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Alexander Zeldovich Joins the Design School Team

The Design School is launching HSE Film School, bringing together all educational levels: the BA in Film and Video-Art, Modern Art programmes, further education, post-graduate and MA studies. HSE Film School is led by renowned film director and screenwriter Alexander Zeldovich, who talks here about why contemporary film needs a new approach, what will be taught in the Film School, and why.

— The Design School is launching HSE Film School, which offers diverse courses from: BA, post-graduate, further education, and in the future – MA. What is the idea behind the School? What distinguishes it from its competitors?

— In today’s film industry, the borders between professions are very fluid: directors often write screenplays themselves, screenwriters direct, and producers find and select scripts. If previously there was the perception that directors were severe, imposing figures walking around with megaphones, or that producers would put their feet up on the table and puff on cigars, then today the industry has a much flatter organizational structure. Roles change and shift – one person often takes on a number of different roles across different projects. Today the education designed for directors, screenwriters, and producers involves general knowledge, meaning that these professionals should be taught in the same way. This is the principle we are enacting in our BA in Film and Video-Art, which next year will be available as part of the Modern Art programme at HSE. A real education in film requires both special professional disciplines and a considerable background in the humanities: an awareness of contemporary cultural trends and ideas that manifest themselves in contemporary art, the cultural background, basic ideas relating to economics, sociology, marketing, psychology – especially of large groups, the development of analytical thought in the humanities over the past hundred or so years. Today, launching any project, professionals must have a very clear understanding of the context in which they are operating, and of how they will communicate this result to the audience. The opening of this Film School at HSE will open up opportunities for developing a wide-ranging general educational foundation for students.

— Which professionals will you train?

— HSE Film School was initially conceived as a way of offering a range of opportunities for those starting out or a qualitatively new opportunity for career development in the film industry for people of different ages at different stages in their careers. That is why we launched the Film and Video-Art BA under the Contemporary Art programme for people who have completed their school studies. Those who want to continue their education in film are welcome to take the MA. There are already people who have expressed an interest in serious research into film and this project could see them enrol in post-graduate art and design schools, while working professionals who want to improve their skills or expand their skill-set can choose from a pool of further education programmes.

— Could you talk in a bit more detail about the different levels of education?

— In the BA we offer students the full range of technical skills needed to make a confident start in the contemporary film industry. The main principle is the project-based approach. When someone is able to complete a project, they experience all the phases they will come across and all the tools they need to use. For example, looking at film-making, then our students need to experience all the different phases of film production: from creating the initial idea, submitting applications, writing the synopsis and script, putting together the storyboard, calendar and estimates, contracts and permissions, right through to filming, editing, and sound. A professional also needs to be able to work with actors, have a clear vision of the result – of what they want their performance to deliver, to be able to formulate the task and understand what needs to be done to achieve it.

It is also important to understand the basics of cinematography, both on-set and in post-production – they must be able to work with color and sound at all stages from the recording the soundtrack to selecting textures and information. And it is vital to understand whether your ideas are in the realm of the practical, or if they are somewhat utopian. Bringing together the HSE’s infrastructure and key professionals’ experience, we are able to train specialists who are competitive at a global level. Alfred Hitchcock said that a director doesn't always know how to shoot, but should know how not to shoot. That’s something that can be taught – how to avoid mistakes.

— What other projects will students complete during the BA?

— Students have hands on experience of editing, working with actors, for example – they are given an extract of a well-known work on set, make two documentary films as coursework and one that they submit for their diploma. Importantly, each project is given public screening – whether its something that ends up on the cutting-room floor or something given a premiere as a cinematic event that delivers success or failure – it’s a hard school, but it trains their eye.

— Does HSE Film School have the equipment needed to deliver these projects?

— Today, in order to produce a quality film, there is a huge variety of equipment they can use. Of course, HSE Film School has the equipment needed – studios and all the facilities required, in addition to a number of agreements with professional studios.

— In order to apply for the Film and Video-Art course (Contemporary Art programme), do students undergo an additional creative selection process? Does their talent or ability at the time of applying impact enrolment?

— If someone comes to us, it means that, as a minimum, they are interested in film, and their further professional development depends both on them and on us. Students will have the opportunity to find themselves, to understand whether they really do want to work in film or do something else related to the moving image such as: advertisement, music videos, soap operas. We guarantee that students will receive the requisite skills to find work in this field.

— Further education involves courses that allow adults to enter a new profession or raise  their qualifications. What programmes will be open at HSE Film School?

— Today you can sign up for a course in mobile film. We are in talks with Anatoly Vasiliev, an outstanding director who is also, I believe, the best acting teacher in the world. We want to offer screenwriting courses aimed at writing soap operas and sitcoms. We are also planning a sound editor course for people who are working in sound and want to gain new skills in this field. It would also be good to launch a color-correction course.

— And what about the MA?

— This is a long-term plan. We plan to open enrolment next year. The MA will teach people who have already demonstrated a certain level of ability in film, who understand where their specialist area is and know what they want to study in more depth. For example, if in the BA we talk them through the process of sourcing funding for a project, then in the MA they must already know this field and understand where to go.  We will invite Russian and international tutors and specialists who know the global market to participate in teaching all our programmes. The ideal is for particular areas such as music videos or ads are taught by people who work regularly and successfully in these fields. Professionals as a rule are eager to share their experience and knowledge.

— How do you see the industry developing in the near future?

— As we have seen in Europe and America, the means by which content reaches the public is starting to change. The distance between producers and consumers is reducing. New forms of contact between those who make film and those who watch it will offer new, ever more sophisticated forms of audio-visual production.

The democratization of production and distribution will mean that people will not be stuck to particular skills or in particular positions, they will be professionally mobile. And once mobile, they are able to easily navigate the industry. That is what we set out to teach.

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