New fund supports practicing artists in JHU Arts & Sciences classrooms
Filmmakers Busó-García, Porterfield named first beneficiaries
"When you fail in the real world, you learn lessons in a much different way," says Roberto Busó-García by phone from his home in New York, and he quickly follows it with a knowing, hearty laugh. Being a filmmaker and veteran film consultant, including a seven-year stint as the manager of film programming for HBO Video, HBO Latino, and Cinemax, has given him firsthand experience in seeing a great deal of work hit the market and not perform as well as expected. "It's not the same for a teacher to tell you this doesn't work because this concept is not well-defined. It's much stronger when you work hard for years, put that work out, and then you yourself realize that the film failed because of your work."
Every career requires a certain amount of learning on the job, but in the arts, the difference between the education in the academy and the career in practice is exceptionally pronounced. The marketplace, with its fickle consumers, is the great equalizer of theory and training: Actors with exceptional skills, scripts that understand genre and hit all the right beats, visual artwork that is technically superb, music that uses harmony and melody exquisitely on paper—all of these fail all the time, every day.
That's why it's important that arts educators have some practical experience, and why it's noteworthy that this fall the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences welcomes its first two beneficiaries of the Amy M. and Roger C. Faxon Fund for Practicing Artists. One is Film and Media Studies lecturer Matt Porterfield; the other, Busó-García, a new hire who will teach screenwriting this year. Busó-García had taught screenwriting during Intersession to MICA and Johns Hopkins students, who went on to the spring semester collaborative film production class led by Porterfield and MICA's Allen Moore.
"In screenwriting in particular, I have not only read, directed, and edited work, I have been a consultant for all these different elements of the filmmaking process, [which] hopefully informs the way I approach the craft," Busó-García says. "I can forewarn students about some of the obstacles or challenges they will face."
The fund was created by alumnus Roger Faxon, who has forged an impressive media career. He retired in September 2012 as the CEO of the British music recording and publishing company EMI Group, which he joined in 1994 at the dawn of music's migration from recorded media to digital files. From 1980 to 1984 he was executive vice president/COO for Lucas Film, during the time it produced Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi, and he co-founded the production house Mount Co., which produced Bull Durham. Currently he's on the board of the International Television Authority, a public service network in the United Kingdom; the Songwriters Hall of Fame; and Johns Hopkins University.
For Porterfield, Faxon's endowing this fund is an example of the university's continued and evolving commitment to the arts. "It's exciting that the fund was created by an alumnus who is in the entertainment industry who wants to support the arts at Hopkins," Porterfield says after returning from the Melbourne Film Festival, where he traveled with I Used to Be Darker, his third feature film. "I'm at a place in my career where I'm actively trying to figure out how to synthesize my work as an artist/filmmaker with my work in the academy, so this is a really good symbolic synthesis of Hopkins' growing support for the arts and for multidisciplinary practice in the arts and sciences. It seems to me to bode well for the future of the arts at the academy, especially at the undergrad level, which is where it's flourishing."
He adds that working on a film can take years from idea through writing and development to shooting and editing and, hopefully, theaters, and it's easy to get lost inside one's own head. Working with undergrads considering filmmaking as a career is, for Porterfield, not only a way to share his professional expertise but to inform his own art as well. "Teaching undergrads about film theory and practice keeps me engaged. It gets me outside of my own work," he says. "So I learn from my students and I'm inspired by them, and hopefully it's reciprocal."
Busó-García, who is currently working on a television pilot and developing a project he'd like to shoot in Baltimore, feels the same way: Teaching is a way of returning the favor to the filmmaking teachers who inspired him. "I feel like I have a duty to pass on that experience to students," he says. "I learned from my mentors back in the day, and through that I fell in love with the craft of visual storytelling." And practicing artists know that such love and dedication are what it takes to make a career out of something that can be, at times, unforgiving. "College is a great time to discover if you really have a vocation for doing this," Busó-García says. It's the time when young people can ask themselves if they want to be artists or if they need to be artists. "People should only be doing the things where they really can't see themselves being happy doing anything else."