Jennifer M. Wood for MovieMaker
Call him a revolutionary, but Jimi Petulla's method of learning
by doing is really just a "a throwback to the Renaissance
period," where you learned your art by paying your dues
and taking advice from a true master. Through his Film Connection
program, aspiring moviemakers all over the country are becoming
working moviemakers — and learning from the best in
the business. Here, Petulla talks about bringing the 12th
century into the 21st.
Jennifer Wood (MM): Film Connection
is not your traditional film education experience, and it's
a program that I think is best described by you, its founder.
Briefly, what is it that Film Connection attempts to do?
Jimi Petulla (JP): Film Connection
is a division of Career Connection. We "connect"
film production companies and television stations and recording
studios and radio stations that have a need to hire beginners
with an aspiring apprentice. Our apprentice method of training
is a throwback to the Renaissance period. In the 12th century,
if you wanted to be an artist you didn't go to school, you
went to work for an artist and you were not paid for your
labor. On the contrary—you paid for the privilege of
working free. And people stood in line to do it with the right
master! If your father or uncle weren't already doing it,
it was the only way to enter a profession. Following this
same Renaissance apprenticeship method during the last 18
years, we have secured jobs for over 5,000 beginners in film
companies, radio and TV stations and recording studios worldwide.
Our purpose is to help abolish that old catch-22 that "you
can't get a job without experience, and you can't get experience
without a job!"
MM: One of the things that really
struck me when we first spoke about your program is that you
stated "Most successful people in film were never educated."
Can you talk about how this statement relates to the approach
you take to teaching at Film Connection? What is the learning
philosophy on which you and the program operate?
JP: Most people in any form of
the arts got into the business on their own with no schooling
and no training anywhere. The reality is that most people
that go to traditional film school never work one day in the
business. Frankly, I believe you are either an artist (which
is what this all is supposed to be about) or not. In other
words, the technical stuff, the mechanical things, you will
always learn, but you have to have been born with the "seed."
It's no different than actors or musicians or painters. I
believe that the best teachers are not teachers, but eminent
working professionals—people that make a living doing
it every day. A real director, producer, editor, DP, etc.
Remember the old saying, "Those who can, do; those who
can't do, teach." I believe that's often true—especially
in the film and television industry. I would rather learn
from someone who pays their rent doing it every day than someone
who teaches it every day. I don't think many people have a
goal of "teaching" film students. The goal is making,
if possible, an award-winning film—or simply to have
a rewarding job in the motion picture industry. Our students
really do gain real world experience, because they do not
train in a school—they train on-the-job; on real money,
on-the-line film productions.
The other big key in an apprenticeship situation is that
training is always done one-on-one. One student apprentices
with one instructor or mentor. A mentor is a professional,
in this case a film producer, director, editor, DP and so
on. It's the same person who from time to time has to hire
beginners and dreads the day when they'll have to sort through
resumes of college or film school graduates who haven't a
clue what the business is really all about. How much better
to hire your own private student apprentice that you have
personally groomed and taught, on-the-job, in the real world.
MM: In order to make a program
like Film Connection successful, it's obviously necessary
to have a large network of participating companies with whom
your students can learn. How did you go about building these
relationships in the first place? What are some of the companies
that you work with on a regular basis?
JP: We build new relationships
every day with Film Connection. We get phone calls from people
all over the country wanting to break into the film industry.
So let's say you call me from Dallas, Texas. I need to find
you a company to apprentice at in Dallas, Texas—like
AMS Productions, who've trained and hired several of my apprentices.
Frankly, as often as we can, we try to put only one potential
apprentice into one company at a time. The simple reason is
that if you're the only student in that company at the time,
your odds of employment are far greater than if they already
have five or six other interns. Also, keep in mind that we
are charging the students tuition of US $5,950.00 and we are
actually paying the film companies a portion of these fees
to train our apprentices. So, again, the film company gets
paid. Trust me, they are not just doing it for that reason
because—let's face it — they don't need the money.
But what I've discovered over the years is that successful
people really do love to help and mentor people.
Also, we really do have a screening process unlike traditional
schools. First, we screen our applicants by phone for motivation
and desire and we are very honest with each and every one
of them about the "pay your dues, bad hours at first,
bad wages at first and absolutely no guarantees" [philosophy].
Also each candidate must easily have the money to do this
because we accept no government grants or loans. Keep in mind
before anyone pays anything to us, they are interviewed by
the film company in their local area. If the company does
not accept them, they cannot do our program and there's no
fee charged at all. And these film companies do not need the
money or headache of the new student they don't feel good
As I mentioned, we try to work with one student in one company
as much as possible. But in areas like Los Angeles and New
York City, for example, I do have some special companies I
like to work ongoing with. In New York City, I have a company
called Two Tone Films. The producer is a person named Tony
Travis. Tony is an established filmmaker himself and he really
gets our students in New York involved with a lot of major
companies and opportunities. He’s placed students of
ours with HBO Films, MTV, Spike Lee, Bad Boy Films and many
others. For people who want to learn all the aspects of on-set
production, Tony is a great mentor/contact. In Los Angeles,
I work with Tapestry Films quite often — especially
with people who want to learn editing. I'll send that person,
for example, to Sherwood Jones, who has been editing for them
since the company's [inception].
MM: Which aspects of the industry
does Film Connection help teach?
JP: We help with production and
post-production positions—directors, editors, cinematographers,
camera operators and all aspects of producing. We do not place
writers or actors.
MM: Now, let's get down to the
specifics: What are the educational or professional requirements?
How many students do you accept at any one time? How do interested
parties go about applying?
JP: Our requirements are simply
a passion to really want to do this. You have to have the
"wanna"—the want! Simply go to www.film-connection.com,
Or call a toll-free, five-minute recording line that is the
first of our screening calls that will probably talk you out
of this, at 800/858-4241. If accepted, your training could
take place during your off-hours, evenings and even weekends.
MM: For many, an education is
only as good as the opportunities it opens for full-time employment.
One of Film Connection's biggest claims to fame is your amazing
placement rate for students. What kind of help do you give
students who have completed their work with you and are seeking
full-time work in the industry? What are some of your favorite
JP: We get you a start —
an entry-level beginning into the profession. We have not
made anyone Spielberg or Kazan — yet. You simply get
a start. After that, it's up to you.
If you can handle starting at the bottom of the ladder, if
you are willing to keep your day job to pay the rent, then
contact us for an interview. If a local film company accepts
you, you will then receive the same text material of any college
or university program. The difference — and it's a big
difference—is that your instructor in our apprentice
program will not be some burned out college professor, but
a working veteran—a professional who is currently in