All students typically follow a timetable. One class after another. A lecture. Then, some practical work. Maybe a toilet break (not officially reflected in LASALLE Timetables). Lunch, eventually. And so goes a day. And the many more that follow it.
But on Week 2 of the new academic year, the graduating cohort at The Puttnam School of Film were in for a deviation from the norm. The multi-hyphenate Simon Weaving, former artistic director of the Canberra International Film Festival, also a practicing filmmaker, professional film critic and academic, was in attendance at LASALLE College of the Arts to conduct a 5-day intensive film workshop about the Western genre.
Over the week, students systematically learnt the narrative underpinnings of a Western, its themes and iconography, in a manner comfortable enough to adapt for a cinematic story in Singapore, or for that matter, anywhere in the East. Despite a general unfamiliarity on the subject prior to the workshop, students gained a thorough appreciation of the film genre through its development bearing strong correlation to the historical and political landscape of North America.
Furthermore, the genre mapped itself onto Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” framework, a prevalent narrative pattern first described in his influential 1949 book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces. The receptive teaching style of Weaving facilitated the projection of Western films to Eastern sensibilities as students drew from the genre only to rediscover the basic elements of a strong film – understanding characters, context and convention. Through a combination of film-a-day screenings of landmark Western films, adaptations and documentaries as well as incisive lectures and discussion-driven seminars, the future graduands were treated to an excess of the Western and its applicability to storytelling as a whole.
In time, the rigorous transfer of subject expertise found its climax in a pitching competition where student groups visually canvassed the next big Easternized Western concept, battling to impress with epic entertainers and smaller character-driven tales, a testament to the genre’s flexibility. The winning team carried away a shining gold bar (…replica), suitably reminiscent of the California Gold Rush.
All enriched by the end of the course, one pro-tip nugget continues to stand out: Pay attention and you’ll find a story within a story that helps you tell a better story!