Academic Pandemic

undefinedConcluded a second year as Visiting Professor in the Film department of Ringling College of Art+Design. Needless to say, this was not a typical year in academia. Mid-semester, everybody picked up and went home on the (wise) prompting of the College, to escape the rapid spread of the coronavirus. Undergraduates completed their courses on Zoom.

In my case, that meant students workshopped concepts and treatments, and table-read 1st drafts of screenplays they were working on — all while in a Hollywood Squares-like grid of video windows (Zoom’s “gallery view”). Perhaps we’re lucky the coronavirus decided to land in 2020 — as less than a decade ago, the teaching would have all been delivered asynchronously: just a step above the “correspondence school” that was once advertised on matchbooks.

But as you may have experienced first-hand, Zoom’s an exhausting environment to be in for a long time. The mind and eye have to be substantially more focused than IRL, due to 1) the lack of physical and gestural cues, and 2) the exchange of energy that we’re never normally aware of when we’re in the presence of others (but which is definitely happening).

Additionally, it’s been noted that we’re all contending with cognitive dissonance on Zoom: our “companions” seem to be with us, but aren’t.

I’m not sure either more experience or improved technology will ever mitigate those factors: we’re creatures of millions of years of evolution, and we might need to evolve a million years more to function as effectively on Zoom as we do in “meatspace.”

undefinedHowever, because we were all scattered remotely, I had the opportunity to recruit a slate of New Mexican SAG-AFTRA talent to table-read student screenplays: a definite highlight of the semester. Experienced film and television actors ares hard to find in Tampa Bay (Florida has no state tax incentives for the film industry), so this was an unexpected bonus in moving completely online.

Throughout, students handled themselves admirably, with grace and equanimity — despite the unimaginable curveball that had been thrown at them.

With final grades now filed, I can turn my attention to developing new independent feature film screenplays (which I’m really excited about), while my producing partner (and managing director of Garson Studios) Claudio Ruben and I continue to work on full funding of our first indie project 2-WAY. As to when it’s safe to go back into film production … that has yet to be determined…