Department Dossier: Bob Giraldi

December 9, 2010

The latest in a series of one-on-one conversations with SVA department chairs.

The first semester for the MPS Live Action Short Film Department is the latest chapter in an ongoing relationship between the College and Department Chair Bob Giraldi. Originally hired  in the 1960s by SVA founder Silas H. Rhodes to teach in the undergraduate advertising program, Giraldi has balanced a successful career as a commercial, music video and film director with stints as a faculty member in the BFA Advertising and Graphic Design Department, which he continues to do in addition to running the new program.

Giraldi recently sat down to talk in the MPS Live Action Short Film Department studio (with his camera rolling to document the interview), discussing the inaugural class of the one-year program and what it means to be a filmmaker even when you’re not using film.

How is the first year going?
Good: I started with 20 students, I still have 20 and I have 19 scripts (one student decided to become an assistant director and is helping others). We’re casting, we’ll get ready to start shooting maybe right after the holiday season. I have terrific instructors, and all of the instructors converge on each student’s script. It’s working toward each student’s one script. They get a crosscurrent of opinions—it can be confusing, but that’s what the process is in the real world. They have to learn to right the ship and get through both the petty and important parts. I just want 19 terrific films, no matter how we get there.

How would you describe your initial class of students?
They’re not like undergraduate students; it’s much like a night course—they have a life, a job and families, and they come here at 6:30 to learn a new craft. My job is to get them excited. You’re about to walk on a set and all the eyes shift to you. You have to be the pilot. That’s all very new, so my job is to cheerlead. There’s an energy here, a wide-eyed excitement.

What differentiates a “Live Action Short Film” from other kinds of filmmaking?
The LASF is the classic narrative film. Storytelling and characters; a beginning, middle and end; a bit of an arc. The ending might be a climax or a twist or might just cut off. I don’t accept students who want to make music videos, animation, experimental films or motion-graphic films. What I want is good old-fashioned narrative short filmmaking. The form has a great history, and it’s coming back in style because of all the content that’s needed online. I tell my students that the best short films I remember growing up were on TV: The Twilight Zone. Strip away the ads and you have a 15-minute short film that’s brilliantly written.

What does the word “film” mean to student filmmakers who are probably mostly using digital media?
I ask myself that all the time when I use the word ‘film.’ But there’s no other word. It’s the genre; it’s like ‘Hershey’s’ for chocolate. It’s become descriptive of a movie with a plot. I may be shooting it on tape, but I’m making a film. You don’t audition for a tape! For now, ‘film’ still relates to a story that we make and show on screen.

What impresses you most about your students?
That they have the ability to learn so quickly how to write a script. It’s not easy. They way they’ve jumped into that and come out with accomplished stories has been very impressive to me.

What are you looking forward to for 2011?
For one, I’ll work on the mistakes I made in 2010! [laughs] This is the best art school in the world in my opinion, it was a great vision by Mr. Rhodes way back when, and the people he hired along the way have turned SVA it into a unique experience. Our films should reflect that and should be better than first-time films. Anything that I can identify and learn how to improve upon, I will.

Image: ©Visual Arts Press, Ltd., 2010.

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