Creative souls in northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) who wish to pursue the art of filmmaking can now serve their passion without traveling to urban centers, courtesy of the new Pennsylvania Film School.
The enterprise, which launched in April, is the co-vision of filmmakers and entrepreneurs Joe Van Wie and Tim Calpin. Vital to the school’s founding are additional relationships the men have forged with the Scranton Cultural Center at the Masonic Temple, and Van Wie’s media, news and publishing firm known as JVW Inc.
Inaugural two-week instructional sessions began at the school on April 23, and all school-related activity is occurring at the Scranton Cultural Center. The principals are hoping that the school’s classes eventually will be picked up as a for-credit venture by one of the area colleges.
The school’s mission is to ensure that students and prospective filmmakers learn the guidelines needed to build a movie, from the script up. Instructors offer personal experience about working on projects that include independent forum, studio and virtually all film genres across a wide spectrum of budgets.
Van Wie boasts nearly a decade of experience that includes a stint in New York City’s vibrant film and TV industry. He calls the new educational entity “a trade school for filmmaking” that has no real competition within 100 miles.
“We are very pleased to be collaborating with the area’s first film school,” says Joe Peters, executive director of the Scranton Cultural Center. “We also are proud to take this major step in bringing the genre of film to our facility and becoming the hub of filmmaking in NEPA.”
Successful filmmakers, according to Van Wie, do not exhibit any one dominant personality type. However, they do possess curiosity, drive, a thoughtful nature, the ability to finish a project and to consistently focus on budgetary constraints. “This course will show our students the rules, so you’ll know when to break them,” explains Van Wie. “We will teach theory so the students will know when to abandon it, along with the pitfalls and mistakes so they’re free to make their own. In addition, we will provide key tech lessons on filmmaking aspects, such as camera work, lighting and design, as well as the business knowledge one needs to capture a vision and then set it free in the movie world.”
Specific topics to be presented at the film school include how tax breaks can be used for film creation and how to use the digital technology now so vital for the budget-conscious. Van Wie reiterates his hope that the school’s classes will eventually be accredited.
“I had no business skills when I started and I learned the hard way with a lot of hands-on experience,” says Van Wie. “The new school will make it much easier way to learn the business than to tough it out in New York City.”
Creativity versus commerce
Van Wie’s business partner, Tim Calpin has a resume that boasts experience as a screenwriter and producer with credits that include Comedy Central’s “South Park” and the indie feature “Assassination of a High School President.”
He emphasizes that filmmaking is, above all, a business.
“Success comes to the guy or gal who works the hardest and is both practical and pragmatic, and understands the struggle between creativity and commerce,” says Calpin. “Joe and I each bring more than 10 years of experience to the school, although from different approaches.”
Calpin explains that new models are being established for film budgeting, and that the digital revolution continues to change the industry. A would-be filmmaker must first solve the problem of where to obtain film financing before any cameras roll. Then, should the filmmaker be lucky enough to secure the financing, careful planning on how to spend it also precedes actual filming.
Calpin says many people are drawn to filmmaking because they perceive it to be a “sexy and alluring” job. However, they soon learn the truth that the vast majority of films made in the United States come from unglamorous hard work, without red carpets or movie star treatment.
Calpin thinks of filmmaking as a trade, and that the process of learning that trade weeds out many candidates unprepared for the “soul-crushing and back-breaking” work. With these realities in mind, the new school hones the “trade” skills necessary to get a film done, such as defining a project’s mission while providing a solid return on investment.
“Filmmaking provides one of those rare instances where both the creative and commercial aspects of it are expressions of a personal voice,” adds Calpin. “Writers, directors, producers and actors all have to follow intuition, use their specific skills and talents, and have the utmost faith in themselves to realize their goal. The Pennsylvania Film School will teach its students how to find and use their own distinct voice.”
The film school’s announcement came in the same week the U.S. District Court for the Middle District awarded Mr. Van Wie’s company, Revere Pictures LLC, a $4.14 million judgment in a breach-of-contract case against Maya Corporation Entertainment Group Inc. and Maya Corp. involving “Forged,” a film Mr. Van Wie executive produced. Mr. Van Wie had said at the time of the settlement that he wanted to use the judgment sum to launch the film school.