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Film School Leader Brings Hollywood Expertise to Winston-Salem Program

Dean Dale Pollock produced Hollywood features and wrote for major publications before turning to education.

News Update: Pollock said he will resign as dean at the end of the 2005-2006 school year to return to teaching and continue his involvement with RiverRun.

By Allan Maurer

If graduates of the N.C. School of the Arts film school in Winston-Salem land a career half as successful as any of the three the Dean of the school had, they'll be fortunate.

Or, perhaps, they'll just be well educated in the art, science and business of film-making, and all at the under-grad level. That's what Dean Dale Pollock would say. Pollock produced 13 feature films, including "House of Cards" in North Carolina, "Set It Off," "Mrs. Winterbourne," and "Blaze."

But, like some famous film-makers before him, such as Truffaut, Godard and Peter Bogdanovitch, Pollock was a film critic and journalist prior to making them. He worked as chief film critic and box office analyst for "Daily Variety," and then chief film reporter at the Los Angeles Times calendar, business, metro, and editorial sections. "Skywalking," his 1983 biography of George Lucas, continues to sell briskly.

The bio info the School of the Arts sends out says he's "a writer at heart," and that certainly shows. He freelanced for publications such as "GQ," "People," "Esquire," and "Rolling Stone."

As someone who freelanced for major national magazines, I have to say, one, you actually have to try to write for publications at that level to get a sense of how hard it is. I wrote for national magazines from Playboy to Modern Maturity, but it took some doing, and as a writing teacher, I know how many people spend a decade trying to hit even one publication at that level.

Pollock's media credits would be impressive if he'd never made a single movie. "I'm on my third career now, but they just sort of evolved, one into the other," Pollock says. "I didn't start out to be a producer. I spent a lot of time on sets and was offered a job. Teaching became an extension of producing. I was asked to lecture. In my mind, every one of my careers flowed one out of the other."

Maybe so, but he does admit they're all high risk professions, freelance writing, film producing, college administration. "I've always lived a little bit on the edge," he says. Pollock tried to do work in Hollywood different from everyone else's. "I did two anti-war films. I did two films that treat people of color in unique situations. It's not like I was out there being a pure artist," he confesses,

"I did some stupid Disney programmers and romantic comedies. But I can look back and be proud of the work I did and not too many producers I know can say that."

Now I've altered the structure of the way this interview went for dramatic effect. Dean Pollock started by discussing not himself, but the film school. "I think being a movie producer was real good training for being a dean," he began. "You have this large thing you're managing. You have a large crew, your faculty and staff; you have a large cast, your students; and you have a schedule. So I think it helped me become an effective dean."

He adds, "I actually think the producer is the least understood person in the film making process. A lot of people think he's just there to raise money or sleep with the actresses. In my experience, the producer is the key person for making the film a reality."

He has a mindfilm of sorts running at the School of the Arts, a vision of making its undergraduate program compete with the graduate film schools, and anyone who's seen the films coming from it at the RiverRun Film Festival it hosts annually knows they're doing just that. In 2005, student works from the School of the Arts were one of the strongest items on the program, something national reviewers noted. "I really think our student films are competitive with those from graduate programs around the country. And that's a point of pride for us," the dean says.

"The challenge as an undergraduate institution is to teach at the graduate level," says Pollock. "We have a full producing curriculum. We teach concepts and strategies usually only taught in graduate school. We not only teach how to budget, how to do a schedule and use software to help you do all those things, but also how to develop material. How to structure contracts. It really is a business and creative education we think is pretty unique among undergraduate programs."

The hardest thing to teach, says Pollock, "is creativity. We believe creativity can be taught. You have to expose yourself to lots of different artistic activities. We encourage students to go to dance, concerts, plays. It's just as important to their development as artists as watching films.

You have to work hard to overcome the monoculture that happens at any school of the arts. "We can teach technique, and we can teach craft, but teaching how to get in touch with that part of yourself that can create is the biggest challenge."

He says the most arduous part is elevating the stories students come up with beyond the clichéd, imitative and banal level. "I think we've made great strides in the past five years in beginning to elevate the level of storytelling dealing more in depth,"

Pollock says. "I know for a fact, having seen a lot of student work, their stories are different because they're southern. They don't look or sound like films made in LA or New York. They don't always have the level of acting talent you get with professionals from LA or New York. But we do have an amazing pool of local talent from around the state."

Pollock has served on the Piedmont Triad Film Commission and the Governor's Task Force on Film, as well as the NC Film Council. He is also a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

One area Pollock believes the state should pay more attention to is encouraging independent film makers to film here. "Most independents can't film abroad, they don't have the money," he says. "Most can't shoot in LA or New York, it's too expensive for them. But we're a right-to-work state with a large crew base in part staffed from my program.

Right now, 80 percent of our graduates leave for LA or New York. I'd like to see 80 percent stay here." Pollock says the school has fully committed to digital film-making. "That's what film festivals want." It's also likely the future of the industry, because the economics of shooting, shipping, and showing digital prints, not to mention the savings in time and money of shooting and editing digitally, are enormous.

There's no shortage of film on campus, however, as the school owns a massive 25,000 print collection of features, shorts, documentaries, and commercials.

The NC School of the Arts Studio Village

The school also boasts a remarkable set of facilities built to resemble a Hollywood back lot, which include a fine theatre. When the School conducted an event centered on ethics in film, people attended from top film schools nationwide and one well known academic Pollock says likely saw every film school campus in the country, called the Winston-Salem School's "the best." Pollock himself says the high quality facilities were "Why I chose to come here." Founded in 1993, the School of Filmmaking is one of five professional schools that make up the North Carolina School of the Arts, a leading conservatory for training talented students for careers in the arts. The School of Filmmaking offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts and College Arts Diploma in cinematography, directing, editing and sound, producing, production design, and screenwriting, and a Master of Fine Arts in film music composition. The school combines rigorous professional training with unparalleled facilities, equipment and resources. The program is young enough to be flexible and forward-looking, but still maintain a strong emphasis in all the film crafts, using both traditional and new digital media.

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Film Festivals - Now that we're veteran film fest goers, we like reading about them, too. Brian D. Johnson's "Brave Films, Wild Nights," about the Toronto International Film Festival, is lavishly illustrated and makes you feel as if you were part of the festival staff for the festival's first 25 years.

It includes an insider look at stars and directors from John Cassavetes to Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty. The festival was instrumental in launching the careers of art house stalwarts Atom Egoyan, Hal Hartley and supported John Sayles' independent films from the their auspicious start with the elegiac "Return of the Secaucus Seven," which those of us who grew up in the 1960s still watch with throat-lumping nostalgia.

But it also gave Quentin Tarantino a boost for "Reservoir Dogs", and launched "Boogie Nights," "The Big Chill," and "Life is Beautiful.

Toronto also runs an influential series of "Midnight Movies," which included "Man Bites Dog."

Author Brian Johnson, now a very good film critic with the Canadian magazine "MacLeans," worked with the festival for years and knows where the bodies are buried (and doesn't hesitate to unearth them for us, either).

The art and layout of this over-sized paperback is very modern with pull-up quotes running off the page and some odd art cropping that reminds me of the grunge graphic style that evolved from "Radar" magazine some years back.

Another film fest book we enjoyed very much is:

Hollywood on the Riviera by Carl Beauchamp and Henri Behar. It's full of stories about stars, directors, parties, and of course movies.

You'll find both books in the extensive list of festival books here: Film Festivals

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If you enjoy visiting the locations where films were made, or restaurants stars enjoy, or other "film tourist" activities, these guides will help you "put yourself in the picture." Be sure to visit our film tourism blog, too:


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