Sydney Film School Head of Teaching & Production talks about The Power of Screen Language

The head of teaching and production at Sydney Film School, Leslie Oliver, says it is beyond his comprehension why film studies are not central and universal to our education system.

“Studying filmmaking is the complete package,” he says. “It’s an immersion, under life conditions, in optics, physics, engineering, the rigorous management of time, budgets, logistics and, of course, human nature.”

Sydney Film School courses combine the teaching of theoretical and creative processes with practical hands-on film production. Classes in both drama and documentary production thoroughly cover essential aspects of the filmmaking process from preproduction (research, scriptwriting, pitching, casting, production management and design), to production (crewing, working with actors, lighting, filming and recording) and post-production (editing, music, sound mixing, copyright and distribution).

Oliver oversees the delivery of the diploma and advanced diploma in screen and media. As part of this role, he oversees the production of about 150 films every year, made by students of the school. He is handson with teaching screen language, working with actors and film editing.

Oliver says one of the great things about his job is there are no typical days. “My tasks include appointing and monitoring teachers, as well as meeting with students, [both] individuals and teams, to advise and inspire, resolve disputes or lend an ear,” he says. “I approve and scrutinise production budgets, visit film sets, give feedback on actors’ screen tests, review scripts, rushes and edits of the films, as well as teach classes.”

With the average Australian watching about five hours of television a day, as well as movies, DVDs and online entertainment, Oliver says there is great demand for educators to empower students with the tools of audio/visual literacy. He believes teachers need to make their own films if they aspire to educate others in the art of filmmaking.

“When you can use the equivalent of a pen to write words, [you have the potential to] write sentences in images and build your skills and knowledge as if you were learning a written language,” he says.

“We get the bulk of our news, we get to know our leaders, we explore other cultures and now share personal moments through cinematography displayed on screens. When students study how to capture and structure images into meaning for screen audiences they need to bring into focus all that is human, and also make sense of their place in that world. Truthful stories, our universal currency of meaning, are shaped and understood through the language of images, sound, and music.”

This language needs to be universally understood, he says and, for that to happen, teachers need to dedicate themselves to training and inspiring the next generation of filmmakers.

K R I S T I E   K E L L A H A N

(This interview with Sydney Film School Head of Teaching & Production Leslie Oliver was published in Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday February 16th, 2013.
Interviewer and writer: Kristie Kellahan)


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