New school: Action!
EDUCATION | Students doing prequel even before doors open
August 15, 2007


President and CEO of Flashpoint: The Academy of Media Arts and Sciences
Howard Tullman (sitting), President and CEO of Flashpoint: The Academy of Media Arts and Sciences, works last week on the set at Resolution Digital Studio, 2226 W. Walnut St., during making of film "The Collector." (John J. White/Sun-Times)
A professional film crew equipped with state-of-the-art high-definition cameras was shooting a scene for a short film recently at a Near West Side studio.

Amidst the organized chaos, 19-year-old Dan Miskovic helped with lights, props, whatever the crew needed. He was getting hands-on experience as part of the curriculum of a new college that officially won't open for a few weeks -- Flashpoint: the Academy of Media Arts and Sciences. The school will prepare students to work in the relatively high-paying film, videogame, recording and animation fields.

Running the show is Chicago serial entrepreneur Howard Tullman , with a background in entertainment and technology businesses and, in recent years, in education as he led a turnaround at Kendall College, the Chicago culinary school.

He's confident the school will be ready to roll out Sept. 17. Confident, even as construction workers are rushing to finish the school's 75,000-square-foot downtown campus in a historic Daniel Burnham building at 28 N. Clark .

Tullman has raised $10 million for the project, and obtained $3 million in equipment leasing funds.

Meanwhile, the school already is doing a dry run by making the movie in leased space in the film studio.

The program has recruited 75 students so far, and expects 150 for the $25,000-a-year, two-year program. Tullman expects to have 1,000 students.

The typical student is 22 years old with a year or more of college.

"In general, that experience will have been unsatisfactory from the student's standpoint, and unsuccessful [and extremely costly] from the perspective of student's parents," Tullman said. A high school diploma and an interview are required for admission.

Tullman said that the entertainment industry is booming in Chicago and around the country, and needs workers who are ready to hit the sound stages and studios running. He said Flashpoint, with a strong emphasison job placement, will help make dreams come true for students who don't want to attend a traditional four-year school.

Miskovic, a graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School , had passed up attending Arizona State .

"Something exceptional is happening here. I always wanted to design games. I'm going to learn everything I need to know to make a video game," Miskovic said.

Why should a video game student spend time on a film set?

Paula Froehle, academic dean at Flashpoint and head of the school's film program, said, "A whole segment of the industry involves games as offshoots of films." Tullman said students will see how different disciplines in the industry must collaborate in the production of films and games.

Film footage will be used in a game, said Simeon Peebler , who heads Flashpoint's game program.

At the same time the film is being made, a documentary is made about the making of the film. Peter Hawley, documentary director and Flashpoint's associate chairman of the film program, said the making-of movie will be used as a tool to teach students what it takes to make a movie.

Chicago's Columbia College already boasts that it has the nation's largest film school, with 2,300 students. It also has other programs similar to those that will be offered at Flashpoint.

So why not go to Columbia ?

Hawley, who taught at Columbia and also has his own film production company, said, " Columbia turns out good people. But because [Columbia is] so big, they can't do what we can to teach with cutting-edge technology. Columbia starts their students out with black and white silent films and then they move on to color. We start right off with the latest high-definition cameras. This prepares the students for the work force."

Flashpoint works general education into curriculum

Flashpoint Academy's curriculum includes courses on film directing, music video production, video game design, studio recording, sound design, animated film direction, visual effects for TV and video, entertainment technology and screenwriting.

But students still will receive a dose of some "gen eds" (general education) courses.

Paula Froehle, academic dean, said the ability to write and communicate is essential. But rather than "rhetoric," students will take "Writing for Media," covering proposal writing, writing biographies, composing business letters and other real-world applications.

Flashpoint students also will study "Storytelling Strategies" covering the structure of "classic and nontraditional narratives, from myths to modern day." The techniques will be applied to the school's disciplines: film, animation, gaming and recording arts.

There won't be calculus courses. But principles of algebra, geometry and statistics are built into "Math and the Media Arts." Froehle said students taking this course will learn such skills as how to develop a budget for any project and about f-stops for film exposure.

Flashpoint is not accredited and initially will offer certificates rather than degrees. Howard Tullman noted that employers in the entertainment industry are more interested in what people know and can do than in degrees.

--Howard Wolinsky