location more or less central to the axis, its frequency and the contexts where they are placed (with variable emotional valences) have only recently begun to be studied using objective measures of attention (Teixeira et al, 2008, 2010).

The development of a technique for monitoring the eye, using eye-tracking equipment has only recently become non-intrusive and therefore more valid in the reproduction of the real contexts of use (Duchowsky, 2007). The measurement of attention given to certain stimuli and the duration of the action are increasingly central to the analysis (Pieters & Wendel, 2010) and understanding the ways in which people process visual information. This aspect is of a particular relevance to educators, since it points to the key difference between the complexity of what is produced and the complexities of what is perceived.

Those involved in training moving image experts should not focus their attention on the qualities and technicalities of what is produced – e.g “digital film” – but on the external characteristics of the object – e.g the film – that are perceived and consumed by the subject.

By this distinction we point to the central conflict that seems to affect film schools and other training organizations in these fields: does technology drive content or does content drive technology? On another axis we have another clash: should we train highly skilful technicians or should we centre our attention in training individuals that dominate the system of emotions and stimuli that film and audiovisual embody?
In environments and contexts of strong competition, where the stimulus to consume is vast and plentiful, the individual is the target of an abundant set of information for which he has limited processing capacity (Milosavljevic, 2008). The selective processing of information is a cognitive response to our inability to process a vast amount of information simultaneously. The attention to a certain stimuli and not to another depends on several factors. Among those factors to be considered, is the interest we have in certain message or object and, secondly, the intrinsic characteristics of the message (Pieters, Wendel, 2004, 2010).

Considering only top-down factors (characteristics and interests of the individual) and bottom-up (stimulus features) has been, until very recently, the paradigm of the approach to the study of how (1) individuals perceive the inclusion of specific objects in the context of the moving image and (2) the ways in which different producers of images choose to operationalize this process. Edenius and Dahlén propose to include in this equation the context in which the image is consumed (Edenius & Dahlén, 2007). More than the changes in the production and processing environment – e.g – the digital intermediate chain of film processing and distribution – it is the changes in the distribution and consumption environment that should worry film schools. The digital media continuous context of consumption and interaction with content makes the previously mentioned conflict obsolete – technology is also content because users engage with both simultaneously and without making any distinction, from this resulting what we could call a dilution of the moving image, and associated emotional and sensory stimuli that are carried by films, in a complex process of collective and individual construction of social identities.

This kind of economic and cultural environment raises questions about how this commodity culture impacts the training process and how this may improve itself in accordance with this environment specificity. The knowledge and skills provided by entrepreneurship education have a strong relevance for this subject matter and could deeply impact film schools, not only by bringing to the centre the consumption process and what it entails in terms of audiences construction, but also and more importantly, by framing the technical and artistic education provided by schools in the context of a broader social, cultural and economic environment where their competences should be applied in the production of relevant filmic objects.

To capture the attention and “seduce” individuals, the moving image makes more and more usage of entertainment and technologies that bring out the most spectacular facets of the moving image and draw its differences when compared with other media that carry similar messages (i.e VR films).

Most of the research about the evolution of film education and its “literacies” has been centred on audiovisual content and its “effects”, but the new integrated digital media environment that uses the Internet and the mobile phones (the so called new media) brings participation and interaction to the core of the consumption process though making obsolete all approaches that revolve solely around the production/reception relation. The integration of entrepreneurship education in film schools will impact the schools’ ability to play greater attention to these processes, tough improving the quality of their education. In our view the concept of entrepreneurship is deeply related with the concept of literacy when the domains of the arts and the creative industries are at stake.

If it is clear today that the rise of the Internet created the need to redefine the concept of literacy, the growing influence of different media in popular culture brings to the discussion the need to reshape our training methods and approaches in order for them to embrace all possible forms of interaction with media messages and not only those that we have in the past attached to our ontological definition of the medium “film”. Entrepreneurship has all to do with the ability to reply to emergent needs in a given context via the provision of original concepts while literacy has all to do with the understanding of the mechanisms that support the dissemination and reception of those same concepts.

3. Teachers and students

In the previous lines we’ve tried to point to what we consider to be the main dilemma currently being faced by all moving image educators: the conflict between the technical values of the moving image that we see assuming such a big importance nowadays, and a changing reception and consumption environment where aesthetical fruition seems to be replaced by forms of consumption that integrate interaction and participation at their core.

In our view this dilemma can only by surpassed if film schools integrate a strong component of literacy oriented skills in their training and refocus technical training from the point of view of the cognitive and emotional stimuli that are of the most importance to the final users of the messages. A key aspect for that is the integration of entrepreneurship education that can bridge the distance between the technical and artistic skills being taught and the outside world. Only then will we once again will these schools fulfil their role as educators and understand that the creative process is something inherent to education not something that is separate from the acquisition of technical or interpretative skills.

There is a huge range of combined Film and Media Arts courses. Film and Media students in particular are offered a bewildering range of courses ranging from those wholly dedicated to media practice including, for example interactive design, film and TV production or sound design, to combined courses in film studies, for example. These might be theory-based courses with elements of film production. This situation is complicated by overlaps with disciplines that are not based in art and media departments. For example, many computing courses include games design or engineering departments might offer game development courses. More recently, growth in the higher education sector, particularly a rise in student applications, has encouraged institutions to expand and develop their courses in the creative subjects that have proved popular with the growing number of young people entering the sector.

The total of all combined and full courses including art, film and media education on offer in Europe in 2016 exceeds 6,000. The development of courses has also been shaped by external factors, in particular a density of particular sectors of industries or audiences and consumers. The major impact of entrepreneurship education for teachers and students in film and media arts schools will be the bridging of this distance between their schools and the context of application of the knowledge and skills they provide. For students this will imply better employability opportunities and stronger transversal skills that are relevant in many aspects of their future professional lives. For teachers, it implies an opportunity for the implementation on new methods and pedagogies that better adhere to the paradigms of literacy and audience construction we have mentioned in the previous part. In both cases, it will make them more aware of the role business ventures have in shaping the area where they act and the opportunities arousing thereof.

4. Societal relevance

Most educational programmes for creative subjects have elements of occupational learning, focused on how to be a practitioner, that imitate real-world practice. Fine artists, designers, musicians, architects, web-designers and actors learn practical, technical and cognitive skills associated with the practice of fine art, design, music and so on. In most cases these align closely with professional and commercial skills and conventions but in many there may still be a significant distance between educational and commercial settings. By bridging this gap, entrepreneurship education will greatly increase the relevance the education provided by these schools has for society. Taken alone, a focus on occupational learning lacks sufficient resolution to define the creative subjects. Learning to practice is also central to medicine, law and engineering education. However there are clear differences in pedagogy, in the nature and means of learning and the way knowledge is developed and applied. At the centre of pedagogy for creative practice- based subjects, as distinct from the broader group of practice-based subjects is a notion of divergent thinking where solutions develop through intelligent problem creation and resolution. This is quite distinct from more convergent thinking applied in for example, medicine and engineering where solutions are arrived at through the application of well-established diagnostic skills and technical instruments.

A medium is more than the materials it is composed of.

Film and Media Arts subjects also often include varying degrees of media practice. Film, TV and radio production and multimedia can cover all aspects of working in these sectors with the exception of practical training for in front of camera/front of microphone work. There are several strands to the development of formal programmes for media education. Some developed out of art and film schools, particularly those that grew from the more arts-based traditions, some out of crafts and design, for example printing and typography. Media subjects like photography are closely associated with fine art principles such as composition or the traditions of landscape painting and portraiture. Film and more recently TV have tended to develop degrees that those undertaking them are conscious that are not a route to employment. For many graduates, employment in the creative industries is seen as part of their learning rather than the ultimate goal. This may be part of portfolio career development and a way of financing a start-up or gaining business experience and clients. Tough, we can see that entrepreneurship education, tough not in a formal manner, is already present in many of these schools as a mind-set.

Many of the relationships between individual higher education departments and specific creative industries have evolved out of traditional links, for example where an industry has contributed to the foundation of a department or where programmes have developed out of occupational training delivered by colleges.

Despite this, a considerable distance has opened up between higher educational institutions and the creative industries. This may be because a direct link between funding by industry and delivery has been broken or be a consequence of a change in focus from vocational to academic development. The introduction of entrepreneurship education gives schools an opportunity to increase their relevance and change this situation.

Structural and infrastructural factors impede effective dialogue between academics and creative industry. Collaborations between the creative industries and art and media departments are likely to be an important aspect for entrepreneurship education. Developing entrepreneurship education the creative subjects without a proper integration with the schools’ other activities will most probably fail. Alan Gibb (2013) shows that graduate entrepreneurship will be cultivated most effectively when it is developed in relationship to the core subject being studied (Gibb, 2005). He demonstrates how entrepreneurial practices are bound up with the knowledge development, pedagogies and professional practices of the subject (as opposed to the view that entrepreneurship is solely a function of business and commerce and is best absorbed into the practices of business and management schools). This suggests that the definition of entrepreneurship must be either broad enough to encompass a range of practices or be adaptable for different learning contexts. “Entrepreneurial learning is acquired on a ‘how to’ and ‘need to know’ basis dominated by processes of ‘doing’, solving problems, grasping opportunities, copying from others, mistake making and experiment.” (Gibb, 2006)

Entrepreneurship education in art and media will be enhanced by developing more coherent policy and mechanisms for policy delivery. If students are to be sufficiently motivated by the idea of entrepreneurship, it needs to become part of their view of their subject and their post-graduation practice.

Two conclusion can be drawn on this matter from our experience in ESSEMBLE. Firstly, that entrepreneurship education will be most effective when delivered in the context of collaborations between higher education institutions and the creative industries. Secondly, that there is a need to develop greater clarity in the aims, outcomes and effective assessment for entrepreneurship education for art, design and media.

Many creative industries professionals consider that the skills and attitudes necessary for entrepreneurship are closely related to those needed for employability. It is, to be fair, difficult to draw a clear distinction between employability and entrepreneurship, and many employability skills will also be the basic competencies of a successful entrepreneur.

One area in particular in which education appears to learn from collaborations with industry is in developing team and interdisciplinary working. Implementing work-based learning to support entrepreneurship thus become the core method to be followed for the implementation of the proposed courses.

A significant proportion of creative industries professionals favour apprenticeship models to assist students in developing their employability and occupational skills. Where there is a high level of systemic modelling of professional practice in, for example, medicine, law, architecture or engineering, students are required to undertake supervised and assessed placements as a condition of qualification and registration as practitioners. In the creative industries there is custom and practice but no professionalised forms of practice.

The implementation of entrepreneurship education in the area of film and media arts and more broadly in all educational areas associated with the creative industries can then have a strong impact in the higher education institutions that follow this path of development since it will bring their activities closer to the stakeholders they are working with and for besides assuring a greater legitimation of their own educational model and the outcomes it delivers. Our experience with ESSEMBLE proves this!

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