To the Editor:

Thanks to Brian Lee ’04 for his measured and constructive article on the current state of the Film Studies Program at Yale (“Film Studies faces growing pains,” 1/24). I would like to respond to one of the great red herrings that is often evoked when film-making courses are discussed — the fear of a “pre-professional” orientation.

To some extent I read these questions through my own days as a Yale undergraduate. When at Yale in the early 1970s, I was very frustrated that I could not learn basic technical film-making skills such as “syncing” dailies. The reason for this I was told: Yale is not a trade school. Yale then had a legendary graduate student who was reputed to know how to sync dailies, and many of us would have sold our souls to learn this mysterious art.

Once I got a job, I learned how to sync dailies; I also learned a lot about more conceptual aspects of movie-making while participating in the creation of an Academy Award-winning documentary. The kicker is this. One night the director of that documentary asked me to thread the film an editing machine — he didn’t know how to sync dailies either.

Today, Yale film students can learn how to edit on a nondigital-editing machine. That may be “pre-professional” training, but they don’t get credit for it. At least we no longer require them to seduce worldly graduate students or leave the University to learn how to use this technology. Feeling comfortable with the technology is an essential step toward using it for one’s own creative, intellectual purposes (for which students do sometimes get credit).

Likewise we do not give credit for internships, but we now actively foster internships. Indeed, the University (and not just Film Studies) encourages students to perform internships during the summer months. In some cases we have found outside monies to help fund these efforts.

What might constitute a “pre-professional” course in film studies? A course on how to be a gofer? Perhaps more seriously a course training one to become a sound technician or assistant director? It might be good for students to have a healthy appreciation on what it takes to be a “techie,” but I’d envision such training to take place in a noncredit workshop or as a small part of an existing course. More likely, they will need to apprentice or take a pre-professional program after they graduate.

When students at Yale make a film as their senior project, they typically write, direct, edit and produce. This forces them to think about a wide range of issues in very concrete ways. It is, however, so far removed from the real world of film and television production that if this is construed as “pre-professional” training, then the only way to ensure that Yale avoids pre-professional training would be to restrict the Yale College curriculum to courses on meditation. In truth, learning how to express an idea in the classroom or write an effective paper is also crucial “pre-professional” training.

There are certain things that our Film Studies Program probably doesn’t do very well. We don’t teach students how to make a lot of money or how to get a studio deal. If I really knew how to do those things I might not be at Yale. But academics rarely make such skills a priority.

I think and hope we teach students something about how to live a meaningful, rewarding and principled life –how to think in creative and innovative ways, how to open a door and find out what is on the other side. So Film Studies is an excellent major to consider if you want to be a doctor, a social worker or a venture capitalist. But I also hope we provide students interested in a film career with sufficient skills and enough sense of the relevant outside world so they can begin to find their way once they leave here.

Charles Musser

January 26, 2002

The writer is the director of undergraduate studies for the Film Studies Program.