The connective triangle

At the 2002 CILECT congress in Melbourne there was a panel discussion called «Triangle: Six Years Later». The preamble to the papers presented states:

In 1996, CILECT began to address the issue of communication and collaboration among the creative triangle of writers, directors, and producers. Some viewed the Triangle project as a necessary corrective to the 1960’s auteur ideology that dominated many film schools. Others saw it as diminishing the role of the individual film artist in an increasingly market-oriented system. How has Triangle affected the film and television school curriculum, and what lessons can be learned from the process as well as the outcomes?

Shortly after the original introduction of the Triangle method at CILECT (at a conference in Rome), The Norwegian Film School (NFS) was founded as a film school firmly entrenched in the triangle tradition. This entry will build on a previous article and analyse the way in which the triangle is implimented at NFS, and look at the emerging educational theory of connectivism as a tool for understanding how the learning film school students achieve happens in the connections established within the triangle structure.

The Triangle basics

As can be seen in the transcript of «Triangle: Six Years Later» from the 2002 Melbourne Congress, one of the primary goals of the introduction of the Triangle was to strengthen the role of the producer as a creative partner for the director. The collaboration between these two, in cooperation with the screenwriter, became the focus of this method.

At the Norwegian Film School (and presumeably others as well), this collaboration was taken further, to include all the different departments taught at the school. This has become formalised as the «first» triangle (screenwriter, director and producer), the «second» triangle (cinematographer, production designer, and director and producer; and soon: the digital visual designer), and the «third» triangle (editor, sound designer, and director and producer). All three triangles are used in production exercises as a method for helping the student filmmakers communicate and collaborate.

There are both formal and informal elements in the Triangle; the formal are planned meetings where the members of a given triangle meet with the teachers in the relevant disciplines and discuss their projects. These meetings begin with the students presenting the status of their work at that stage. Depending on the project, this may be very rudimentary or quite advanced. The instuctors then provide feedback and guidance.

The sophistication of the students’ collaboration also increases as they go through the course of studies. In the first semester or two they don’t quite understand how to collaborate, let alone how to maximize each others skills and talents on a common project. It is not uncommon for one or more members of a triangle to complain that they are being ignored and simply used for their labour.

The second year of their studies most often sees a marked increase in the quality of their collaboration, as the students become more confident about their own place and skills, and gain a better understanding of the roles and talents of their teammembers. By the third year the students seek out each other, and and most collaborations work quite well. An observation at the Norwegian Film School has been that at this stage the learn more from each other than from their instructors.

Learning in the the Triangle

The informal aspects of the triangles are more intangible and, in a way, more interesting from a pedagogic point of view. As mentioned above, as the students move through the three years of their programme, they start to learn more and more from each other. And what I observe is that this learning falls in the pattern of

the central claim of connectivism, that the knowledge is found in the connections between people with each other and that learning is the development and traversal of those connections (Downes, Stephen. “E-Learning Generations” in Connectivism and Connective Knowledge. self-published epub, 2012)

The students make many connections as they go through their study. Each discipline (screenwriting, directing, etc.) consists of 6 students, and these students develop close collegial relationships where they support and critique each other. In addition, the students will through the production exercises work in at least 8 different constelleations where each discipline is represented; in these constellations they learn to collaborate and utlise their differing expertises.

Eventally we see that as teams are set and given a creative task, the very act of collaboration gives them the capacity to solve the task the school has given them. They seem to quite naturally find ways of utilising each others skills and expanding their own knowledge. Where the instructors have to cajole and instruct them early on in their studies, now they find their role becomes more traditinal mentoring with an emphasis on encouragement and support where necessary.

None of this is surprising. After all, we expect the students to improve and gain confidence and become more skillful. If they did not, they should not be pursuing this course of study. But what is interesting is examining how it happens, how our pedagogical approach can help (or, in some cases, perhaps hinder?) the students develop faster and emerge from their studies as more confident and interesting artists.