In the bygone era of Hollywood’s studio system, actors, directors and other crafts people were under contract and often attended special schools on the studio lot as part of their training. That all ended more than half a century ago.
Now Relativity Media has become the studio partner of a start-up film and performing arts school that wants to revive the tradition of a working studio and a school operating in sync. It is being called, what else, the Relativity School.
It launches this summer with three-week programs for teens (ages 13 to 17) and students over 18 offering classes on filmmaking, performing arts and specialized media – which includes video production and even video blogging.
It is the emphasis on the convergence of new media and old Hollywood that the school’s president Glenn Kalison is counting on to differentiate this institution from the many, many other university programs, film schools, workshops and related educational programs in Hollywood.
Along with classes in everything from movie marketing to hands on production and editing, Kalison believes what will make the Relativity School special will be its emphasis on an inter-disciplinary approach utilizing what he calls “innovation collaboration labs.”
They will build into their program time set aside for students from all the disciplines to join with professors and industry professionals (including those who work at Relativity Media) to figure out how to best work together to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing business.
“Our experience in education and specifically in film and performing arts schools is that there is always a desire to get students together in a classroom to collaborate,” said Kalison, “but what often happens is (students) get locked into traps in their own disciplines … From the onset, we are looking to build these collaboration labs to get the students working to create engaging content together.”
Robert Cohen, who teaches in the film program at UC Irvine, and has written a dozen books on acting and stage direction, taught Kalison when he earned a masters at UC Irvine, and has remained in touch with him over the years.
“He’s a natural teacher,” said Cohen, “very effective with students.”
Kalison attended Lehigh University and trained as an actor at Irvine, where he earned a masters in fine arts. He moved to New York to act on stage and in movies, including The Good Shepherd, and taught at the New York Film Academy. He transferred to the Los Angeles branch but after 10 years left that position about four months ago.
Cohen said he doesn’t know all the plans for the Relativity School but from what he understands it is as a “rebirth” of the old studio system. “But instead of people being chosen by the film studio,” said Cohen, “it’s people who want to get this kind of training with a group of filmmakers and other media personnel who work in films, TV and media.”
Although there are many places to get film and performing arts educations, including USC, UCLA and Loyola Marymount, the L.A. Film School, Chapman University’s Dodge College and the New York Film Academy, Kalison doesn’t believe they are set up to change with the times.
“Entertainment and new media is changing at light speed right now,” said Kalison, “and traditional academic structures are rigid and bound in their offerings. We’re looking to create a nimble offering that will allow us to change and keep the curriculum highly relevant as we have our foot in the door with our studio partner.”
Relativity Media, the studio headed by Ryan Kavanaugh, whose releases include Immortals, Act of Valor and Safe Haven, has a commitment to the school and its faculty to provide access to their employees and executives, who are expected to come and speak to students, and offer set visits when it is practical.
“Relativity is looking forward to partnering with Glenn and his team as they launch a differentiated, innovative educational experience to prepare the next generation of artists in our industry,” said a studio spokesperson.
Kalison and Relativity decline to explain whether the studio actually has an ownership in the school or how it is financed, except to say it has backing from a major hedge fund and private investors. Relativity is the “studio partner.”
The Relativity School has a long road ahead to find students, build credibility and get academic accreditation. Beyond the summer programs which will be held on the 20-acre media campus at the L.A. Center Studios in Hollywood, Kalison said they expect to start a schedule of classes in September 2014. Approval and accreditation from the state of California and academic bodies could take several years more.
Kalison is currently recruiting faculty and will launch a marketing plan for students that will include visits to Southern California high schools and demonstration classes. The only other two people hired so far are V.P. Boyle, a Broadway coach who ran a musical theater program at the New York Film Academy; and Celina Polanco, who is director of admissions.
Teens and young adults who enroll in the summer program, can expect classes of no more than about a dozen students who will attend both practical craft (production) and classroom sessions, as well as the afternoon “collaboration labs.
The cost for the three-week program, with at least 35 hours of instruction per week, is $3,295 per student, which is about the same as a four-week program at the New York Film Academy, and about a thousand dollars more than Columba College of Hollywood charges for its established summer program (lasting four weeks). Columbia is a non-profit while the Relativity School, the L.A. Film School and the New York Academy are for-profit businesses.
Alan Gansberg, dean of Columbia College Hollywood, questions the need for another school but agrees the challenge is to meet the needs of today’s student. “The students goal today,” said Gansberg, “is more likely to have their own channel on YouTube than to make the next Citizen Kane.”
“The challenge is also to make it relevant the concept of narrative filmmaking,” added Gansberg, “in an age when the students already come in with things on YouTube.”
Gansberg also warned that keeping up with the changes in technology is difficult and expensive. “No school,” said Gansberg, “no matter what their endowment, can buy every piece of equipment because it’s just not cost efficient.”
Gansberg added that schools in Southern California have an advantage in that there are studios who will loan equipment and places where it can be rented as needed.
Kalison believes that is on way the link to Relativity Media is going to be of great benefit “We are going to tap into the nimble thought processes of our studio partner and how they’ve created in the space,” said Kalison. “We want to model that in our educational offerings and we want our students to be self-starters.”
Show business, added Kalison, is “no longer the gun for hire model where artists and filmmakers sit back and wait for the phone to ring to plug their work in. The way the web is evolving, you create your own work. We are going to train our students to think that way.”