the front porch theory

February 15, 2013 — Leave a comment

There is a romantic image when we think of the ideal institution (for my case, film school). We think of the teaching staff, the courses, the lifestyle, and the opportunities to improve our craft. Even when reality kicks in and the ugly parts bleed through, we can still make the best of a situation. It’s only a matter of asking yourself: Is the glass half empty or half full?

The perfect mixture is when you have the right amount of passion for the subject at hand — for yourself and your fellow colleagues. It’s only when these two things are met that we have those wonderful conversations and discussions that spice everything up.

Of the people I’ve talked to, we all agreed that it was this thing — the moments outside of the class — that helped made the program valuable. This is what Front Porch theory is — a term borrowed from Francis Ford Coppola:

“I recall some comments made by Roman Polanski, when I was young. The great film school in the clouds then was at Lodz, in Poland. After the war, that great film school spawned the most wonderful traditions and, of course, great artists like Polanski and others were brought to the light in this postwar Polish film group. And I, as a young student, wished I could go there.

When I’ve asked some of the people who went there what it was like, they’ve told me it wasn’t really the professors that made it great, although they had some great teachers who later went on to become heads of many film schools around the world, including the USA. But what I’ve been told was really great about the school was the front porch where the students would eat and visit with each other, and it was the conversations and the debates and the cross-stimulation that happened on the front porch that really was the film school.

And I’ve always believed in the idea of a studio in which different kinds of artists and associates come to work and rub elbows getting lunch — that the interplay and the ideas that are going to be tossed out is what is stimulating. And I want to provide that, which is why I’ve always put an emphasis on a great café, or a great place for food, because if you have the wonderful food and the other trappings of the Bohemian setting, then you attract the kinds of people who appreciate and want to be in the vicinity of those things, and vice versa, and this would stimulate creativity.

I’m a big believer that human drive can produce some very positive things or very negative things, and in the arts, they can be very positive in that they cause people to want to be together, to share ideas, and to impress and stimulate one another. And that’s what explains the odd phenomenon of schools of art or cinema popping up in different weird places in the world.

One turns up in Italy all of a sudden. And then the legacy of Roberto Rossellini spawns fifty wonderful directors. You can’t tell me that the extraordinary Italian food and the more extraordinary Italian women didn’t have something to do with it. Then, suddenly, another pops up in Japan, and we have another period of great, great fertility. And in France. Or in Germany. Or now in China and Mexico. Iran. What explains how that happens? I think it’s the Front Porch Theory. That was what I understood to be the success of the Lodz school.”

— Francis Ford Coppola, from Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope: All Story 2 (x-xii)

Now that we have something to call this thing, we can try to engage the other artists in our community. Take the best of what a film school or art school could provide and create our own group or club — to share ideas, opinions, collaborate, or to just shoot the shit.

Paris in the 1920s

Cafes, a favorite pub, a good cheap restaurant, empty computer labs that open late, or even the comforts of a living room is perfect, as long as the person volunteering their space is happy. I think we should all strive to find a special place that isn’t so sterile and professional. And bring food! Drinks! Laughter! All the ingredients to loosen the body and soul and to let the true passions emerge.

home of the informal group, the Inklings — The Eagle and Child pub

Even forms of passive collaboration and communication like emails and group chats via webcam can give enough of that environment to be beneficial. It can work wonders today especially for folks, like myself, who are living so far away from fellow art/film people.

Beatniks hanging out.

There can be fears in the beginning — like the fear of embarrassing yourself or if you share ideas that someone will steal them. The more “bohemian” you go, the more comfortable it will be for everyone to share and express. And the thing about ideas… well, they are cheap after all and it only counts when you transform it into actual work.

Nuff said.

Just be honorable and inviting and the others are bound to return the same. It’s only those who refuse to do it are the ones you shouldn’t invite next time.

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