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Point Park College plan for video classes will hurt Pittsburgh Filmmakers financially

Thursday, April 11, 2002

By Caroline Abels, Post-Gazette Cultural Arts Writer

Point Park College has decided to establish its own film and video program and no longer rely on Pittsburgh Filmmakers for student production classes -- a move that will cost Filmmakers thousands of dollars in revenue.

The Downtown college wants to buy its own film and video equipment and hire its own faculty primarily to give its theater students more experience acting in front of a camera and to prepare its film and video production students for more commercial work.

The college hopes to start offering its own classes in September 2003. That leaves Filmmakers with little more than a year to start replacing the $600,000 a year it has been earning from Point Park.

Point Park will phase out its payments to Filmmakers over a number of years because students currently enrolled in the program will finish their classes at Filmmakers. Nonetheless, the situation "is serious and it's real and we have to make some major changes," said Charlie Humphrey, executive director of Filmmakers.

"Even though a year may seem like a long time to most people, it's not long for a nonprofit," he said. Filmmakers, with an annual budget of $2 million, earned 86 percent of its revenue this year from fees for services, whereas most arts organizations depend heavily on grants.

To sustain that percentage, Filmmakers is in discussion with one local college about establishing a partnership and is thinking of approaching other schools. The organization also is planning to beef up its media education programs in local high schools and middle schools to earn money.

Another, more ambitious option, Humphrey said, is to obtain degree-granting status for Pittsburgh Filmmakers. The organization has non-degree accreditation status, meaning students at any college or university in the country can apply Filmmakers' classes to the degree they're earning at their school.

Degree status would allow Filmmakers to offer its own degrees, making the school more appealing to out-of-towners.

Katherine Henderson, president of Point Park College, said the decision to emphasize commercial work in Point Park's film and video program was inspired by former theater students.

"I go around the country and talk to alumni, and a lot of the ones working in television say, 'I wish I'd had more preparation for this,' " she said.

She said Filmmakers "has a wonderful program" but focuses heavily on the creation of artistic films. Many of Filmmakers' alumni, however, have forged successful careers in commercial film and television.

Henderson said if future Point Park students want more aesthetic training in film and video, the college would send them to Filmmakers.

Other local colleges and universities send students to Filmmakers, but Point Park consistently sends the most because it is the only local college that offers film and video production as a major. This year, 140 Point Park students chose to major in that field.

"We felt it was a very successful program and would have liked to see it continue," Humphrey said. "We felt it was a real win-win situation for both sides."

Henderson termed the amount Filmmakers charged for its classes "not unreasonable," but said that in the years since it established a relationship with Filmmakers the cost of digital equipment has dropped enough to allow Point Park to afford to buy its own.

Is Humphrey concerned that teachers at Filmmakers will defect to the new Point Park program?

"No employee is an indentured servant," Humphrey said, "and if they find a program more attractive than this one, that's how the market works. But we have some awfully good people here who could work anywhere in the country but choose to work here because of the philosophical integrity of the program."

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