Filmmaking at Florida State University

Florida may one day rival Hollywood as the home of movie-making – that is, if the 14-year-old Florida State University film school has anything to say about it. Dean Frank Patterson says Florida is on its way to becoming more than just another location. His goal is to get FSU grads in positions of power in Hollywood and then encourage these alumni to bring their productions back to their home state.

A Reward of Excellence
The new annual $5,000 FSU-Florida Commerce Credit Union Pathfinder Grant will help make this dream a reality. This grant, awarded by the faculty of the film school to the most promising member of each graduating class, is basically a jump-start on a Hollywood career. “When Florida Commerce came to me,” says Patterson, “and said FCCU wanted to help the film school, it could not have been better timing. $5,000 may not sound like a lot of money to some people, but when you’re just starting out and sleeping on someone else’s couch, it can go a long way.”

FSU film school grads have a remarkable employment track record: within 12 months of graduation, virtually 100% of students find work. However, the most talented are generally faced with a dilemma upon reaching Los Angeles: take a fantastic non-paying internship which would be a real career-making opportunity with a top studio or production company – or take a mediocre paid internship. “Inevitably, they take the paid internship,” explains Patterson, “because they have to eat. ButÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½now these filmmakers will have the option to take advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime and still survive.”

And the Winner Is�
This year’s worthy recipient is Barry Jenkins, a Miami native who graduated this December with a double major in film and creative writing. His new short film, “Little Brown Boy,” along with the thesis films of his 27 classmates, was screened on December 13 at Ruby Diamond Auditorium. The eight-minute short follows the tragic events in one boy’s life after a senseless shooting on a basketball court.

“I never made films before I came to FSU,” Barry says. “I came to FSU to be an English teacher.” Then he found out about the creative writing program, changed his major, and subsequently added film to his course load after learning more about the FSU film school. “If I hadn’t come to FSU,” Barry says, “I wouldn’t be a filmmaker today.”

“Little Brown Boy,” like the thesis films of Barry’s classmates, came together over the course of three semesters. FSU is the only film school in the country that underwrites the cost of its student films, providing an even playing field where every student gets a very specific level of training. The school’s decision to focus on training for real jobs, says Patterson, rather than name-making for alums, is responsible for FSU’s phenomenal track record for getting its grads into the industry.

The thesis filmmaking process begins with students practicing “pitching” their film idea to their class. This is to prepare them for the very real pitch process on which the Hollywood system revolves: boil your idea down to a 20-second blurb that you can deliver on an elevator ride. Then the students move into a “director’s prep” class where they hone the concept, script and look of their films before finally moving into production. Part of the three-day shoot for “Little Brown Boy” took place in Live Oak, Florida, and Barry says that he would love to eventually bring a feature-length movie back to his home state.

Barry was the unanimous choice of the film faculty to receive the first Pathfinder Grant. “He is remarkably talented,” says Patterson of his star pupil, “at illustrating emotion in a mature way.” The modest filmmaker gives a great deal of credit to his crew, especially his director of photography. All 27 students in his class work on one another’s projects, and Barry has used the same cameraman on all three of the films he’s made.

Blazing Trails
Selling his first feature-length movie will be a lot easier, thanks to the help of other FSU film school grads that currently hold some pretty powerful positions in Hollywood. Jonathan King, president of Lawrence/Mark Productions (Finding Forrester), is a 1995 grad of the FSU film school and has volunteered to open doors for Barry. Amy Dean, the executive vice president of Bruckheimer/Simpson, has worked on films such as the Truman Show, Armageddon and Will Smith’s Enemy of the State. Kelsey Scott, a young writer who has just finished a film with Vivica Fox, will act as Barry’s mentor.

FSU has the youngest film school in the nation; the next-youngest school is 20 years older, so it has taken a bit of time, says Patterson, for FSU’s grads to rise into positions of power. And now they want to help their fellow alums find their path in Hollywood. Patterson describes how Ryan Saul, class of ’95 and a senior literary agent, helped his classmate Ron Friedman get the job writing the Disney film Brother Bear, as well as Chicken Little.

The alums are incredibly enthusiastic about the mentorship program, says Patterson, and their enthusiasm will result in generational growth for Florida’s film industry. Melissa Carter, a young writer who just sold two TV pilots and finished production on a Julia Roberts movie, recently had breakfast with Patterson and volunteered to get involved. “In fact,” says Patterson, “she was saying, Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½I wish you had this set up when I graduated!'”

The Road Less Traveled
While Barry is thrilled about winning the grant and making his next big move, he says that a part of him is petrified about moving to Hollywood. It isn’t the big city that scares him – after all, he spent 18 years in Miami. “Film school has been so comfortable,” he explains. “I think my friends and I have make some very good films, particularly within the scope of this environment, but now we have to go off into this completely new world. I’m going to miss so many of my classmates.”

With a little help from his FSU family, and a nice nest egg in the bank, this promising filmmaker is well on his way to finding his path through Hollywood – and with any luck, that path will eventually lead back to Florida.

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