Guest Posts

A Film Professor Answers an 8th Grader’s Questions

UCLA Professor Bill McDonald teaching a cinematography class
UCLA Professor Bill McDonald teaching a cinematography class

Occasionally a student will write a letter or email to my husband Bill McDonald, who is a professor in UCLA’s Department of Film, Television and Digital Media, and say that they are interested in filmmaking and have some questions. Bill’s plate is always overflowing but if he sees that the student has taken the time to compose a list of thoughtful questions, he will take the time to answer the query. He recently received just such a letter from an eighth grade student who was going to be making a presentation at her middle school. He shares his answers to her questions here. You may also want to read our daughter Natalie’s post titled “What I Learned in Professor McDonald’s Cinematography Class,” which she wrote after auditing Bill’s cinematography class:

Bill recently shooting SOMETHING LIKE A SABBATICAL documentary
Bill recently shooting SOMETHING LIKE A SABBATICAL documentary

Bill wrote back to the student: Your presentation sounds like a wonderful project to work on during your eighth grade year.

Below you will find my answers to your questions. I have kept the answers short for the sake of space but have included a few links that I hope will be helpful to you.

1. My undergraduate students in the film, television, & digital media major come from three pools: those who applied to the major as freshmen straight from high school; those who are already UCLA students and petition to change their major to film, television & digital media; and transfer students to UCLA from other colleges or universities. I teach FTV 10A Freshman Symposium and FTV 100B Senior Symposium. Both of these courses function as something similar to a homeroom: a place for the entire cohort of 30 students to assemble each week to discuss a variety of topics both academic and communal. I also teach FTV 150 Cinematography, an introductory course in theory and practice, to all of the Juniors.

2. One of my favorite films to analyze and discuss is called “Searching for Bobby Fischer.” It is wonderfully written, honestly performed, and beautifully photographed. You can watch it over and over again to learn about filmmaking.

3. In my Cinematography class, students learn to create images that communicate ideas and emotions and understand how to interpret the meaning and power of those images.

4. Interpreting your question a bit, I believe you are addressing the casting process. Many directors believe that 90% of their job is casting the right actor for the role. The Casting Society of America has an excellent website that explains what casting is all about.

5. I had a professor at UCLA named Frank Valert. He was a famous Czech cinematographer and the single biggest influence on my life. I am a cinematographer and professor because Professor Valert was an inspiration to me in every possible way.

6. The first professional film I ever worked on was called “Last Resort” and it was a silly comedy produced by a company owned by Roger Corman, a very famous producer who has been extremely influential on the careers of many directors.

7. Your question addresses the very important part of pre-production when making a film: location scouting. There is no single best location – it all depends on the needs of the script. EVERYTHING comes from the script.

8. This is an interesting question. Casting by type can mean many things. Sometimes casting by type is for a form of accuracy: a waiter in an Italian restaurant played by an Italian actor. But casting against type can yield interesting results: casting someone as the waiter we would not immediately think of for that part. Casting by type can also fall into stereotyping: it can become lazy casting, making assumptions that certain parts can only be played by certain groups of people. This is a topic that would be very interesting to discuss in your class. Here is a link to a simple explanation but do some more research into this topic. You will find many interesting ideas to explore.

9. Simply: I love working with my students. That is why I do what I do, because I get to work with students every day and I find that work to be extremely rewarding. They challenge me every day and keep me on my toes. Working in a big university like UCLA can be challenging. It takes quite a bit of bureaucracy to keep such a large enterprise moving forward. But it is an amazing university and I am very lucky to be a member of the faculty.

Professor Bill McDonald loves to participate in the graduation ceremony each year.
Professor Bill McDonald loves to participate in the graduation ceremony each year.



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