The early 1970s was a time of great experimentation on college campuses. Fittingly, the College of Arts and Sciences at IU offered an experimental curriculum department. Through it, students could present ideas for an original course with department support from the dean and other professors for final approval.
Michael Uslan, a junior at the time, wanted to teach a course on comic books. He called it: “The Comic Book in Society.” After being approved for credit, Uslan taught the world’s first accredited college course on comic books at Foster Quad in the spring of 1971.
Nearly 50 years later, Uslan is coming back to IU as a professor of practice to teach two three-week courses at the Media School called “Live from Los Angeles–Pros Make Movies” and “The Business of Producing Motion Pictures” for the Spring 2020 semester.
Both classes are three weeks long, four hours a day, on Friday, Saturday and Sundays from late January to early February.
“I bring current experience of working in the trenches every single day in this Hollywood jungle,” Uslan said.
Uslan is the executive producer of the “Batman” and “Dark Knight” franchise. In 1979, he bought the rights to Batman from DC Comics, later producing “Batman” starring Michael Keaton and directed by Tim Burton in 1989.
These courses, in many ways, will simulate the Hollywood experience for those seeking jobs in the film industry, which is evolving at a rapid pace.
In the “Live from L.A.” course, students will hear one-hour lectures from Hollywood professionals, followed by intensive Q&A sessions with representatives from each stage of the movie-making process. Uslan will invite 33 different speakers, including entertainment attorneys, agents, managers, studio vice presidents, network executives and casting agents to speak to students.
In the past, Uslan has invited the likes of Mark Hamill, famous for playing Luke Skywalker; Tony Bancroft, director of Disney’s 1998 “Mulan” and Andrea Romano, voice caster and director for “Batman: The Animated Series.”
In “Business of Producing Motion Pictures,” students will gain skills meant to increase their employability. These include pitching skills, protection of self and of original ideas and an understanding of Hollywood as a business that goes beyond the textbook.
“Whether you’re a writer, director, composer, producer, actor or cinematographer, you’ve got to understand that this is show business,” Uslan said. “Half show, half business.”
Students will learn how to pitch projects and how to gain financing for each stage of the process. They will also learn how to get jobs and internships, for which Uslan emphasized the importance of punctuality and appropriate dress. To put their skills into practice, students will pitch their projects to a simulated head of production at a major motion picture studio.
Uslan calls this form of teaching “experiential learning,” where students acquire information directly from professionals and enact it through simulation, hopefully building confidence and learning about themselves in the process.
“The greatest thing in the world is to learn from these fantastic academicians who have spent their whole lives studying media,” Uslan said.
At the end of the course, students will simulate becoming production vice presidents at a major Hollywood studio, having final say in green lighting projects for production. This simulation will teach budgeting and studio logic behind movie and TV distribution, as well as marketing. Together, both simulations bring exposure to either side of the filmmaking process to students.
These courses are intensive and immersive, and therefore provide clarity on whether a career in New York or Hollywood is right for the student.
Uslan encourages college students to be more proactive in realizing dreams that require what he calls a “high threshold for frustration.”
“I invite those Media School students who are truly interested in careers in the streaming industry and who are willing to sacrifice three weekends of their lives to come aboard,” Uslan said.
While Hollywood can be unforgiving and discouraging for even the most persistent minds, Uslan says IU is a place where you never have to accept “no” for a final answer.
“IU is the place that empowered me to accomplish the things I did in life,” Uslan said. “This is all payback time in appreciation for what the university did for me and my family.”
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